Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Soccer Team

By Bruce Lindsay

Recently, I coached my daughter's school in their county wide soccer tournament. We came 3rd and it was so exciting, I just had to tell everyone about it. The way every player was an important piece of the puzzle, reminded me of the analogy that we are the body of Christ. Let me explain what happened.

The Edmison Heights Soccer team has a long history of going to the All County Tournament and getting beaten like a rented mule. The teacher/coach in charge of the soccer team is Mr. Benn. He admitted to me that he doesn't really know much about soccer, but somebody needs to coach the team. I saw that the number of kids was unmanageable. Over 70 kids tried out for a team that was supposed to only have about 15 players. The tournament was in 2 weeks. Because of other commitments, Mr. Benn had exactly 5 more days he'd be available to teach these kids to play. Some have never played soccer before.

Since my daughter Emma was going to be on the team, I volunteered to help him coach. I've been coaching soccer for 9 years now and I know a lot about how kids play and what they need to do to succeed. After I offered to help, I was faced with these weird parameters.

Mr. Benn didn't want to cut any grade 6 kids. Even if the grade 4 kid could do a backward summersault and score from 50 meters out, and the grade 6 kid has 3 left feet and is so overweight he can't jog the 50 meters, the grade 6 kid stays. The small kids will get a chance next year…

Also, the rule is that on the field there must be 5 boys and 5 girls at the same time. In my experience, that means the girls are going to get killed. The pool of girls trying out was roughly the same as the boys, but more grade 6 boys tried than grade 6 girls. That meant there was some room for the best girls from grade 5 and 4 to make it, but no room for grade 4 boys. The smaller the girl, the more likely she was to get beaten up and bloodied. I wanted to send a note home with all the small girls, making sure they had accident and life insurance.

The school had exactly 2 soccer balls, no goal-posts or soccer field for that matter. And after the first set of cuts, 55 kids waiting in line (of whom I knew about 6 names).

Lucky for me I had some soccer balls of my own!

I focused on soccer drills. I showed them how to do a proper throw-in, where to throw it, and took notes on who did it best. I showed how to do a corner kick and noted who kicked it furthest. (Bragging here: Of the 50; Guess who was the only kid that scored on a corner kick?) I showed them a set play, to take the ball from midfield and pass it backward then boot it up to the forwards to start the game. I showed them how to take a pass over our players head, how to take a pass coming over your head and keep possession of it, how to stay in their lanes so each player knows where they are going to be without looking. I showed them how to strip the ball from an attacking player.

As the week went on, some kids quit. It made things easier for me. I had notes about who I wanted to cut, but surprisingly, some of those kids learned so quickly that by the end I had changed my mind. I wanted them on the team.

Mr. Benn made the final cuts on my recommendations, but instead of a team of 15, he made 2 teams of 22. That's 44 soccer players! I was to coach one of the teams of 22, while Mr. Benn coached the other 22 kids. That meant that each player had a substitute (there are 11 players on at a time, including the goalie).
I assigned each player a position based on what skills they had. Fastest players are attackers, the toughest were defence, the hardest kickers and skilled passers were mid-fielders. I had enough time to divide the 22 into 2 groups of 11 so they each knew where they were playing. The whistle blew, and we were on!

It took about 5 minutes for everyone to get their bearings; they had never played together on a real soccer field before. We were quickly down a goal. But then something changed. They remembered the drills they learned, and went to work. The throw-ins caught the other team off guard and led to fantastic pressure. The forwards were playing their positions and were right where they needed to be for the midfielders to pass to them. Our defensemen were attacking anyone who came near them. On corner-kicks we quickly got to the spots we needed to be, and the proper person kicked it in – well. We lost the game 1-0, but you would never know it from the excitement of our team. We controlled the game and only their great goalie stopped us from scoring at least 3 goals.

We won the next 2. The last game in particular was our best. We were playing a team that was undefeated. There was no score about half way through the game. We had a free kick from about 40 yards out. I yelled to the boy, "Kick it just like we practiced". The forwards now knew the ball was going to come over their heads and if they couldn't kick it they were to go to the net, in their lanes. The other team, all 10 players were covering the forwards as if the ball was going to be passed on the ground - it went over all their heads. Our girl kicked the ball to the net. Another boy kicked it past the diving goalie. We won 1-0!

We had such confidence we knew we could beat anybody!

The other group of 22, wearing the Blue & Green shirts in the pictures did almost as well, winning 1, and losing 2, but one of the losses was a 1-0 game. Overall, the 2 teams had 3 wins and 3 losses, the school's best performance ever.
The analogy with the Body of Christ works for me because, despite my positioning each player where he or she will most likely succeed, they often wanted to play somewhere else. Our best goalie, kept bugging me that he wanted to play forward for a game or 2. The best defence player wanted to play attacker, the fastest girl who was a natural attacker, wanted to play mid-field with her best friend. I had to keep refusing these requests by telling them that I'm putting them in a place that is best for the team. "We could let everyone do their own thing, and get beaten badly, or we could all do what we do best and have a great game!" By focusing on the goal, the complaining stopped.

How often as Christians do we feel that if God would only put us somewhere else, we could do great things? How often do we complain about where God has placed us and the situation that we're in? Maybe you even take it upon yourself and change positions – leave your church or something, without asking the Coach. Maybe you just quit.

I prefer to think that God has placed us right where he needs us. We need to trust our Coach, knowing that He has a game-plan and that we need to do our best in the position He's put us, to help our team win. He's shared a play-book with us. Let's stick to the game-plan and work together.

I know that it's not a game we're playing. The everyday pressure can be much worse than a soccer tournament. But it's very important to 'Bloom where we are planted' and do your best in whatever position God placed you.

Side note: Emma came home after the first week of tryouts thinking that she would quit. She's only in grade 4 and, despite being a great soccer player felt that she couldn't compete with kids a year or two older than her. There were so many kids trying out for the team!

I told her, "There's nothing wrong with a coach telling you that you're too small. There is no shame in being cut. He will probably tell you that you should try again next year. But there is something wrong with quitting. Once you decide to quit, you quickly become a quitter and make it a life habit. Quitters never succeed. They don't even get into the game. Whatever happens, don't quit! Promise me you won't quit."

She didn't quit. She made the team, one of only three grade-4 kids who made it. She played on defence and played as well as the two grade-6 boys who played defence with her.

Trying to sneak a soccer ball past Emma is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster!

When we finished the tournament, the coach took all 44 kids to Dairy Queen for an ice cream. Emma said thank you, to Mr. Benn. He said, "I'm proud of you, Emma."

Emma answered, "I'm proud of myself!"

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