My wife’s cousin Tony has three kids — a daughter who is a high-school senior and twin boys who are 11. Not only do these kids love playing soccer, they are ridiculously good at it.
No: they are extraordinarily good at it. She was scouted throughout her junior year, and an athletic scholarship is all but certain. Most weekends, the boys travel to other states for tournaments. They always win. I use the word “always” without blinking. They’ve practiced with Chicago’s professional soccer team. One of them is just back from training with an English professional team for a couple of weeks this summer.
I mentioned the boys are 11, right?
All of the kids are as sweet as can be. They just happen to be beasts on the soccer field.
Well, that can’t quite be true — this doesn’t just “happen.” My seven-year-old son, Jacob, likes playing soccer, but I don’t expect he’ll just “happen” to start winning national championships in two years like the twins.
We caught up with them over a family Fourth of July party. While the kids played (yes, soccer), my wife started peppering Tony about what we could do to help Jake get better. He basically gave three answers:
- Focus. Don’t practice by shooting at a big ol’ soccer goal — aim for smaller targets, like laid-down garbage cans. Anybody can shoot at a big goal, but if you work on precision, you’ll up your overall game.
- Consistency. Practice often. Even if you only have five minutes one day, that’s an opportunity to practice. If you want it bad enough, you’ll keep at it and make the most of the time you have.
- Rewards. Set a goal — say, juggling a ball ten times — and when you get there, a reward. And up the challenge for next time: juggle the ball 25 times. You know it can be done, you’ll work hard to achieve it — and be rewarded for it. And it’s far more encouraging to focus on accomplishments than to dwell on failures.
As we drove home, we were excited for Jacob. It’s a simple plan, really. He likes soccer, and he’ll like it even more when he’s that much better at it.
But a short while later, it dawned on me: What we really talked about was how to get better at something.
This idea of improving seemed like an appropriate conversation for a child learning soccer.
But why wouldn’t it apply to adults? Don’t we also need to improve?
Wouldn’t this be a game plan for me to learn how to play guitar, or hone a work skill, or (finally!) start exercising?
. . .
In the ten days since, Jacob and I have practiced once. This is my first blog post in a week. I haven’t exercised at all.
But each day is chance to start. I set my alarm so I’d make sure to write. Our garbage was collected yesterday, so the cans happen to be empty on a beautiful, sunny day — a perfect day to focus on accomplishments instead of dwelling on failures.
We start today. And we stick with it tomorrow.