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Soccer and Life Lessons

(This story first ran in 2010)

I can’t swim, I can’t ride a bike and I can’t play any sport to save my life. I’m not afraid of the water, or of falling, or of engaging in physical sports. I’m just a product of my upbringing. I grew up in the Middle East, a conservative mecca, and I did not get a chance to play sports. That, and I was horribly uncoordinated. I took dance lessons for years to develop poise and grace, but I could not handle a racket or heaven-forbid, a ball.

So when my son, at six, showed interest in soccer, I was thrilled. I thought it would help him learn how to be a team player, as well as help him master physical skills like foot-eye coordination, but I never thought watching his games would teach me how to handle my life. I always thought that I would be the teacher; my kids, the students. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, I’ve discovered that kids are often the best teachers.

At first, Jai, who gets his speed and agility from his athletic father, was petrified of being on the soccer field. He was a tiny, skinny kid who was very easily distracted (oh, was that a butterfly flitting by on the soccer field?) and would generally run away from the ball instead of towards it. As I watched him, I was reminded of my own plight. Having just quit a job to pursue a new career, I was like him, just standing there hoping something would happen. I was unsure of what to do and afraid of the other players in the field. Afraid they would not accept me, that perhaps I wasn’t really meant to be there. I wanted this new career but found myself running away from the ball, so as to speak.

A few months went by and I watched Jai listen to his coach intently at every game but still shy away from the more skilled and frankly, physically larger, players. And then it happened, out of nowhere. He discovered that he could run, and I mean run. The sidelines cheered him on as the “roadrunner.” He laughed and told me,” Mom, I am not afraid of them anymore, I can out-run them all.” At the same time, I won a scholarship for my writing, my new career. They told me I was the best new voice of the year. Just as he discovered his secret weapon, speed, I discovered mine – my voice. I may have, like him, lacked professional training or have the skills of my peers, but he and I both discovered our own unique talents.

His speed gave him confidence to grow and learn new skills. My voice gave me strength to write for publications I initially thought were out of my league.

He got selected for an All-Star game featuring the star players of all local county leagues. The kids worked hard for the game and lost hard. It was a crushing defeat. At the end of the game, the kids, all began to cry and ran to the coach for a hug.  I had been facing my demons of no financial security as an entrepreneur. A pill that was difficult to swallow after having been in a job that paid six-figures. I learned that day, as I watched the kids cry and then later laugh and run around with the ball again, that nothing is permanent. Failure and success are all moments in time and that what is critical is being present during the journey.

As he got older, speed was good not enough. He began to focus on getting his footwork in order, relying on members of his team to show him how to play better, smarter. A couple of years ago, the boys would say hello to each other and maybe goof-off a bit during practice but they weren’t really a team. Now, I could see the difference: a comrade once fell on the field during a game, and the entire team rushed to his side, sat down on one knee until the child was carried off the field and clapped and clapped for him until their hands were sore. (The child, by the way, was fine.). I could see them stop and help each other with their shoe laces, or show each other the best way for a corner kick or yes, how to bend it like Beckham.  “Jai, I loved how you ran across the field yesterday and did not let those guys near the ball,” said one of his team-mates. And Jai in return would show them how to gain speed when they ran. He was still a scrawny kid but now he was also intent on succeeding. I began to apply this observation to my field. I began to contact other writers and reached out to other women in the area who were changing their fields. I formed my own mentor group. We looked to each other for advice, for help, for growth but mostly for camaraderie, specially on hard days.

Jai won tournaments with his team and I got placements and awards.

And then it got hard.

The boys were growing in both size and skill. Jai, now 10, has yet to have his growth spurt. I was finding it hard to keep going in a economy that has been tough on the publishing industry.

But I watched him, closely. Eager to see how my young child would handle these setbacks, so I could follow his lead. He began to work in earnest on his foot skills, began to focus on strategizing more with his coach (who is amazing) and his team members. They would discuss plays, discuss how to out-do the other team, never miss a practice, and always be focused and present during the games.

I felt pretty ashamed of myself as I had decided that perhaps I should just give up. But watching him and his persistence made me try harder. I began to work harder on my ideas, on sending out pitches, on meeting with editors. I began to strategize with my mentoring group and learned how not to take no for an answer.

We are in this together, my child and I. After a winning season, his team lost a big tournament last night.  I tell him the next morning that I am writing a story about him and his soccer team. “We are the best, Mama, because we love to play.”

