I’m sitting here on the eve of the World Cup looking back on my own history of the game and on the verge of the greatest experience of my life with the game. As I’m preparing to leave for South Africa this Monday I’m excited and glad that soccer has come so far. When I was 12 years old the only TV in the house that got the Spanish station which broadcast the World Cup games was a 4 inch black and white portable unit. I would hunch over the table and stare at the screen– trying to learn Spanish and just enjoy the games. I was the only one of my neighborhood friends tracking the games, watching and then trying out skills and tricks.
Ironically I remember Coca-Cola being a huge sponsor of the event (the Coke logo was super-imposed in the center circle so that there would not have to be commercial breaks) and now the company is sending me and four girls who love the game and share the passion of playing the sport to South Africa for a game and camp. In some ways I can’t believe the luck, the opportunity or the blessings that the sport has offered me.
At the same time I believe that I owe the sport just as much respect, dedication and opportunities that I’ve received– At the same time I feel that I have to protect the sport from what’s become a battleground of ambitious adults ruining the fun of the game for the children playing it today. I watch how competitive and parent driven the sport has become. How blood thirsty competitors at rec league games have crushed the beauty of the game and applied American hockey and football tactics to a beautiful sport. This game is about playing with the toy, or the ball by yourself and with your friends–it’s about having a fun time making the ball do amazing things like flicking it over your head, turning and scoring!
I watched several games this month where adults thought they knew what’s the best way for kids to play when they really have no idea of how to unleash creative, experimental exploration of the game. They think it’s about the formations, the tactics and the coaches. It is for them a way to “kick the ball and get rid of it”, but they have no idea of how to play the game from a place of joy.
The game of soccer is so beautiful in its essence that the fun of playing WITH the ball is more fun that just running around chasing it. I find it ironic that adults continue to think the game and how it is taught is about winning and kicking and running. It’s about touches, touches and touches, playing, sharing, dancing in unison with other players and celebrating after scoring goals.
The fun is in playing. The fun is in competing and having the best of both you and your competitor come out on the field. It’s fun to see how many tricks you can do. It’s fun to see how many passes you can string together. It’s fun to finish and score, to save a goal, to slide tackle, to play in the rain, to work hard in the sun and juggle the ball. I love when I find kids trying new tricks. I feel it’s my duty to protect that love of the ball, to inspire it, to unleash the creativity inherent in the joy of play. But too often we as adults get caught up in wins and losses, results and predictions.
It’s such a beautiful game that it’s not really hard to coach and inspire children to love the game if you come from the place of loving and playing the game yourself. I can’t tell you how many people don’t get it. The coaches who go for the long ball, who want you to “kick the ball out when in doubt”, or who play the fastest player at forward and tell everyone to get her the ball. Those coaches rob their players of having joy at their feet with every touch, of letting everyone learn to be the star, or helping everyone learn to score goals and make a difference.
Do you know how many people come up to me and ask me who’s going to win the World Cup? And how many are shocked at my answer of “it doesn’t matter, I just want to watch 64 awesome games!”
Every four years I love watching every game, watching the skills, the passing, the interchanges, the players and being awestruck at the amazing goals, just like when I was 12. The World Cup isn’t about just waiting for the winner to emerge. In fact I’m always sad when it’s over. It’s about the month of games from around the world having a common journey, it’s about the game sharing its pleasure of joy, hard work and technique. It’s about the whole world celebrating a common game with many different ways of interpreting how it’s played and what’s important. When it all comes together to inspire us to work together toward a common goal the ball hits the back of the net –the ball is happy and so are those who play for the love of the game.
Ask yourself as you watch the games can you watch the game and then go play it? Do you find yourself inspired to play? Can you throw down four shoes as goals and have a mini game on the living room floor at half time with your kids and just play without keeping score? You’ve got 64 games to watch, play and spend time admiring the stars of the world inspire us to make the ball happy. Make sure you play and watch, even if for a little bit, find the time to watch, play and fall in love with the game.
Here’s to you, your children and the game, protect their experience of it and keep it happy, joyful and full of passion!
I’ll keep blogging from South Africa through Inside Minnesota Soccer and I’ll even Skype with KARE-11 live from Pretoria when we’re there!
I’ll see you on the pitch!
Christian Isquierdo is a coach for Minnesota Thunder Academy and runs Leftfoot Coaching Academy. He recently won a contest along with four of his students which will fly them to South Africa to attend a game and participate in the Coca-Cola Live Positively campaign soccer camp along with 250 other coaches and youth players from around the world.