When I was a kid, I played soccer at a very competitive level. The girls’ soccer movement was fueled in large part by those of us growing up in and around the best college soccer programs in the country, Stanford included.
Not to sound all egotistical, but I was a leader on my team. Whether it’s because I assumed the role, my coaches pushed it on me or my peers looked to me to step up is irrelevant (though it was probably a little of each).
I had three rules about soccer that I preached to my teammates. They had nothing to do with the strategy or tactics of actual game play, but they were important nonetheless. In fact, I’ve found these rules are applicable to so much of life that I continue to repeat them to myself, my kids and pretty much anyone who will listen.
RULE #1: You have to look good to be good.
Now, I don’t mean this literally but I take this rule quite seriously. The way we present ourselves to the world says a lot about us, both in our own minds and to those we encounter.
On my soccer teams, I was constantly lobbying for the coolest-looking uniforms and warm-ups. Before my team got with the program, I distinctly remember showing up at games and watching the other teams donned in identical warm-up suits that made a symphony of swooshing sounds as 36 legs warmed up in unison for the game. I watched the faces of my teammates as they’d get intimidated by these teams for what reason? Because they were matching?!?! Why did that matter? Well it’s not as silly as it sounds.
Soccer is a team sport. The synchronization of an identically-dressed team says something, perhaps, about their team play, their passing abilities, their chemistry. I quickly became a stickler for how we looked. Jerseys were to be tucked in. Socks folded. Warm-ups on. No random college sweatshirts that messed up our uniformed look. We were a unit. We needed to look like one.
For myself, I always made sure my uniform was clean and ready to go. I’d never wear dirty socks, even if that meant staying up late the night before a game to do laundry or buying a couple extra pairs. I also insisted that my team find a laundromat to wash our uniforms when we had overnight tournaments.
This works. You know it does. When you go to an important meeting, a job interview or a night on the town, I bet you try to wear your favorite power suit or most flattering outfit. When we look good, we are confident. When we are confident, we perform better. Of course that doesn’t mean you’ll win every game or land every job but seriously, how often do you see someone who is dumpy and/or insecure excelling? Yeah, I thought so.
RULE #2: Do not tell me how hard you tried. Show me your socks.
Soccer players are required to wear long socks over their shin guards. Nothing would drive me crazier than playing on a muddy field and seeing a teammate leave the game with clean socks. Really? Seriously? I’m covered from head to toe in mud and your white socks are clean?!?! Get off of my field!
We all go through phases where we’re challenged. I’ve gone through periods when I have had to be up at 5 am for conference calls or work until midnight or later and so have most of the people I’ve worked with over the course of my career. But do not tell me you’re overwhelmed with work when you leave at 5 pm and don’t turn on your Blackberry or laptop until you’re back the next day at 9:30 am. If you’re going through a challenging time, do not even consider complaining to me until you show me your socks.
My dad told me during my first year of “real” work that I should never ask for a promotion until/unless I’ve done the work of the higher position for at least six months. I have to dirty my socks.
RULE #3: If you miss a penalty kick, you didn’t deserve to take it.
Penalty kicks are not particularly common in soccer but they can make all the difference in a game. When, in the event of a tie, a game goes into PKs (5 kicks per team, whoever makes the most wins), one miss can be the difference between winning and losing. It’s one of the few plays where the score and the outcome can be changed by just one player.
A PK favors the kicker. Statistically speaking it should be a gimme. The best goal keepers in the world fail to block PKs all the time. If a kicker doesn’t make it, it’s because the kicker messed up. It’s not because the goalkeeper was just too good.
We all mess up. Sometimes, especially on a team, we deserve to share the blame with or deflect it onto others. But sometimes our mistakes are our own. Sometimes we have no one to blame but ourselves. We would be wise to learn how to tell the difference. When we act like the victims and yet we were the kicker, we lie to ourselves, we lie to our teammates, we weaken ourselves and our team. Sometimes we just need to admit when we didn’t deserve to take the kick.