The discussion of the GOAT is always tough because it brings apples against oranges and people’s personal perspective weighs heavily on their arguments. The comparison of Messi vs Ronaldo could be a more objective conversation but adding Pele into the mix makes things much more difficult. Considering different eras and playing landscapes muddies the waters to the point where the argument says more about what the fan values rather than what the player meant in their own time. With all of those points well established from the outset, I am not at all bashful about nominating my mom as the Youth Soccer Fan GOAT! This is not a son’s love for his mother taken to the extreme. In fact, I thought my mother was one of the worst fans at the time but given years to evaluate and compare, she truly was the best.
She didn’t know the game! Some people might view this as a negative but it was a huge positive. Her best things to say from the sideline were “Kick the ball!” and “Go!” She didn’t know enough about the game to yell at the referee or opposing parents. I’m not sure that she even really took them into account. She was supremely focused on our (my brother and my) team. Despite being our parent, she cheered “Kick the ball!” for anyone on our team. Her support never wavered, even in the season where we lost every single game.
She told everyone except the coaches! I’m being serious. Everyone knew about my brother and I. Toll booth operators, people working at Wendy’s, cute girls at tournaments and many more complete strangers heard about how her sons played for the “Taygers”. We played for the “Tigers” but she always seemed to have this special pronunciation when talking about it. She sang our praises up and down the east coast even out of season. However this overwhelming promotion of her kids never reached the coaches. It was before the internet was pervasive but it didn’t happen by phone, letter or fax either. She knew better.
She always clapped at the end! Now this is not an individual thing. It was a team effort. I was lucky enough to play together with a lot of the same guys through my youth and into high school. That collective group of parents would always clap for my teammates and I upon leaving the field. The result didn’t matter. I’d like to believe that they were clapping our effort because I think we always gave that, even in the lean years.
At the time I probably took all of this for granted but now as a coach and a parent, I don’t. My view may be skewed and my mother is not actually the GOAT but she definitely was great for my time. My time as a player was better because of her. She reflected only her love for me as her son. The result of every single game was the same whether we won or lost, my mom was still my biggest fan. I think that’s something that we’re missing today. I’ve heard the words “My mom/dad is going to be so ___________.” far too often from players. Parents need to be the North Star to a child, not a feather in the wind. Even if a parent is trying to raise an elite athlete, their love should not be on the line every match. There are more than enough people around to show a child how to play the game. Parents are the first ones that can show the child how much they matter regardless of the game.
One of my bucket list items is completely out of my control. I want to see the US Men’s National Team win a World Cup before I die. While I believe this is completely achievable, it will take some doing. There are many moving parts to this endeavor both on a national and an individual level. Although I am sure that USSF policies will influence the speed at which this goal is achieved, the greater shift will need to be a cultural one. Those types of shifts happen in small groups first, then extend outward. Since the children of today are going to be the major influencers of future culture, my plea is “Don’t think that Messi is special!”
This may come as a slap in the face to the thousands of kids who have Messi on the back of their replica jersey. That’s not my intention at all. My hope is for the young players out there to not give themselves an easy way out. Messi is arguably the best player in the world over the past few years. This is not due to genetic engineering, magic or divine intervention. He is a man who has chosen over and over again to hone his craft. Every day of his life has been spent toward achieving the lofty heights that he has. Despite all of his accomplishments, I don’t want our young players to think he is special. Because that let’s them off the hook!
Each one of us has greatness living within us. It lies dormant until we wake it up and press it out into the open. Not every young person who likes soccer will be willing to do the work to become a great player like Messi. However it’s important not to cut it off as a possibility due to a belief that he was in some way predestined to do any of this. He’s a human who chose to be great. Don’t put him on a pedestal to be worshiped. Put him on a staircase to be climbed and leave steps above him.
Greatness is bestowed upon no one, it’s earned everyday with consistent action.
Be great today!
The thought of school being like prison is not a new one. I’m sure that most students have thought it or said it at one point. It’s an easy enough correlation to make: brick walls, questionable food, time to be served and other ne’er do wells in the same boat. Although I’ve visited a prison before, most of my frame of reference comes from books and movies. The most prevalent being The Shawshank Redemption. While this book/movie is completely fictitious, conceived in the mind of Stephen King, there is value in the exercise of comparing the fiction to the reality.
