Learning and Reflecting through Soccer

In my family, with Spring and Summer comes soccer. I’m not talking about the World Cup, but I’m talking about our Wed evening ritual as a family to bring food, blankets and water bottles down to the grassy fields in the beach and to watch our 8 year old play his soccer game. I admit that I am a bit of a ‘soccer mom’. I played soccer my whole childhood, adolescence and even recreationally as an adult before I had kids and had to limit my extra-curricular activities. So I love the game. And I get really into it, yelling loudly (which both my partner and my 8 year old finds embarrassing) and I can feel my adrenalin pumping when my sons team is so close to scoring. But I also often feel VERY frustrated. Why? Because watching 8 year old boys play soccer can be very frustrating. If you have ever watched kids soccer, you’ll know why. Because the kids still just all go after the ball, without passing or thinking of their team. Often the ball just gets stuck in a mass of feet kicking.

In the process of attempting to ‘coach’ my son, I have realized that it is incredibly challenging to teach (and learn!) the concept of teamwork. Visually, by sitting on the sidelines, I have the ‘big picture’ view of what is happening (or not happening). I can see the dynamics – who is passing (or not passing) to who, who is communicating (or not communicating) to who etc. I can analyze the situation pretty objectively. However, its completely different for the soccer players, who are in the middle of it, and have one clear goal – to get the ball out of their side and into their opponents goal. This concept of teamwork seems to go right out the windown when they are out there in the action.

In my conversations with my son about soccer, I have also realized that there are so many amazing life lessons to be learned, through soccer as a metaphor. Here are a few that soccer has highlighted:

-Use the sides of the field. Choose ‘the road less travelled’. Strategically, while going straight down the middle might seem like the easiest way to score, the middle is crowded. Use the sidelines, to quietly get up the field and score! In my life, I learn from this: don’t always pick the obvious direction to move forward. Think strategically, and even if it takes a little longer to reach my goal, its worth it. Take the time to think, instead of just ‘plowing’ ahead.

-Communicate, communicate, communicate! While technical skills are important, the most important skill in teamwork is communication. Make eye contact, know everyones name to be able to call out when you are going to pass. Make a plan with your teammates and communicate this plan.

-Everyone matters in the team, and everyone has a critical role to play. Success is based on the whole team working together, and strategically utilizing everyone’s unique strengths. There is far too much emphasis and public recognition for the person who scores, but we need to recognize and celebrate the quiet team members who play a role in making the scoring possible.

And most important of all:

-The journey is far more important than the end result! My son and his soccer team played their best game ever against a very strong team, where they lost the game. Before that, my son’s team was on a winning streak, so everyone was disappointed because they lost. I wished that Morgan and his team would celebrate that game, where they played so well, communicated so well, and were a team (much more than in the other games). They were challenged, and in the challenge, was the learning and growing. And to me, that is what counts most.