Sunday, November 13, 2005

Are You Ready For Some Soccer!!!!!!!!!

Whew, what a weekend.

We just returned from a long weekend at a soccer tournament, far, far away from here that PD1 and her team competed in. I enjoy watching these games, and I must say there is so much to the game that I never fully appreciated when I was a kid. As I've said before, soccer was for the kids who's moms were concerned about injuries, and so we didn't really give it much attention. Of course this was an unreflective, crackpot sort of view that I've subsequently come to look past, and I now appreciate the strategy, physicality, and intensity of a game where every score could be decisive.

This post isn't about that though. What I want to write about is the importance of sports in the development of kids. Of course my only perspective is my own experience and that of my daughters', but I have seen a lot in these experiences and I find that sports are as important in our young lives as school work, or anything else that we're likely to take on at an early age.

First, we must agree that sports are about winning and losing, and that beyond the obvious importance of sportsmanship, nothing else matters.


I'm so tempted to depart from this post's intent to rant about those parents (we all know who I'm talking about here) who think that we need to protect kids from failure, and neuter the impact of competition on a child's development. I'm not going to do that, other than to say, these people are lost, and my hope is that they're children experience the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" inspite of these good, but misguided intentions.

I haven't mentioned it here before, but PD1 is a pretty good soccer player. I don't think we need to start reserving rooms at the 2012 Olympics, or even at whatever college she ultimately attends, but she is always one of the best players on the field, no matter what team she joins. This is the result of a certain level of innate athletic ability, but is also due to her enjoyment of the game and the level of intensity that she maintains on the field.

Over the past two years we had become increasingly disenchanted with the local team that she was on. The coaching was poor, players were not challenged to get better, and while people spoke of wanting to win, there was no real commitment. Most disturbing was watching my daughter's love of the game decline before my very eyes because of these issues.

So we moved teams. This was not without it's consequences as we live in a very small town where something like leaving the local team is viewed as an act of disloyalty. Once our decision became known, the head of the soccer association phoned PD1 and not very subtly threatened her future career in the local high school, and other parents expressed their disappointment as well. All of this made us wonder if we were doing the right thing; it is just a silly soccer league after all.

Our decision was compounded by the fact that PD1 was put on the "new" team that was being formed at this other soccer association. While her old team would continue to play at the A/B level, the new group was going to start out at the B level. As you can imagine, this was met with a few snickers, but we insisted to our daughter that there are times in your life when a small step back will mean a big step forward down the road.. Behind close doors, we of course panicked!

This fall went very well. The new team had an outstanding coach who focused on conditioning, skill development, and winning. The team, a group of girls who had not played together previously, responded better than could be expected and won their league with a 7-1 record, 26 goals for and 6 goals against. This spring, not only will they move up in competition but they will move up a couple of levels and play at the premier level. With the possible addition of two new players they may even have a shot at the state cup.

So great, but that really isn't the point either. What happened this weekend is the point.

The team went to this tournament to play A level teams and we hoped for the best, but feared the worst. Their first game was tough, but they won it 2-1 and they didn't even play very well. It soon became clear that they were suffering from over confidence. When the second game started the table was set for disaster. It hit hard.

They were playing a team that was obviously not very talented and our girls dominated the first 10 minutes of the game. They then collapsed and in one of the worst butt kickings I have ever seen on a soccer field, they lost 5-0. It wasn't as close as the score indicates.

The team was devastated. Their false sense of invinciblity destroyed, they didn't know what to do next. Our coach was beside himself, but after chewing the team out, he told them to forget it. "Bad game, failure happens to everyone. The real test is how you respond to this experience", he said.

Truer words were never spoken. The next day the team played to a 0-0 tie, but what a difference. Their passing was better than ever. They returned to using the full field, and keeping their opponents on the run. As the time was drawing to an end, they didn't panic knowing that they hadn't scored yet, they just put more pressure on. When it was all over, despite the fact that they didn't win the game, they knew that they had beaten something bigger, and in the process took the first step to learning how to win.

Learning how to win. We often look at winners in life, and think they have more talent, more brains, or possibly better connections. While this all may be true, it still is not what makes winners. Winners perservere, and use a quiet confidence to push through life's challenges to deliver victory. This is the magic of sports; they teach our kids that failure is something everyone experiences, and that failure by necessity, must only be a temporary state.

Winning is different. Winning is the end state, and while in each event it is a zero sum game, in life there is enough for all who have the desire to get there.

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