When the Obstacle becomes the Opportunity

May 24, 2016

A Sunday afternoon in early Spring. Heads hung low. One kid is crying…then another. Like Dominoes. Blaming each other. Blaming the ref. 10-1. Final Score.

I have the privilege of coaching my son’s soccer team. They are 7 and 8 yr olds. Young…very impressionable. We walked off the field a few weeks ago as 10-1 losers. Down early 2-0, we decided to pack it in. Lots of pouting, lots of negativity. 2-0 quickly become 5-0 at halftime and I knew during the halftime talk that I lost them.

I don’t usually do this but I called a meeting after the game with both our players and parents. Look, I get that these kids are young, but this was about more than some sport. This was life stuff. This was an opportunity masked in adversity. We wear a slogan on our shirts – “Become Better”. We talked that day about responding to adversity. We talked about stepping up when things don’t go our way. We talked about not pouting and being resilient. I wasn’t sure how it would resonate.

Fast forward two weeks. We played the same team, different result. 4-3 loss. We were in it. There were signs of resilience being born. The seed was planted….or so I hoped. One week later, playing the best team in our age group in Columbus – down 4-1….we decided to fight back…we ended up losing 5-3. Progress…

Over the course of the next few weeks, more of the pouts and sulking turned into grit and focus. Every game, every practice, it was a constant melody line. Step up. Respond. Control what you can control. I know – just 7 and 8 – you may be thinking I’m crazy….but, the opportunity to teach was staring me in the face. These boys are like potter’s clay right now. We continued to beat the drum.

Three weeks ago. A sunny Sunday afternoon. Our third Final in the last two seasons. We were ready. We just stepped up in our early morning semi-final and played our best game ever. We were ready. The game turned south quickly. Parents were yelling, refs were yelling – it was, frankly, too much pressure on these young kids. We were the better team that day in the first half but couldn’t put the ball in the net. That frustration added on to the intensity of the game turned into a debacle in the second half. We started to complain again. We stopped controlling what we could. The emotion of the game took over. Result – 3-0 Loss. The good news – we didn’t totally give up like we did a few weeks back. Another teaching opportunity…

So, we continued to talk about stepping up….being resilient…our melody line.

Our final tournament was this past weekend. This would be our last time together as soccer in the US is changing the way the age groups are laid out. The team, these boys, will be splitting up this Fall. So, the test was upon us. How would we perform?

In our two early games, we found ourselves behind. As I said earlier, our MO had been to pack it in when things weren’t going our way just a few weeks ago. We found a way to win both of those. I started to hear some of my players pick each other up. I could see it in their faces. Focus, resilience – a beautiful thing to watch.

So, we were on to our Final….and an opportunity to redeem our game from two weeks earlier – we were playing the same team. Let’s just say the last game didn’t end well. There were hard fouls and words between coaches and parents. It wasn’t pretty. It was actually everything that’s wrong with youth sports. Thankfully, we were able to work with this team, the refs and the parents, to ensure the atmosphere would be a positive one for both teams. It was intense, but much more palatable for these kids to have fun and compete.

Five minutes in….my boys our down 0-2. Familiar territory. This time, though….no quit. I even heard one of my players yelling on the field to “keep fighting”. I felt good about this one. We indeed battled back…made it 2-1 by halftime. Tied it up in the second half, then took the lead 3-2. After conceding a late goal, we went to a Penalty Kick Shoot Out. It’s a crap shoot in those things and I feel bad for anyone who’s on the losing end. Our first player missed his, they made. Not a good start. Second player (my son, Gabe), makes, their kid misses, so we’re back in it. Our third and final shooter has to make to send it to Sudden Death Penalty Kicks, where you go one for one. He makes. Talk about pressure on these kids. Our 4th and 5th players both scored….so did they. So, it came down player 6…our Goalie makes a save. Now, it’s down to one of my little guys – I wasn’t even sure if he could get the ball to the goal. He steps up and buries it. We win. The joy on these kids faces…

But…the result didn’t matter. It really didn’t. These kids already showed what they were made of. 2-0 down no longer became the cause for panic…the catalyst for blaming each other….for sulking. 2-0 down now becomes the rallying cry. The opportunity. The melody line.

I learned a lot of lessons coaching these kids. It reaffirmed a lot for me on how to handle situations in life and in business. We all have a choice. Every day. The cards may be stacked against us in many ways. In fact, you should expect from time to time that the cards are indeed stacked against you. The question though….what are you going to do about it? Will you see it as an opportunity?

My hope is that these seeds are firmly planted inside these kids. They see the fruits of their labor. They tasted what it was like to be resilient. I pray that they will look back on this experience many years from now as they push through whatever it is they’re facing in life.


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