It wasn’t a 100% binary equation. Gladiators could win, lose or “tie”. Not even all of the defeated were condemned to death. Despite these extenuating circumstances, one thing is most definitely certain, bad gladiators died. I have no desire to bring back gladiatorial games or anything of the sort but in some ways our pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.
In modern society the crowd would seemingly want every gladiator to feel like a winner. Swords would be made of foam rubber but helmets would still be worn just in case. Gladiators would be paired by skill level and the most likely death would come from boredom of the truly talented gladiators. While I am not a fan of truly “zero sum games”, there have to be stakes. Gladiators got good because they had to. Everyone knew that bad gladiators die, the gladiators knew this best.
By all accounts we do not live in a gladiatorial society nor would I truly want to. A bloodthirsty mob looking to revel in the pain of the vanquished is not where we need to go. However a world without stakes has no incentive to move forward. The same holds for an individual. What is at stake for you today? Have you set yourself up in a game where you can win, lose or tie? Or is nothing at stake today? Are you armed with your foam rubber sword hacking away at the same meaningless opponent that you fought yesterday? Bad gladiators of the past got to die quickly. Bad gladiators today die slowly while trying to reassure themselves that they would be lethal if not for this foam rubber. The price of finding out if you’re good or not is to risk the possibility of dying on the metaphorical sword. That might be embarrassment, finances, time or many other things but something needs to be at stake. So step into the arena, put something on the line and see what you’re made of!
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena!
About a year ago, I took my daughter to a Devils game. To be honest, she didn’t seem overly interested in the game. It appeared that she was more excited by the cotton candy and Devil horns. I was extremely surprised when she said at the end of the game “I want to play hockey.” At that point we had only taken her ice skating a handful of times. I told her that I fully supported the idea of her playing hockey but that there were some steps she needed to go through first. She needed to spend this winter improving her skating and starting to learn how to play the game. This past weekend she had her first hockey tournament.
This is not a story about some miraculous discovery of talent that blossomed over the past year. My daughter spends a large amount of time on the ice. Literally, she falls down more than anyone on her team, usually during the handshakes at the end of the game. Her team lost all of their games this past weekend by an average margin of over 10 goals. They did not score once. I loved every minute watching her play! Not because she played great, she didn’t. Not because she gave it everything she had, she didn’t. I loved it because she went out there to pay the price of entry: FAILURE.
This is the thing that stops most people. They don’t want to feel bad or look foolish, so they move on quickly from things that invite failure into their lives. The truth is that failure is the “ante” that we all must put in to play the poker games of life. We must risk failure in order to play. It’s unfortunate that we’ve become so completely risk averse that people don’t want to play unless they’re guaranteed to win. The joy in a “for sure” victory is relatively hollow. It is only in those times where we truly risk failure that we are living fully. Taking the chance to learn from missteps, blunders and shortcomings is a major ingredient of later success. The leap is a prerequisite.
So as you go out into the world today and do whatever it is that makes you feel alive, do it with the joy of a 9 year old girl. One who had such a big smile on her face most of the weekend that no one would have ever known her team lost by large margins. I do not believe that you should want to fail. I just believe that you should be willing to RISK IT!
Talent is coveted, scouted, poached and revered in this country. It often comes with an extremely high price tag. That price is monetary in the professional ranks. However at the lower levels, the price of talent is far too often the possibility of teamwork. At times this comes from jealousy of teammates. Unfortunately it is more frequently a result of trading team ethos for star power. It may get results but are they the right ones and for how long?
I’ve often told my teams that “I’d bench Pele if his play didn’t make us a better team.” Now I’ve never had the pleasure of coaching the Brazilian star (nor would he need me) but that statement has usually followed the benching of a talented player for putting him/herself above the team. The unfortunate thought that is going through several people’s heads at the moment is that “a great player always makes a team better.” How I wish that were true but I know that it is not.
Talent does not exist in a vacuum. It comes attached to a person who has a narrative inside of his/her head about what their talent means. For some it makes them a large gear in the machine of the team. While others tell themselves a story that the team is “nothing” without them. In my preferred sport of soccer, I’ve never seen this to be true but I know it has been thought.
The key to a coach extinguishing this narrative is to swallow the hard pills at the right times. Recognizing when a talented player has forgotten they are part of a whole and have them sit to consider that point. Knowing when a player has “outgrown” a team and let their talent go. These are the types of decisions that are good for the long term of the team and the player but difficult in the moment.
The stories that we tell ourselves are important. They frame the world into a model that makes sense out of our personal experience of the world. There are billions of stories going on around the world. My personal belief is that the accuracy of the story is not as important as the helpfulness of the story. I started off by saying that I’d bench Pele… I’m never going to be put in that position but it frames a belief system in a way that leaves no doubt to my conviction. So as you go into your day, what’s your story? Is the world out to get you? Are your best days behind you? Are you the world’s best student? Is this your breakout year? It’s only a story and you can keep it if you want to but put it to my test, does it help?
Go add to your story today!
Many sports teams are in the middle of their preseason sessions at the moment. I’m sure that many players are working hard. It is almost a prerequisite for any level of success in the sports world. The reason that I hedge is that there is a higher level of effort that is more in line with the actual effort. That level of effort is called labor.
Work is a scientific or mathematical equation: force x distance = work. It also has particular connotations in our culture. Common words that are associated with work are: hard, job, difficult, employment and pain. While these may be common, I don’t know that I would describe them as positive. Although we recognize the value of hard work. Many people would look to avoid it.
The reason that I would change to labor is not because work and labor are synonyms. It is actually in labor’s secondary meaning that all of the magic happens. Although many people may make work and labor the same inside of their heads. Labor is the process of giving birth. In particular the final part before delivery. Taken as a whole, the process leading up to and including labor is no picnic. Talk to almost any mother and there will be stories of morning sickness, discomfort and pain leading to a crescendo of “ultimate pain”. At this point, work is sounding pretty good! The difference between the two is that at the end of labor, there’s a miracle to behold. Almost any mother will tell you that it is the worst pain but all is forgotten in the end.
So as you start any endeavor, go in with the idea that you are going to labor toward your goal. The pain and discomfort are part of the process toward the eventual miracle that you are looking for. In the end, the pain will be forgotten and you’ll be able to rejoice in the two things that you’ve created: your goal and the new version of you!
Go labor toward your passion today!
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!
Love you guys!
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!
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.
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.