Soccer mentality should not be life mentality

Leah Carrier

I’m terrible at soccer. Even my parents, typically a supportive pair, admit it. I was doomed to fail before I even tried on my size five cleats in fourth grade. Every game, I’d inevitably find myself tripping over the soccer ball I was supposed to be kicking, accidentally punting it into a teammate’s shoulder, and scrambling over to assess their condition, profusely squealing, “I’m so sorry!” and, “Are you ok?”

“Come on, Leah,” my coaches would yell. “When you stop to say sorry, the ball keeps moving.”

Yet, when I was a camp counselor for four-year-olds years ago, the most fundamental rule I taught them was this: when you hurt someone, apologize. It’s that simple. 

Watching kindergarteners apologize to each other was a strangely beautiful experience. They’d bow their heads, or look somberly into the others’ eyes, and mumble, “I’m sorry for knocking down your tower,” or whatever minor offense they’d committed. “It’s ok,” the other would invariably reply. And then, like nothing had happened, they went back to playing. No grudges. No resentment. Just pure forgiveness.

So we find ourselves in an interesting predicament. On one hand, we see children fostering genuine, compassionate relationships through social awareness. On the other, we notice that those who are more numbed to situational empathy have an advantage on the playing field. 

While I’m no soccer expert (I’m more of a rowing person if you know what I mean), I do understand that there are essentially two positions on a team: offense and defense. Offensive players are the assertive crowd. With stellar aim and lightning-fast feet, they’re trained to seize opportunities and run with them to score points against the opposer. Defensive players are the behind-the-scenes heroes. Using quick reflexes and a powerful kick, they’ll send the other team scrambling back to their side of the field. 

By all means, when you’re playing soccer, don’t hold back (as long as you’re playing safely by the rules). But when you’re having a conversation, try to avoid the soccer mentality. Ask yourself: Am I striking an argument because it’s something that really matters to me, or am I just trying to earn points? Am I blaming an accusation on someone else because I truly didn’t do anything wrong, or am I merely denying responsibility to avoid the inconvenience of apologizing?

Take Wilson’s boy’s soccer team, for example. One of the most skilled players on the team quit in solidarity with teammates who doubted the effectiveness and eligibility of their coach. Contrary to soccer mentality, he prioritized friendship and empathy over his own personal gain.

Words are not soccer balls. They are instruments for change, empathy, kindness, and respect. It is imperative that leaders especially practice awareness and self reflection, rather than just offense or defense. During dire situations such as this pandemic, pointing fingers is not going to help. I’m grateful to see the humanity and humility of this new administration and am optimistic that we will be able to look up to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as compassionate and unifying leaders. 

So, when listening to an opinion, don’t prepare to punt it over the fence. Instead, approach it with an open mind, and try not to automatically assume that the person you’re speaking with is your opponent. And when you realize you’re in the wrong, just apologize. Recognizing your faults is not a weakness; it is a skill used by kindergarteners and diplomats alike. It’s a sign of strength, integrity, and honesty.