If you’re here, that means one or more of a few things:
you have a problem with people telling you what not to do
you have a selective reading issue where you miss certain words
you clicked on it by mistake
you sensed that there was more to this than the title
I’m going to assume the final one because it will get us farther faster!
The ability to see past the obvious and simple solution is not one that everyone possesses. Judging books by their covers or even first chapters is not always the best strategy. Not everything in the world is completely formulaic. Even some chemical formulas require a catalyst to increase the rate of their reaction. Despite these facts, there is a solid majority of people that believe the obvious answer is the only possible answer. One of the main reasons is that it is comfortable. Comfort is probably the ethos of our age. So the reason that I asked you not to read this blog is that I want you act on it.
I’m asking you to be uncomfortable, see past the past and act in spite of any past failures that you might have. We’ve all got something: talking to that special someone, losing weight, making the team, starting a business, writing a book or whatever. At this point it has been written off. You’ve either failed sever times or not tried because you believe that you can’t. Either way make me (or anything else that you choose) your excuse. You need to give that thing another go. Not because you’re guaranteed success this time but because it’s still inside of you somewhere. I don’t really care if you give up on a goal. I just don’t want you to ever give up on yourself.
Every moment is a new opportunity. Pile up the dead carcasses of your past selves and make a staircase to take you to the place where you know that you can get. If you believe that you’re who you’ve always been, that’s exactly who you’ll continue to be. But if you believe, even for a second, that you can be different. You can be stronger, more determine, resourceful, patient, caring, aggressive or anything else that you’ve failed to be in the past. That’s not who you are! That’s who you were! Today, right now before you finish reading. Take a step! No! Take a leap and move yourself forward. The you from six months in the future is BEGGING for you to do it! Because he/she doesn’t want to be where you are now. They want to be five miles down the road or ten thousand dollars richer or in a relationship. So now I’m BEGGING! Don’t read this blogpost! Live it! Step up and out into the world that you deserve and not the one that you’ve grown accustomed to. DON’T READ! DO!
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.
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.
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.