It was around 1988 when I started making the phone calls. On Friday nights, it was my job to call all of the players/parents from my soccer team. The information that I had to tell them was where the game was and what time the “caravan” was leaving A&P’s parking lot. It wasn’t a fun job but it was a necessary one to make sure that everyone got to the game. Today we have TeamSnap and other services to take care of this job. While I’m sure that my fourteen year old self would have jumped at the chance to have this service available. I’m glad that I suffered through that weekly chore.
There are so many little inconveniences that have been taken off of our plates. At a quick glance, it may seem that we’ve gained in time by their removal. The question that I’m asking at the moment is what was lost at the same time? If you take that job away from my young self, he loses a sense of responsibility, ownership in the team concept, ability to talk to adults on the phone, a knowledge of our surrounding area and other things that are worth a half hour per week.
I’m definitely not anti-technology. The thing that I’m trying to maintain in my own life is a sense of being human while utilizing technology. We can become more human by using technology as a tool to enhance our lives. Connect with people that are far away. Learn and grow at times that are more convenient. Save time in order to spend it with friends and family. Some of the best things in life are inconvenient. I would never replace my brother with an app just because it is more reliable and remembers my birthday.
I had blood all over me. I didn’t know where I was. It was the coldest that I’d ever been in my life. I couldn’t see a thing. All that I could do was scream. Luckily help was nearby and I was able to calm down. It had been a difficult trial but I was alive and in the hospital. Just when things seemed as if they would be OK, a complete stranger came along and chopped off a quarter of my penis. All of that trauma happened in the first twenty four hours of my life. Despite that very rough beginning, I’ve done quite well for myself.
This story is at least partially true for almost all of us. We were all thrust into this world naked, afraid and unable to speak, read or write. It is not something that we give much thought to because it happens to everyone. However birth (or creation) is a messy and traumatic business by all accounts. Not just the human producing ones but also the birth of companies, relationships, art or anything else. There is always that starting point of conception that is magical and exhilarating. Eventually that moment is replaced by some form of hard labor in order to get the creation out into the world. Just because it’s painful, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. The narrative of the present day is about safety and comfort. Our world has had most of its sharp edges taken off. While I’m all for vaccinating against the next Bubonic Plague, there are some struggles that are important for people to go through. Not all pain is trauma.
As you conceive the next dream of where you’re going or what you’re doing, do a little pre-trauma planning. Like a person that is preparing for a marathon, it is important to understand your “quit points”. Quitting is not shameful if it is done for the right reasons. A broken leg is a justifiable quit inducing occurrence. Cramps are a nuisance to be fought through. The difference between trauma and possibility is perspective and the next few steps that are taken. Expectation that everything will be easy is a sure fire way to turn every problem into trauma. Traumatizing yourself with things that should be expected is recipe for disaster. Imagine freaking out because your newborn child couldn’t walk. It’s a process not a fully completed miracle. Take the possibility and run with it.
It’s one of my favorite lines from a song by one of my favorite bands “Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear a word your saying!” The song is called “I want to conquer the world” and it juxtaposes the idealism and the reality of people. It’s a punk rock song and due to soccer’s historical underground following in the US, I usually equate the two on a few levels. At the moment, the youth soccer world is caught in an almost Jekyll and Hyde scenario. Many of the positives of the sport that is loved by millions are regularly mangled and deranged in the pursuit of momentary glory. In each paragraph, I will start with the ideal and follow it with the real.
Soccer is fun! – That’s absolutely right. The game is or can be fun. It is played worldwide in streets and fields by kids who truly love to express themselves with a ball. More than ever though in the United States, we are heaping pressure on younger and younger players to perform. Not for the joy of the game but for the reward of the result. The players being indoctrinated into a system where they’re sent a very direct message, “perform well or else!” The consequences are being benched or being cut. As young as 8 years old, players are treated like performing fleas. The actions send a clear message that fun is at best secondary and probably tertiary behind results and development.
Sportsmanship is important! – Of course, treating other people with respect is an important lesson to learn in sports. Unless it’s the referee that’s missed five hand balls already! He or she deserves to be told exactly how horrible they are. It is hilarious to think that kids practice for hours each week but a comment about their actual skills from the sidelines is rare. A majority of comments are directed at the one person who no one is there to see perform. Our children are learning a dangerous lesson about their place in society. Do your best and if anything doesn’t go your way, blame the authority because they are supposed to be perfect. Those people in charge are not human and deserve to be treated horribly. Could this be why we have a referee shortage?
We support you! – Youth soccer is a multi million (probably billion) dollar business because parents care enough to give their kids the very best! The best trainers, the best camps and the best tournaments are all purchased for a premium price. That financial investment shows exactly how much parents care for their kids. Or perhaps the lack of their personal time investment says something else as practice becomes a convenient babysitter. I can hear the justification now, “But the trainer is better than me coaching.” That might be true but can you line fields, be a club board member or practice with your child. If a child truly loves to play, then they would probably enjoy playing with their parent from time to time. Relegating your involvement in your child’s athletics to spectator is a low level of involvement. Children need their parents. Outsourcing may be a sign of the times but there are some jobs that are too important to be left to hired hands.