Out of the mouth of babes: A love of the game or in my case, of writing, makes it all work out in the end: good, bad and otherwise.

(PS – I wrote this at the end of last season)

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Comments

  1. Monica, through the hundreds of hours I’ve spent watching my children play soccer and basketball, I never really thought about all they were teaching me about how to play and win at life. Thanks for this reminder.

  2. justadab says:

    Staying positive and pushing forward. two things that make all the difference… reminds me of Shackleton. A great encouraging word to start my day.

  3. Ramin Ganeshram says:

    I love this story because it puts a new slant on what seems like a mundane part of life–children playing, and struggling with playing, sports. It made me remember how important the life lessons of persistence and endurance and JOY are not just to our children as they make their way through life, but to us as well. Thanks for this!

  4. I surely will remember this story when I get discouraged now and again . . . and I do. It often seems that exactly when you’re ready to give up is the time some encouraging word comes along that reasssures you that your dreams are not just dreams.

  5. Good morning Monica-
    Not having children of my own is no problem when I have your boys to inspire me. My first memory of Jai was seeing him and his daddy playing ball in the lovely green space behind my house. I tried to remain out of sight but could not resist cheering when he successfully caught or threw a ball with his dad. His indefatigable spirit was evident even at the tender age of two.

  6. So uplifting, and what a nice reminder to always keep moving with intention. Thank you.

  7. Beautiful, Monica. I always felt that my mother raised me part of the way, but my children really helped me grow up. My daughter and her track career have inspired me in the same way. She is so fierce and determined and fought through pain and injury for her goals. I just followed her lead, too. I don’t give up so easy with this feisty role model in the house and after 2 1/2 years of blogging I’m finally getting somewhere. Both my celiac kids were the reason I’m still hanging in there.

  8. A sweet story, Monica, reminding us that there are lessons to be learned everywhere in life if we only are open to them. Yeah to you for seeing them and your gift for sharing them.

  9. Great essay, Monica. And it’s true–we learn so much from our children!

  10. Absolutely loved the story Monica. Inspiration and motivation is all around us but I guess sometimes I just fail to take notice. Its wonderful how you’ve woven together your son’s path and yours, and its uplifting to see you both succeed. And like your son eloquently put it, winning a game doesn’t by itself qualify as a victory.

    The theme that resonated with me the most was identifying when we need help, and following it up by actively seeking it. Thats something I need to personally work on. Thank you for sharing this with us and I wish you both greater success.

  11. Hi Monica. This is the first time I have come to your website and I love this article. Two of my boys are 10 years old and playing soccer, and I am a writer, so I can identify with your story. This year, my boys played on a team that was counted out of play-offs, but somehow managed to sneak in on the bottom end. They never gave up, and ended up winning the bronze medal! It taught me a lot about life, and pushing on despite the odds against you. For the love of the game.

  12. Thanks! I hope you will keep coming back! I appreciate your kind words.

  13. Beautifully written.

  14. A lovely story, and couldn’t be more timely for me to read this now, and I seriously consider giving up for a while. The economy has left me roadkill in its wake. Sigh.

  15. Today I have learnt a wonderful lesson from your experience about raising the kids and faith in your own skills. I will remember this story forever and ever in my life as I can really step in your shoes and feel the same on hard blue days of my life. Thanks for putting down your experiences Monika… !

  16. Monica, as always you write from the hear – I take encouragement from your encouragement!

  17. I meant to say from the hearT

  18. dn saigal says:

    As someone has said
    A child is the father of a man
    And your Story proves this . There is always something big to learn from a child . It is we adults who fail to grasp it often

    Good writing and good luck

  19. True! How true! Beautiful post!

  20. B.M.Bhide says:

    Monica

    One always learns from the kids without realising it. I am very happy about Jai’s progress in soccer as also yours in writing.I am still learnibg from you kids- kids to me but really grown up responsible adults.

    Love you all

  21. Beautiful post, Monica. I think there are so many lessons with sports especially when it’s our own kids who are showing the “never give up” spirit. It’s likely that your son demonstrated lessons he’d learned from you and by his never-give-up attitude and renewed/slightly altered focus, you were reminded to recommit to your goals in a different way, so it all came full circle. That’s fabulous! This post reminds me of a conversation that I just had with my son yesterday. He’s in college and juggling a demanding job, classes, and a difficult roommate situation. On the surface, it wouldn’t look like he’s shining, but because he’s surviving and doing pretty well, he’s more than surviving. When I’m juggling too many plates in the air at once and not sure if I’m doing well, I need to remember that. Sometimes it’s hard to see these lessons in the day-to-day routines, so it’s great to be reminded this way–thank you!