Most prisoners in the story are simply waiting out the term of their sentence. Like the character Brooks in the movie, they wait for many years and then are utterly lost when they are released. This is not unlike many high school students. Their years in captivity are spent waiting for their time to be up but not fully conceiving what they might do with their freedom.
The one outlier in Shawshank Prison is Andy Dufresne. A former banker that does not endure his time in the prison but uses it. Although his sentence is life, he always has an idea of what he’ll do with his life when he gets out. Slowly and methodically he uses time as his ally to dig his way out of prison and to his desired future. While this makes for a good movie, it is just fiction, isn’t it? A quick read of the story of a young Bill Gates shows a great example of art imitating life imitating art.
Prison is a place where a person is confined. It is possible to be in physical prison and be free mentally. The much more common situation seems to be people that are physically free but mentally imprisoned. They are shackled to self-limiting thoughts and habitual attitudes that keep them from living freely. If you feel like you’re in prison, take a look around and try to find the warden. There really isn’t one. Just systems that can be endured or used to improve your station when you’re done with your time. Don’t let a situation that you don’t like turn your life into one that you don’t like. The only one who can give permission for your mind to be a prison is you.
Be free today!
It’s official! The paperwork just came in from the state and my son’s name is officially Lionel Messi! I fully anticipate that his goal total will skyrocket in the coming seasons. If you’ve not screamed “You’re an idiot!” yet, you’ve at least thought it. I felt stupid just typing it! A name is not particularly an indicator of quality, it’s a way to differentiate one person from millions of other similar people. This truth is so easy to realize when talking about a person’s talent. Then why do so many people trap themselves into the soccer club name game? Like soccer, the answer is simple but at the same time complex. Perception helps us form our reality.
In college, I worked at a beer and wine store. On the beer side of the store, I got very few questions. Occasionally someone would ask about a new micro-brew but generally people knew what they were looking for. The Coors guy would rarely change things up and would walk in grab a case, pay and walk out. On the wine side of the store, there were much more questions and a posturing of perception. If a wine was highlighted in the “Wine Spectator” magazine, we were likely to sell out of it especially if it was priced under $30. Most of the people looking for the popular wine. Even if they had never tasted it and often it wasn’t even their favorite varietal. They had been sold on a perception not their own reality. Being seen as a person who knew about wine was much more important than getting what they wanted in a wine.
At the moment in the soccer world, we’re going through a similar perception economy. Names are just a part of the equation that includes trainers, sponsors, equipment, etc. The name is just the asset with no inherent value other than perception. It’s a longstanding joke with a coach friend of mine that we are going to start a club with all of the standard soccer club cliches of quality. My most recent version is “Select Elite Academy Soccer International Club Kickers” or S.E.A.S.I.C.K. for short. I’m sure that the players of SEASICK would be bursting with pride in the fact that they were playing for an “elite academy”, though they might be neither. Since they tried out, that would make it “select”. Although they might be confused by the “international” tag but I’m sure we’d find an English or Dutch trainer to squelch that thought. Finally I’m sure that they would have preferred to be an FC but let’s face it, you can’t fight the draw of a good acronym! Again I’m being ridiculous but not inaccurate.
The youth soccer world is based heavily on perception but with more real consequences than my wine example. This is not a mistake of serving chardonnay with steak (which is actually fine if that’s what you like). It’s a mistake of hanging children’s self-worth on a false status. It may not be prudent to invest a child’s one non-renewable resource (time) into a pursuit of athletic “excellence” rather than personal development. Does an “elite” soccer player translate this time and financial commitment into love from his/her parents? Do they have the tight bonds of friendship on their elite team that they have with kids from their school? Are the elite coaches also elite role models of how to be a good person? If these questions were all asked and well considered before the tryout, then stay the course. However my fear is that many people have blinders on with a very narrow view of the course that they are putting their children on. By age 25, most people’s playing careers are over but their lives are not yet close to half done. Will memories of warm-up jackets embroidered with half true adjectives be enough to sustain them through their adult life? Or are the actions, relationships and mentors of the individual the true creators of great memories?
