It’s definitely an oversimplification but in essence there are two ways to play a game: playing to your strengths or stifling the strengths of your opponents. The beauty of this oversimplification is that it brings to light a few things. Stifling ones opponent takes the art out of the game and makes it a pragmatic results focused exercise. There is nothing particularly wrong with this. It is inherently a means to an end. However it does not inspire or capture the imagination.
I’ve written many times about the fact that sports are a metaphor for life. The question then becomes do we live with this same amount of pragmatism? How often? And why? What is a result that is worth subduing our natural talents? Perhaps I did oversimplify a bit too much because within a game it is possible to self-express and stifle. Eventually one becomes the dominant strategy though.
Make your life an inspired performance rather than stifled slog.
Points are definitely king of the table. There’s no denying that results are the thing that win championships and get promotions. However as the season progresses, it’s often possible to identify a “sleeper” team when their goal difference is greater than those around them in the table. Usually this is an indicator that the team has lost close games and blown out a few teams. It’s not as good as points in the pocket. BUT if a team doesn’t lose heart due to their present position, a promotion push could be around the corner.
Most of us are not particularly in the position that we want: socially, financially, mentally, emotionally, etc. Your present position is not predictive of the future. Although that’s easy to think because it feels accurate. You’ve been in this same spot for a while. The thing that you need to do is focus on your goal difference. When you lose, don’t let it be a blowout. If you win, make it a big win! What are you talking about?
The experiences of your life are not inherently positive or negative. We put that slant to the situation. So if each instance has no determined value, we get to add it. When you are evaluating the results that you are getting, don’t turn negative situations into catastrophes. Use language that will put it down as a smaller loss. We get disappointed, not devastated and this is an evaluation after the fact. Be professional as we lose. Shake hands and move on. Don’t say those negative things out-loud (Trevor Moawad).
When you do get a win, make it big! Even if it means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, turn it into winning the FA Cup (for a small club, cause the top clubs barely care). We tend to undervalue our accomplishments because they are ours. If we can do, then anyone can do it. BULLSHIT! Some people couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag! Give some credit but don’t sit back and relax. It’s onto the next contest. A big win in isolation is nothing. Form matters! So take that momentum into the next thing and believe that a string of positive results is on the horizon. It’s the only way to climb up the table!
Most likely you’re the only one who is keeping score in your life. Tip the table in your favor. Stack up some little wins and then go for that title that you’ve been hoping for! It’s within your reach. All it takes is time and persistence. That combination is almost completely undefeated.
Regardless of what many fans may think, the Premier League is not the only league. It is merely the pinnacle of an extremely large football pyramid. Some may pay attention to the Championship, League 1 or even League 2 but the number of fans also forms a type of inverted pyramid. Millions watch the Premiership, hundreds of thousands watch the Championship, and so on and so forth. Below the fourth level of the pyramid exists “non-league football.” Some the teams are professional. Others are not. Regardless of the level on the pyramid, the wages paid or not, the number of fans or size of the ground, it all matters.
Whether Dagenham & Redbridge FC, Peterborough Sports FC, Billericay Town or Wrexham A.F.C.; there are fans out there who wear their jerseys, sing their songs and possibly even tattoo their crest on their body. Fans that the players know by name because the club is a community and not a commodity. The matches are not televised and the players don’t make millions of pounds per year but that’s actually the beauty of it. There is not much more on the line than the joy of the game for the both the players and the fans. It’s been the norm and hopefully it will continue on for a long time to come.
Most of us are playing “non-league football.” We’re not making big money or have adoring fans around the world. Our lives play out in front of small crowds that know and care about us. The God’s honest truth is that we’re probably not going to make it to the top leagues and that’s ok. Finding joy battling in the muck with friends. Giving our all to a performance that will only matter to the people who were there to witness it holds its own form of glory.
Regardless of what league you are in, what you are doing matters. So be sure to give it all that you have. No one remembers the players who shrivel from the challenge. However they will always sing the praises of the ones who gave every last bit of themselves. The fact that you are “non-league” doesn’t matter. You only need to level up on the inside and show what you’ve got.
