My first soccer game was my sophomore year of high school. I think the coach only put me on the team because I had been cut the previous year and, while I had very little skill, I had a big heart and worked really hard and my positive attitude was an asset to the team.
We were beating our opponent, there were a few minutes left in the game so the coach called me off the bench and put me on the field. I had only a general idea of what territory each position played. All I could think as I jumped on the field into the midfield position was “follow the ball” and that’s what I did. I was laser-focused on that ball every time it was within my territory which, as a midfielder, was a pretty large territory. I ran really hard, followed the ball, didn’t do any harm, and we won the game.
I was like a 5 year old on the soccer field that night. I was so focused on the ball that I definitely didn’t play strategically. I didn’t know when to step back to create a play on offense, or to block a pass when on defense. I didn’t know how to use my teammates or be used by my teammates. There was no strategy…only charging the ball.
The ball is, obviously, central to soccer. Guiding it into the net (and preventing your opponent from doing so) is how you win. But good soccer players and good teams don’t charger the ball non-stop. It’s exhausting, inefficient, and not strategic. It’s a terrible plan for winning…unless you’re a five year old…then it’s what you do because that’s how your peers are playing too.
In my life and at my work right now I am so focused on whatever task is in front of me, and doing it as well as I can, that I haven’t stepped back to ask questions like, Is this strategic? Can it be done more efficiently? Should it be done at all? If it really should be done, should I be the one doing it? And while the tasks in front of me may change, they don’t stop coming and I’m attacking my job and my life like a five year old playing soccer.
I’m trying to step back and become aware of the balls that I’m chasing. And then I want to begin asking the questions about how and why and if I should be chasing these balls. Thinking through these things is overwhelming enough. The thought of the effort involved in changing habits is nearly crushing right now. But I know you can’t survive an entire soccer game when you’re playing like a five year old unless you are a five year old and have the boundless energy of a five year old, which I do not because I am 31 years older than a five year old.
I don’t want to burn out playing the wrong game or playing the right game inefficiently or haphazardly. So I know the problem (I’m attacking the soccer ball like a five year old) and I know that (at least part of) the solution is to back up, ask questions, and change what I do and how I do it. I guess the good news is that through observation, feedback, and practice, I eventually got better at soccer; I’ll probably get better at my job and life too.