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Sideline speculation and a few lessons learned

Soccer season is stretching into the long, hot summer. The Eight Year Old and her All-Star teammates continue with hours devoted to practice, weekend scrimmages and an upcoming qualifying tournament for the State Games in Meridian.

I’ve been spending a lot of evenings on the sidelines lately, hanging out and talking with other parents. Popular discussion topics include: getting to practice on time, running another child to another field somewhere else, devising a plan for dinner — takeout anyone? And ultimately, wondering if all of this activity is really worth it.

What are we doing? Why do we do it? After all, the time, money and miles have been adding up since August.
When we’ve run out of small talk, we tend to turn our focus back to what’s happening on the field.

Getting in the game

The field is where the action is. These girls go to school together, are friends, get along. But, for much of the year, they’ve been on different teams playing against each other. Turning them into teammates in just a few weeks is an interesting process to watch.

In addition to skills and strategy, there are a number of critical factors that their coaches are working on, including:

• Communication. Good teams have players who talk to each other. They know where everyone else is. (And hopefully, they stay out of their goalkeeper’s way on critical plays, like a corner kick.)

• Trust. It can be easy to try and do too much. Running the entire field doesn’t work, and teams that do that don’t win. Convincing the girls to stay and play their positions — trusting their teammates to take care of the ball — seems to be the trickiest part of the teaching process.

• Working together. It’s a team sport. One player can’t win it for you.

• Sharing the credit — and the blame, too. One of the parents said it perfectly: they win together, they lose together. We all do.

• Have fun. Perhaps the most important point. It is a game, you know.

And the key roles for the coach? Motivation. Putting it all together. Building a team and letting them play.

Lessons for the field, lessons for life

Sports metaphors are so prevalent in our culture because they tend to be true. They work on the field. They work in life. And they work in business, too.

The lessons these under-10 soccer players are learning now will continue to pay dividends long after the fun of winning with their friends fades. And if we’re paying attention, those of us on the sidelines can pick up a lesson or two ourselves.

A month or so ago, I heard a coach ask the players, “Who’s the fastest player on the field?”

The correct answer — it’s the ball. Are you faster than the ball, the coach wanted to know. My thought: Are any of us faster than the ball? Not really, but we don’t quit. We keep running to it if we want to win.

That image brought to mind the famous quote from the late basketball coach Jimmy Valvano: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

Final whistle

There is no shortage of how-to books, high-priced consultants or workplace gurus purporting to have the answers we need to succeed, but sometimes the best advice is right in front of us. In this case, it’s watching a group of girls learning how to maximize their personal skills, strengths and abilities in a way that helps the team win.

Thanks for the lessons, girls. So, again, is it worth it? You bet.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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