The usual dimensions are eight feet high by twenty-four feet wide. That’s one hundred ninety two square feet of target. It’s no small thing considering a team of full grown men cannot cover it when standing shoulder to shoulder (depending on the width of the men). Despite the relatively large space that the ball has to pass through, goals are elusive. Games with three or more are considered high scoring. It is not so much the target itself that creates the challenge, it is all of the obstacles that stand in the way of the ball’s path. Ten normal defenders and a goalkeeper who can use her/his hands. The most talented goal scorers are worth their weight in gold. Their value eventually gets translated to their limbs but it starts with their eyes. They see the goal!
At this point, a part of your brain is screaming “everyone sees the goals! It’s 192 square feet!” Unfortunately that’s what makes those goal scoring maestros so valuable. Most players do not see the goal. They see the defender, the goalkeeper, the disappointed face of their coach if they miss, the last three shots that went over, and so on. The vision that they have in their mind’s eye is not a clear path to success that they need to follow. Instead it is a neural pathway that is littered with past events or projections that they believe are partially related to a predictable future. Getting the ball into the goal would be a surprise rather than an expected outcome. The ability to believe in the newness of each attempt is a skill of extreme value.
Most people in the world aren’t trying to hit a perfectly visible 192 square feet. The area of their targets is much less defined and so are the defenders. However the greatest indicator of success or failure still resides in the mind of the person going toward the goal. Some goals are forgotten about because they’ve been mastered for so long. Tying ones shoelaces used to be something but now it is nothing. No defenders, no goal keeper, an open space to be hit with almost no effort. However that final exam, talking to that special person, starting that project: those goals are defended by giants. The goalkeeper is a jungle cat with hands. While the goalmouth itself is covered with well cemented bricks laid by a master mason. Or at least that’s what is represented in their mind. The truth of the matter is there are very few goals in this world that are completely defended.
The question truly becomes “Do you see the goal?” Not the entire general space but the little undefended area where you can get through. With your desired objective can you see past all of the obstacles and find the route to victory? Or can you build up enough desire and strength to muscle through the giants and the jungle cat and blast through the wall that stands in your way? Both are possible strategies but just like those maestros, first you need to see it. Then take the first step to get there. Even the simplest goals don’t score themselves. You need to act first!
As I often do, I take soccer concepts and relate them to life. This may be the most important metaphor that I use. The center circle is a part of the field that can be easy to overlook. If you draw a soccer field with all of the other lines but leave it off, someone might not even notice. Despite the fact that it may not be the shape that defines a soccer field, it is guaranteed to be used at least twice in a standard game. The other important characteristic of this piece of soccer geography is that the opponent is not allowed inside the circle when your team is kicking off. These are the important aspects of the center circle. It is crucial but under-appreciated.
Much like the center circle is a practice that I adopted years ago. At least twice per day, I take the time to shut out all other distractions and give thanks. It is quite possibly the most important thing that I do each day. Every morning when I wake up and right before I go to sleep, I say thank you for all of the things that I have in my life and list several specifically. It only takes about a minute on each occasion. Despite the small amount of time that it takes, it has been an absolute game-changer. The reason that it is so extremely important is that it is a protected space where I focus on the good that I already have.
So many people are spending their lives chasing the things that they don’t have. There is nothing wrong with pursuit. I am a huge fan of going for the things that you want from life. My company’s tag line is “Persistently Chasing Excellence.” The problem is not the desire for things that you don’t have. It is not being grateful for the things that you do. There are two sides to this sword that can cut you.
The first cut comes by not taking stock of all that you have in this moment. No matter who you are, there are great things going on in your life that you may be ignoring. By practicing gratitude, it brings these things into focus. Our brains need to delete so much of what happens throughout the day. Therefore if we do not consciously focus on that which we are grateful for, it will be taken for granted.