Eventually the packaging fades away and the true substance of what’s been sold shines through. Go in with an idea of what you really want and see past the packaging. The world is filled with people who will sell you something for their own benefit rather than yours. Not everyone is elite but anyone can receive the gifts that the game has to offer without a price tag.
As usual Rocky has a good take on the subject.
I have often wondered what history lessons are like in Germany about the period between 1900-1950. From an outside perspective it is easy to characterize Germany as the villain of that epoch. Is it viewed as period of shame? Or glossed over as unfortunate past events? Often people and nations have a hard time seeing themselves as others would see them. When looking at others, it is easier to make judgment that we believe is right. We can see their faults, shortcomings, idiosyncrasies and failures. Or we laud their beauty, strength, courage or “perfection”. Self-reflection is usually skewed in either a positive or negative direction. People, just like nations, have a history that they must reconcile in order to move forward. Recently upon thinking of Germany’s past and looking in the mirror, I reflected on what nation I represent.
At first I though Switzerland, a neutral state that is willing to keep the currency of others in secrecy. It had some possibility but fell short. Then I considered my ancestral homeland of Poland. It has been overrun by many others and despite almost disappearing at certain points, it keeps coming back with resilience. This would be nice and comfortable for me but unfortunately it’s not true.
Unfortunately I’m France. Man, it pisses me off to write that! There are many things to love about me but I give off an air of aloofness that puts people off. At times, I’ve let my enemies take parts of me without much of a fight and needed the support of close friends to make me whole again. I can be characterized as lazy but generally I work to live, not the other way around. My reputation for being standoffish is justifiable but also location based. If you truly want to get to know me, don’t do it where the crowds are. I’m much better off the beaten path and rich in areas that you didn’t know were there.
What country are you? Please don’t search Facebook for a quiz that tells! Figure out that story for yourself. If you don’t like what you’ve found (as I don’t), then make the necessary adjustment. Despite being France, I can change my actions and therefore my story about who I am. You can too. Just because you were beaten, trampled, torn apart and considered unworthy in the past, does not mean that your history needs to continue on that path. Your history cannot predict your future, unless you let it!
Have a great day!
I have a very clear recollection of the day that I passed the test that told me that I was ready to be a father. I was on the bottom floor of my in-laws’ house on a lake in Virginia. A strange sound came from outside that I didn’t recognize. A few seconds later my wife screamed my name. It was the kind of scream that I knew something was wrong. I jumped up and sprinted out the door. When I reached my wife on the deck outside, I quickly found out the source of the sound and why she screamed. Our dog, Kelme, was pinned down by another dog that was attacking him. The two dogs were about ten feet below the deck on the rocks that sloped down toward the lake. Without a moment’s hesitation, I jumped over the deck’s railing and dropped the ten feet landing next to the two dogs. Luckily my sudden appearance and loud shouts were enough to scare the dog off without my having to fight him. I picked up Kelme and raced him to the vet with my wife. His wounds were very minor and he made a full and energetic recovery. It was after that incident that I knew for sure that I could be a father.
Not everyone gets that type of real life test that tells them something important about themselves. Generally people have to take a leap of faith that they can handle the situation. The phrase there is not unimportant, “leap”. I can’t say for certain whether I would have gotten the same type of self-assurance from that situation had I run down the stairs to Kelme’s aid. The jump was important because it separated me completely from safety and put me directly into harm’s way: both from the rocks and the dog. The willingness to take the risk of the leap was key. Lives don’t need to be at stake. Broken limbs and dog attacks don’t need to be risked.
The keys to any endeavor of creation: child, book, movie, relationship, song, poem, etc. are the leap and the foregoing of self. Neither is particularly easy to do. Leaping requires a detachment from the stability of the known world for something much more uncertain. Putting something else before ourselves is also an exercise in chance. With both, fear is a major opposing force. While fear is an emotion that is intended to protect us from pain, it is often the force that keeps us from living fully. A full life is one that requires creation and therefore risk. There are no diplomas, courses or tests that can prepare you to live fully. It is something that needs to be done on the fly everyday with consistent action. The act of leaping may never become completely comfortable but it may just become completely worth it.