    Shirley

  22. Hi Monica
    This is the first time i am peeping into your website, and a lovely story that was.
    will continue reading.
    bye

  23. What a beautiful and uplifting account … it’s difficult sometimes to open up and share struggles or internal thoughts, so I just want to say thank you – it gave me hope :) By the way, I subscribed to your blog a few days ago and I’m loving the posts!

    Have a great day!
    -Heba

  24. Julie Negrin says:

    Monica – I love this post. It’s easy to forget how much kids can teach us. Some of my best recipe ideas are inspired by my small students! Their creativity knows no bounds. And as you reminded us: they are less likely to doubt themselves like adults. It’s hard to follow a dream but your son has obviously learned an important life lesson early on which I needed reminding of: love what you do (and the money will follow…fingers crossed!). Thank you – and thank your wise son!

  25. Love this story! I can relate to you in some many ways!
    Warmest, Leticia

  26. I know you don’t need me to tell you this but you are such a great storyteller. Made me think of the days when Nick used to play soccer (he’s only tennis now). When he was about 4 or 5 he used to be out on the field chasing his own shadow, completely oblivious to the action going on around him! So funny. Thanks for this post. Love the pictures of Jai.

  27. Debbie Tosi says:

    Dearest Monica,

    You have a wonderful way with words and great perspective. What were we thinking when we thought teaching and training our kids was a one way street from us to them. Agreed, I have learned so much through them about myself, some things I didn’t want to know. What you say here immediately reminded me of Jesus’ words when his disciples wanted to keep the children away as follows from Mark 10:14: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Yes, we need to learn much from our children. Thanks for sharing your story.

  28. Just what I needed to read today, food for mind and heart. This speaks to me in stereo, as a parent, as a writer, as a working person. Many thanks.

  29. Monica, your story is my story. My three girls teach me lessons I never imagined before. And I am grateful, even when I am hurt by a mistake made obvious:) My life also runs in parallels with my children, and our experiences overlap. How lucky are we to recognize this?
    Thanks for stating the obvious when obvious was overlooked! I truly look forward to every post of yours:)

  30. As always your stories bring a BIG smile to my face and a warm feeling in my heart!!! Thank you for sharing with us. I to can think of many episodes where life has granted me and my children similar opportunities to learn from each other and to “cheer” each other as we LIVE life to it’s fullest,

  31. Mina Joshi says:

    Loved your Story . You are very good . I wish I could write like you . You are right – we can learn a lot from our children .

  32. Marge Perry says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautifully written, insightful piece today, on Mother’s Day. My children are now in their 20s and I still learn from them…and from colleagues like you.
    Happy Mother’s Day

  33. Hi Monica:

    Lovely blog and beautiful, professional site. I’ve known you for all this time and I’ve never really paid attention to your background. From industrial engineering to food engineering? Hats off to you on your successes and I wish you many more.

    I can totally relate to this. I’ve learned so much about how to cope in my writing life just by watching my kids rise and fall (and rise and fall). Nice interplay of their life and yours.

  34. As a writer and the mom of a soccer girl, your words brought a lump to my throat. At the beginning of this season my daughter’s team wasn’t doing too well; she herself was a non-aggressive sort who waited for the ball to come to her. I encouraged her to quit; it seemed to me she could spend her time on more successful pursuits. She refused, and my words seem to have spurred her. She scored a goal in the next game and has since become the highest goal scorer in her team. Boy, did I learn a lesson!
    Lovely piece, Monica.

  35. Hello Monica, It is funny. I was at Framingham Library today (in Massachusetts) and saw your book come up when I was looking for books on Indian Cooking. I come home and I see Kalpana recommend your blog post. Thank you for your post -it was inspiring.
    Krishnan
    P.S. I did not checkout your book :(

  36. Funny how when we need to hear something, it appears for us! I feel as if you could be talking directly to me in this post … thanks for what feels like a very personal conversation and especially for the great reminder about how important it is to realize that “failure and success are all moments in time and that what is critical is being present during the journey”.

  37. I love it: “We are the best, Mama, because we love to play.” The key is in that “love to___ (insert your passion here)___”

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