The second cut is connected to the first. If you do not practice gratitude on a regular basis, when you finally get the thing that you’re chasing, the joy will be short-lived. You’ll celebrate for a little while but eventually the novelty will wear off. That new thing will become just another thing. A new unique desire will catch your eye and you’ll pursue it. All the while you’ll feel empty because you’re not content with what you have. The source of your happiness is located someplace outside of yourself. Therefore you are the dog chasing its own tail. You already possess what you pursue but exhaust yourself with the futile exercise.
So take the time. The minutes are insignificant but the impact of the exercise is huge! By doing this every day, you’ll get in the habit of noticing all that you have. It will energize you to go after the things that you want. That pursuit is one that you can feel confident won’t be in vane. No matter whether you get the new or not. You’ll be grateful for what you have and appreciate the new if you get it.
Draw the center circle and don’t let the opponents in. Remember though that you can bring people from your own team in to help you kick things off. My guess is that they’ll be happy to help you when they know how grateful you are for them.
I am a Ted Lasso super fan. Anyone who has had a conversation longer than ten minutes with me over the past two months has been told to watch the show. Somehow Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt and Bill Lawrence created the perfect TV show for me. At this point, I’ve watched each episode at least five times and I’m probably lowballing that number. Despite my love for the content, I’m not going to just sing the praises of the show. I’m focused on the biggest takeaway from the show.
Although it is in essence a sitcom, Ted Lasso works on a variety of levels. Laughs are intermingled with possible tears and new vocabulary. While the origins of the Ted Lasso character come from a commercial where he leads with stupidity, the show’s main character leads with caring and empathy. Despite being out of his depth in his job, he is (usually) unapologetically himself. This is a refreshing characteristic to find. In a world where so many people are in a constant state of posturing for their audience, being yourself seems to be a lost art in many ways. Accepting others seems to almost be easier.
The oddities, faults and curiosities that other people carry can be easily overlooked because “it’s not me.” Unfortunately being ourselves is often difficult because the court of public opinion is open 24/7/365 these days. It can be exhausting to maintain a public persona that is different from who you truly are. This tactic also erodes self-esteem over time because it’s hard to “esteem” someone that you’re hiding from the world.
Now this is not an excuse to have an Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club moment and dump your metaphorical purse into the world’s lap. It is however a call to feel comfortable in your own skin. Live in at least a mental existence where who you are is OK. Then share that person that you most want to be with your world first. Your world is not the world. It’s the people that you love and trust. By doing those experiments at home first, you’ll get a sense of how you come across to other people. Again this is not a call for no filters but rather a bit more honesty. One of my favorite public figures, Tom Bilyeu, admits quite openly that he wants to be a Jedi. Not a lightsaber wielding spaceman but an influencer of people’s minds. That idea or dream of being something outside of the norm is uncomfortable for most of us. However admitting who we are, what we want and how important things are to us is a crucial piece of our development as people. Otherwise we’re a dancer in a Gap commercial. Not dancing for joy but because it’s a job. Not wearing khakis because we love them because that’s the costume.
So here is my public admission. I want to be the team psychologist for Peterborough United. The ridiculousness of this aspiration is not lost upon me. At the moment, I don’t have any of the credentials that a team might require. I’m an American who has mainly coached at the high school and college level. Much like Ted Lasso, I may be in over my head for that job. That doesn’t mean that I need to give up or apologize or lie about my desire to other people or especially myself. Perhaps I’m a fool to believe in this dream but I’d rather be the star in my own sitcom where I’m the butt of many jokes rather than a background character in a Gap commercial where I’m indistinguishable from anyone else.
So start inside your own head. Get comfortable in that skin of yours. It’s not going anywhere and neither are the basics of who you are. You’re not a background dancer. You’re a star! Shine for the people around you!
