This is a big week for soccer. The Champions League semi-finals are going on and I’m hoping on one of my favorites (Real Madrid) for the championship. While I love soccer, one of my favorite pastimes is watching my son play the game. At seven years old, he is no World Cup superstar. Yet, I love kicking the ball with him, giving him small insights into the game and seeing him go after something he deeply loves.
This kids loves soccer. The ball. The game. The kicking. The running. The World Cup. The Brasil National Team. Clean passes. Foot tricks. Real Madrid. Ricardo “Kaka”. Messi.
Recently, my son’s newly forming city league youth recreation team had a pre-season game. Their opponent? None other than the city’s only youth club soccer team. The score? 8-2. It was barely a game honestly. The tragedy? No one won.
I’m tempted to go off and complain about the youth soccer development in our country and why our National Team continues to flounder as their own worst enemy. But I won’t. Rather, I’d like to reflect on what it means to win and what it means to lose.
Truly nobody won that day. I lost watching an enjoyable game. My son and his team lost the opportunity to play. The other team lost the opportunity to learn.
I love soccer. My son has certainly been influenced by my true love for the game. I played growing up and in college and still dig out the old cleats once a year for an annual Turkey Match on Thanksgiving. Even more, I love the beautiful game. I so enjoy seeing the skill, cunning, athleticism and surprise of soccer. None of this was possible because both teams could only care about winning.
My son and his team lost because they never had the opportunity to play. Soon after it became evident that our team was far outmatched, the strategy switched to passing the ball to the single best player and hoping for a goal (not unlike our current MLS strategies). Once that happened, everyone lost the opportunity to play. No one wants to watch a bunch of kids running back and forth on the grass for an hour.
The other team lost because they learned nothing about the beautiful game of soccer. Instead they acted out the pragmatic sport of kicking a ball into a net as often as possible. With no regard for the essence of the game, no one learned.
The only way to win in soccer, and in life, is to find joy. Take every opportunity to play and keep learning along the way, but choose joy in the midst of it all.