Perhaps it is time to reign in the beast and start walking the talk. The ideas are all out there in the world. Generally speaking people know the answers but lack the fortitude to follow through. Whether it is a “keeping up with the Joneses mentality” or a lack emotional control in the moment. People need to realize that the macro is made up of the micro. The small decisions, that we make about how relating to our children through sport, will inform the larger decisions that they make about their lives. Are we setting our kids up to be the best versions of themselves? Or are the mixed messages going to create a noticeable disconnect between the sent and received? “It is what it is” may be a popular statement but it’s not a plan. Let’s make it what it should be.
It was January 2nd 2003. A clever little trick of mine to always remember the day that I proposed to my wife 1/2/03. As I waited in her apartment with dinner ready and candles lit, I was extremely nervous. That feeling was only compounded when she arrived. Then I started to ask and I could feel my legs shaking. This was gut-wrenching but necessary. The fear and the nerves came from risk. The risk of putting myself out there and the possibility that the answer could be “no”. It ended up going in my favor but I think that risk is an important factor to the things that really matter. You need to care enough to be willing to lose.
Perhaps it is part of being American or the popular culture of my youth but the idea of the underdog or long shot is ingrained within me. The Rocky movies were an unofficial soundtrack to my young life. The story of a nobody fighter who takes on the undefeated champion. He knows that he is going to lose before the fight even happens. That is the risk that the people who truly care must take. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew the risk of the pen strokes but chanced the loss of life for something greater. Elon Musk risked the wealth he had accrued in order to start a solar energy company, an electric car company and a space company. Each venture had very long odds. Those odds are not the ones taken on by a man looking to turn a quick profit. They are the risk of a man who cares about the change he wanted to make in the world. These are just three examples of caring enough to risk losing.
I’ve heard it too many times to count “What grade do I need to get on this quiz to bring my grade up to a __________?” The lack of the math skills from my young students is not the most troubling part. The most disheartening part of this question is the refusal to put forth any effort until a concrete exchange has been mentally negotiated. Effort will only be employed if the target seems reasonably attainable. This is not a statement about educational malaise or the disconnect between schools and our modern society. It is a reflection on a pervasive attitude toward loss. No one should fail. The ref or the coach cost us the game. The aversion to loss seems to be correlated to risk of losing one’s self. If I give my all and fail, then I am not worthy and that is too much to bear.
In a world where we are better insulated from death than ever before in history, it is the death of our image of ourselves that we seem to fear most. Much like the avatars that represent us online, we have created mental pictures of who we are. Most of us will defend that image regardless of its accuracy or usefulness. Playing within the boundaries of that existence may comfortable but is the lack of risk truly safe? More than likely the risks that truly matter are worth taking because they force us to stretch. Reaching out into the void is not a failure if it is done with true intention. Failing to reach out is the bigger loss because the possibility of knowing yourself better and having what you actually wanted is left on the table. Don’t aim to lose but don’t only play if you know you’re going to win. All of the true joy on the back end lies in the fact that you risked yourself on the front end.
I was in 8th grade and my school soccer team was playing against North Warren. They were the only team that had beaten us all season. It was late in the game and the score was still tied. Someone passed me the ball as I was wide open in front of the unprotected goal. I shot the ball and it sailed over the goal. It almost defied physics! I was so close to the goal that missing seems as though it was harder to do than scoring. The memory of that shot is almost 30 years old and it still bugs me a little bit. All of these years later though, I’ve come to realize that I had to miss that shot. In all of our lives, there are things that we really have to f%#@ up.
No one wants to fail. The disappointment, the shaken confidence and the negative memory are all reason enough to avoid failure. People are always trying to give themselves the best chance for success in any endeavor. Aiming for success is always crucial but always achieving it is both impractical and probably detrimental to future successes.
The path to where you are is probably filled with potholes, detours and the occasional breakdown. Even though we think that we want a smooth and clear path to our destination, most of the fire that we have in our belly comes from past failures. Learning how to live through and overcome failure are key ingredients to a growth mindset. Although we live in a physical world, the beginning of almost everything in our lives starts in our mental world. That is the space where failure can be taken, molded and turned into a stepping stone for future success. I’m sure that you want whatever you’re working on right now to be a great success and I hope that it is. However what if you need to F%#@ this up to succeed later. Part of the equation is that you really want to succeed but recognize in the long term f%#@ ups are part of the equation too.
For most of my life, I’ve had a portion of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne memorized. “It is not the critic who counts… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” It’s moving. It moves me in the sense that I actually take action when I think of it, hear it in my head or in my heart. The issue is at the moment, the critics have such a large megaphone that it becomes hard to hear our heads and our hearts. The echo of other people’s point of view tends to linger, burn and even cut the ones who are actually in the arena. The credit may belong to the man in the arena but that credit is hard earned because people want you to lose and never let you forget it.