Having grown up in the relative infancy of soccer in the US, the information that I had about the game came directly from my coaches. Soccer was not readily available on TV like it is today. Therefore the switch from a 2-3-5 to a 4-4-2 seemed less like a change in tactics and more like a change in coaches or seasons. As the game has progressed over the past few decades, there are more formations available than ever. Players and coaches have their preferences on how to organize their teams. The function of a formation is not to directly solve problems. It is to provide a structure of standard operating procedures for a team. Therefore players can recognize patterns and hopefully create openings within their opponents defense. While this is a completely necessary portion of a team’s strategy, it does not solve all problems nor does it always represent the best use of talent.
While none of us is running a “4-4-2 life,” it is important to have some form of organization to the way that you attack your day. Leaving things up to chance is a great way to end up getting nothing meaningful done. Coaches will generally have two or possibly three formations that they will use in order to attack a particular opponent’s weaknesses. This is probably a helpful guiding principle for organizing your days. In general you want to have in mind whether you are attacking the day or defending in order to counter. If you look at each activity that you do as a player, then how have you aligned yourself. Are you completely defensive? Only doing the things that protect the status quo that you’ve set up for yourself. Or are you mainly offensive? Using all of your time to move yourself forward in some way: financially, socially, mentally, spiritually or in your career. The way that you allot your time is going to tell you something about intentions. Are you actually playing the game that you want to be? Are you trying to win it or hoping not to lose? Is your formation completely dependent upon your “opponent”?
Just like in the game, formations are necessary for organization and strategy but what happens in transition is usually the difference between winning and losing. The way that a team deals with things when their plans fall apart is crucial to their overall success. Those moments in between all of the planned activities. How are they spent? If you’ve invested time and effort into working out but then undercut that forward motion by snacking in transition, your formation becomes almost meaningless. While some people might use this as an excuse for more organization and formation, my preference is toward principles and defining goals.
In a game of soccer, the goal is always the same. However in life, our goals can cover a wide range of possibilities. At any given moment, I would try to limit yourself to three unless you have more that can truly coexist without interfering with one another. Build your principles around the goals that you have for yourself. If your major goal revolves around health and fitness, then set up principles that align with your desired outcome. Decide what you are going to do in chaotic situations before they come up. By developing principles ahead of time, it is less likely that a chaotic moment will devolve into negative consequences. Life is a game that you can win with the right formation and principles about how to deal with transition. Set yourself up and then ATTACK! Or defend, it’s really up to you!
Make a great day!
Many people refer to soccer as a “religion” and while I see where they are coming from, I use it as a metaphor for life. It can be used in a variety of ways to bring clarity to a world that can be difficult to traverse. My co-author and I are working on a book that uses soccer to explain person finance. If you’re interested in getting details as the project develops, sign up below.
It was a true pleasure to watch the US Men’s National Team dismantle El Salvador last night in their match. Although the game was a friendly and El Salvador was not at full strength, this is the type of result that one would expect from a sport obsessed nation when competing against a country one fiftieth its size. As Iceland has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, population is not truly relevant when judging a footballing nation. However the numbers simply provide a context for available talent pool. Even with the competition from the other major US sports, more people play soccer in the US than the entire population of El Salvador. Seeing a tangible result to all of the shifts in US soccer over the past decade was refreshing. Despite my joy in seeing the young squad of US player, it has made me think about the collateral damage of a system that needs to cast aside over 99% of individuals to find those special few.
The US soccer pyramid is not truly a pyramid as it has several dysfunctions and offshoots. However due to the lack of a better term, we’ll refer to it as a pyramid. The structure itself is not completely relevant to the discussion.
The collateral damage that I am referring to is not unique to the US, nor is it new. A youth player from the Manchester City academy committed suicide earlier this year. This is the most extreme example of the ways in which young players can be affected by their fall from the soccer pyramid. Every year young players and old are given their release from a club. Sometimes it is simply a move to a different club or different level. Unfortunately when the ultimate decision is made that a player is no longer “good enough” at their particular level of the soccer pyramid, the fall can be devastating if they are not prepared.
