I need more things cluttering my calendar like I need another Kardashian bootying up my news feed. That’s why we’re coming to a crossroads at my house — between practices, tournaments and buying another pair of cleats he’ll soon grow out of, my son’s soccer career is getting to be a pain. We could always go the rec route, but playing rec sports is like being a competitive speller in Alabama. There’s just not enough competition around to push you to be the best you can bee (see what I did there?). But the kid’s got what it takes to go far, and if he does, he’s going to learn some lessons that sports can teach better than anything else. Like these:
Kickers are important too.
You have a kicker in your office. You probably just don’t know it. Maybe he’s the Homer Simpson-looking programmer with the World of Warcraft figurines on his desk, who may or may not have brought an escort to the last office party. Maybe he’s the accountant who never comes out of his office. But successful teams have players that bring specific skills and there’s nothing wrong with being that role player. In fact, in the real world, having a very specific skill makes you harder to find and harder to replace. Which gets you the big checks. Don’t hate the kicker. Be the kicker.
If it comes down to penalty kicks, you’d better have practiced them.
Whether you’re chatting up a potential customer you ran into at the bar, killing it in a job interview or pitching your boss on the new project that’s going to get you that next step up the ladder, if you haven’t practiced, you’re going to hit it over the bar (not in the good way). An old Roman dude named Seneca (the Younger, not Crane) said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Every soccer player who ever hit the last penalty kick to win a championship did so because of the hours and hours of practice they’d put in. Life is the same way. Think Lionel Messi lucked himself into a World Player of the Year award? The dude’s 5′ 7″. Adi Dassler himself may have stitched together his DNA, but Messi took his genes and ran with them. Over and over. When he was tired, he kept running. And when the pressure’s on and the game’s on the line, the work he put in practicing is what keeps him from folding. Just like you.
It’s ok if you can’t make free throws, but you better be a beast in the paint.
You can only get away with sucking at so many things. Shaquille O’Neal was so bad at free throws that his opponents created a whole strategy around putting him on the foul line. But the hack-a-Shaq strategy didn’t work, and Shaq was still the 1999-2000 NBA MVP. In the real world there’s nothing wrong with being bad at something. Steve Jobs was notoriously bad at managing people. Mark Cuban is terrible at not saying stupid things. Both of them are/were among the most successful business leaders in the world, but it’s because they’re so good at everything else that they can get away with it. Sometimes it’s ok to spend time maximizing the things you are good at instead of obsessing over the things you’re not.
If you don’t surround yourself with the right people, you won’t win championships.
Charles Barkley is one of the best players to ever play the game of basketball. He won a league MVP, was an 11-time all-star, and never won a championship because one player can win a ton of games, but they’ll never win championships by themselves. To do that, even if you’re a star you have to have a team around you that’s capable of pulling their weight. Also true in life.
You control how you play, not whether you win.
Karl Malone is another NBA MVP who never won a championship. But Malone also had John Stockton, one of the best point guards who ever played the game alongside of him. Unfortunately, he also had Michael Jordan, whose prime coincided almost exactly with Malone’s. Malone’s career goes to show that no matter what you do, and even if you have the best people around you, you can’t guarantee winning. What you can do is define success as something different than winning. Starting a business? Doesn’t matter what sector you’re inâ€”you don’t control the market. You do control how you interact with the people you hire. You control how hard you work, and what kind of model you set for your kids. That kind of success is always within your grasp. Shoot for it, and don’t stress if you lose a game here or there (even a big one).
If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good you play good.
My high school baseball coach would’ve finished that saying with, “And if you play good, you win,” but we already know in the real world you don’t control whether you win. What is true is that if you take care of yourself first, you’ll perform better. People who make health and fitness a priority aren’t just happier, they’re also more successful. Sometimes that means skipping (gasp!) an hour of work to go to the gym. Sometimes it means choosing not to respond to that late night email. Take care of yourself and your performance will take care of itself.
When I have to cut that next check to the soccer club, those are the kinds of things I’ll be telling myself he’s learning. Sure, he could learn them other ways. But most of the other ways suck. Just another reason sports are better than pretty much everything else. Make sports not war.
Of all of the people who tweet, I am by far one of them.