The only thing to do is go deaf. Deaf to the jeers, the criticisms and the negativity. The volume of the critic does not matter if you pay no attention. Besides the only reason the words of the critic ever penetrated is because you believed them at least partially. Their message about you being a failure or a loser resonated with you on some level deep within. So the inner critic is actually the one that has the power to take you down.
The way to silence the inner critic is to run. Run straight into the arena. Sleep there, eat there, get your ass kicked there but at least in the arena, the inner critic has to stay in the stands. He can’t get his hands on you as long as you stay fixed in the center of the ring. Perhaps in the end you’ll find out that the critics were right and you didn’t have the stuff. But at least you’ll know for sure, while they’re left wondering about themselves. Outwardly chastising but inwardly envying the chance that you took to gain the credit of the arena.
It was a big deal! I remember it very plainly. My parents, brothers and I would all sit down with popcorn and watch “The Wizard of Oz”. It was an annual occasion. The movie is definitely a classic but I think that the ritual and nostalgia factor make it a little more important for me. Despite being released in 1939, the story stands the test of time. A young girl has a magical adventure that ends up being a dream but she learns that her search to distant lands led her back to the home and people that really mattered in the first place. Most of the things that she desired or feared ended up being fake or easily defeated.
As the spring soccer season continues, I am inundated with emails about tryouts, camps and recruiting services. It is not a new thing that is unexpected. However following many discussions that I’ve had with members of my own club, I’m left wondering if the modern American soccer culture isn’t a lot like Dorothy. Are we searching for something that is hollow and the truest prize is in our own backyard?
It is tryout season and clubs throughout my area will be selecting the best talent they can find. Then they will pair that talent up with a paid trainer in order to improve upon that talent. (Full disclosure I am a paid trainer) Games will be won and lost over the course of the year. Then the cycle will repeat. The teams and players will progress down the yellow brick road toward what exactly? The best of the best will be professionals. The second tier will play in college. The rest will either fizzle out along the way or play in a recreational type setting for as long as they enjoy it (love men’s and women’s leagues!). So is it really that a majority of us are hoping that our kids get to that promised land of professional or college that we’ve created this monster system? Or is it that we’ve forgotten where we are and where we’re going? My fear is that in a few more years many people are going to find the little man behind the curtain and be shocked.
Soccer is an inherently simple game that has so much to offer to the people who play and watch it. The positives that it offers to young players are generally intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Physical fitness, self-confidence and camaraderie just to name a few. None of these positives require talent, tryouts or trainers, OH MY! In fact all three may inhibit the expansion of these intrinsic positives because they are all short term. Talent is relative and momentary. Tryouts make players commodities first and people second. Trainers are generally interested in the short-term improvement of skills in a very selective area. It is not that these things are without their place. However they should not be the silver bullets that are used to propel our young players forward. If the vast majority of youth soccer players are not going to end up in the top two tiers of involvement, then should we (the adults) be building the yellow brick road? Or finding our way back to Kansas?
My beliefs is that the solution is on the horizon if enough people are willing to look for it. It all comes down to focus. If the focus is put and maintained on the idea of making our kids great people first, then we all win regardless of the outcomes on Saturdays/Sundays. Do we have to pay for that service? Most likely not. It takes involvement and time from the adults who truly care about the kids. My father coached my teams for year and his soccer knowledge, at the time, came from books. The game has progressed since then but so has the knowledge of the parents and accessibility to information. Since the focus is not on game results, tryouts might go away or be held every two or three years. That way the team gets to be “a team”. Finally what will happen to the talent of our players? Won’t their soccer skills drop if we no longer employ these improvement strategies. For the long term, does it matter? Off the field, my soccer skills have saved a few glass bottles from breaking. Other than that, the non-soccer skills have been far more important. Learning how to lead, fitness, problem solving and self-improvement are all practical skills that were honed on the field. In the short term, there are other ways to improve one’s soccer skills without expensive trainers. It’s called practice! Kids are extremely adept at using YouTube to figure out many things. Perhaps watch that video with the child and go into the backyard to practice.
In ten years will we not know our extremely talented former soccer players? Or will we have a self-reliant young person that we can relate to who was OK at the kicking game? There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
As a teacher of language, I often find fault with the English language. It falls short in many ways. It breaks its own rules. Pronunciation is ambiguous and changes happen all the time. Probably my biggest gripe with English is that many of the things we say are either misleading or cause us to look at things in a way that does not serve us.
One instance of this vocabulary problem is from my position as a coach. The phrase “we’re winning” needs to go. It is something that I know I’ve said before because it’s what prompted me to write this post. Winning is worthless until you have won. Even worse is that realizing that you’re winning causes a sense of comfort and a change in attitude toward the game.
Until you’ve won, you’re leading. Leading does not imply a result but rather a process. Leading means that you’re ahead of the opponent but they are still there. Leading is something that can be taken away if you let it. Leading is difficult and a struggle. It takes effort and focus to lead until the end but if you want to win, it’s what you have to do.
Don’t let the word trick you. You’re not winning or losing. Either you’re leading or you’re trailing!