In the United States, the academy system is in its relative infancy compared to the rest of the world. The college system used to be the route to the professional game and with it came an education which served as a “back up plan.” Even with that “back up plan” in place, I’m not sure that it deals with the most pressing issue. A player who has devoted over a decade to the dream of “making it” in soccer (however they would define it) needs to have the psychological tools to deal with that disappointment. A parachute can be a literal lifesaver when falling from high heights but it needs to be strapped on tight before the fall.
The following items are some suggestions that can be packed into the psychological parachute for players in case they fall off the pyramid.
A diversified identity – Although we are all only one person, we tend to have different roles that we play within our lives. A person with a singular focus like professional athletics can tend to have tunnel vision on that identity. Developing other aspects of one’s life can not only help in the case of a fall but also allow for the release of pressure during their career. Although this identity includes how the individual interacts with the outside world, it is also extremely important that he/she recognize these other identities inside of his/her own mind. The trauma of losing a part of one’s life is much worse if it is the only part that mattered. That void will need to be filled with something and the easiest things to fill a void with are usually destructive.
Quality self-talk – There are many ways that this could be characterized but the heart of the issue is that there is only one person that we spend our entire life with: ourselves. Therefore it is extremely important that we make that person who is living inside of our own heads a friend. Learning how to communicate effectively with yourself is crucial to the building and maintenance of self-esteem. For some reason it seems to me that “esteem” gets overshadowed in that compound word. Esteem is a pretty lofty opinion of someone. It should be something that we can bestow onto ourselves with our words and actions.
Quality relationships – Again this is something that needs to be packed in the parachute before the fall. People are less likely to help when they feel that they are being used. Friends and family are key components to our psychological well being. The bonds that we have with the people that we value in our lives releases oxytocin which lowers stress (cortisol) and inhibits addiction. If these types of relationships are not well in place before falling from the pyramid, the stress of “not knowing who to trust” can exacerbate an already difficult situation.
Physiological hooks – The body is an amazing antidote to most things that ail the mind. While my hope would be that a player of high caliber would understand how to change her/his state for games or practices, it may be less evident to use these tools when “the walls have tumbled down.” Disappointment, embarrassment, depression and a host of other emotional states may be easier to fall into after the end of a career. Recognizing the control that each of us has over our emotional state through our posture, habitual movements, facial expressions and others is a skill that every individual should develop. This is not a sports skill. It’s a life skill! Creating our emotional state is our job because when it is left up to the world, we are bound to be disappointed by the outcome.
This list is far from exhaustive. However it does begin the conversation about the psychological tools that we all should develop. In this hyper-intense world of high level soccer, it is easy to be so focused on a singular outcome that these tools do not get developed. Unlike the college education which was viewed as a “back up plan,” psychological well being should be THE PLAN for all of us in order to make our journey through life an enjoyable one.
A player’s first touch is crucial to their success as they progress to higher levels of playing. Although speed, a great shot, tactical knowledge, etc. may be desired, a quality first touch is a foundation that can enhance any skill stacked upon it and mask defects that would otherwise be apparent. Just like any other skill, a first touch requires physical practice but the skill in and of itself is heavily intertwined with being proactive. The ability to control the ball is not particularly a good first touch. It is the combination of control with the vision to see where it would be most advantageous to put the ball. Many players possess the skill to control the ball in open space. However amongst the chaos of small space, little time and huge pressure is the true proving ground for a quality first touch.
Although I would love for each of us to use this post as a catalyst for improving our first touch on the field, like always, I’m thinking to the bigger game of life. In life, the rules, skills and strategies are more subject to interpretation. That is why I put the word philosophy in the title. Each of us must develop our own stance on how we progress in life. Therefore it is not for me to say what is best for you, the philosophy part is up to you. However I am going to suggest some of the places where you might find opportunities to take great “first touches.” Below is a video of Frank Lampard (not my favorite player) scanning the field during his days with Chelsea (not my favorite team). Although I do not love the player, it’s easy to appreciate the preparedness. Being aware of your surroundings enough that you can make a better decision when the opportunity arises.
First Touch Opportunities
Here are some opportunities for you to set yourself up for success. The decision about how to approach these situations is up to you depending on your goals and strategy.
First thing in the morning. This is the truest of all “first touches.” What do you do when first wake up? Are you reactive to the way you feel? Proactive based on decisions made beforehand?
Meeting new people. This is another spot where you get to choose who it is that you want to be. This person doesn’t know you and no matter what you do, they will never know you 100%. They will only ever get a small percentage of who you are based on what you show them. Do you want to show them your BIG personality? Or are you sending the message that you are more interested in them? This may change based on the circumstances but is there a thought process behind your interactions?
Walking into a room. It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. However I am huge believer in the fact that you should not trust what people say, nor what they do, trust the pattern. So every time that you walk into a room, you have a new opportunity to be the version of yourself that you want on display. What is your pattern? How do you show up regularly?
After making a mistake. This is a crucial time where chaos may be upon you. Perhaps not external chaos but internal chaos. A first touch is all about control and setting yourself up for success. How do you react to mistakes? Do you tear yourself down internally? Externally? Do you relive it in your head? Do you evaluate it in order to prevent it from repeating? Worst case scenario, do you even see your mistakes? Amidst the chaos of life, it is easy to get turned around. If you’ve not defined which goal is yours, it is possible that you’re heading in the wrong direction and don’t know it.
After someone hurts you. Looking for retribution is easy! Sometimes it might be the right answer. More often than not, it isn’t! Usually the people that are given the power to hurt you, have it because you share a relationship. Two ends of a “ship” taking shots at one another almost guarantees that the “ship” is going down. Is it a mistake? Does hurting the other person make you feel better? Do you even need to be hurt by this? In the chaos of the moment, these are hard questions to ask. So it may be helpful to rehearse some situations inside your head before they happen. See yourself acting in a way that will help you.
Obviously this list is not complete. There are plenty of places in your life where you can employ control and a vision for where it is advantageous to go. Just like a first touch on the field, it takes practice before the chaos. Practice is something that starts when you are on your own. Meditation, visualization, journaling and self-talk are some of the best tools that you can use to develop control and vision. These skills need to be honed over time. Then much like Lampard in the video clip, you need to be scanning the field to make opportunities out of the openings that you see or avoid the hard tackle coming from your backside. Life is inherently “out of control”. The only thing that we can control is ourselves. Make the best of the touches that you get today.
There was a point in the past where the mark of a “good” soccer ball was that it was “hand stitched.” Unfortunately most of that stitching was probably done by children in another part of the world but we’re going to put the geo-political implications aside for the moment. Quality was associated with human labor. Someone putting in an effort to create. Doing it with intention that lead to a better result. While technology has improved enough that a machine can make a better soccer ball than a kid in a sweat shop. Some tasks are better done by hand and maybe even by children.
While I have no desire to make a better soccer ball, I do have an explicit interest in helping to make better people. It is nowhere near as simple as manufacturing because the material is inconsistent. The methods are various and not always effective or efficient. However there is one that I am more sure of than ever as we cope with this pandemic. Better people are made by hand. This does not mean that they are stitched together by a low wage worker in another country. It simply means that contact is key. Our ability to become a better version of ourselves depends heavily on the influence of people. While the position of influencer seems to have been reduced to someone who has a lot of followers, it truly is the people that we allow to nudge us in one direction or another. Those little pieces of other people that we pick up can be stitched together into something beautifully functional. Much like the panels of a soccer ball, we have a patchwork design that fits together in a way that no machine could predict. So we need to be “hand-stitched” and at some point we need to do it to ourselves.
There is a societal push toward perfection. Clearer pictures on TV, faster Wifi, smarter automobiles… These improvements seem to positively impact lives. However that same expectation around human existence is more dangerous than anything else. We are born through difficulty and struggle. Usually that is what makes us better as well. We need to be hand-stitched because from time to time, life tears us apart. It’s a skill that needs to be developed, picking up the pieces. Even though we want to protect our kids from anything harmful, they need to learn how to sew. Otherwise they’ll be dependent upon other things or people to make them feel put together.