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Why soccer = real life


I sometimes hear that sports represent life. I’ve given the idea some thought lately, and I’m not convinced this hypothesis can be supported with American athletics. Chess representing war, I get: it teaches the tactics of moving troops around a battlefield. Is chess a sport? It doesn’t matter much since this is just the opening paragraph. 

Let’s first consider basketball, or “hoops” as the kids have taken to calling it. This sport, at least professionally, teaches us that scoring is the most important event of the game. And if you can do it often enough, you have a job no matter how bad you are at being likable.

Football teaches that most of us toil for the benefit of the stars, or “backs.” They get the big bucks because they’re the ones that affect the scoreboard. True teamwork, it seems, isn’t a priority as long as each lowly cog pulls his part of the chain.

Baseball isn’t about teamwork, either. At any given time barely two players play while the rest stand around waiting for their turn. One batter or fielder, completely unassisted, can win or lose the game. Where is Bill Buckner these days, anyway, does anyone know?

I’m leaving hockey out because their ball (they call it a “puck”) is too small to actually see, and players randomly come and go from the field (pond?) with no one ever really seeing it happen.

But in those big three of American sports, there is always a spoiled superstar. A-Rod, LeBron and 85 (if that’s his real name) come to mind.  Managers keep them playing regardless of their terrible personalities because they can each change the standings. They are special, and therefore get special treatment. These ‘Special Ones’’ have teammates who accept the arrangement because if the team ‘wins it all,’ the small cogs will get a big jeweled ring too.

These three sports don’t represent life the way most of us want to experience it; although they do kind of represent our economic philosophy.

But do you know why soccer is the world’s most popular game? It’s because it represents human aspirations, and the original American ideal of working together; the understanding that a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Soccer requires hard work and complete same-pagedness by all of the players, all the time. The guys who score goals in a game are always the ones who work the hardest and run the farthest with the greatest team-cohesion supporting them.

And how about this for representing life: You can play hard all game, do everything right…and still end up with a 0-0 draw. Or, since scoring is rare, you could lose because one of the opposition took a dive in the penalty box. That’s right, as in real life a cheater can win while you work hard and lose.

Soccer has superstars for sure, but every one of them has been benched for not following the rules. Each of them has been punished for failing to fit the team ethos. And they learned. They are superstars, but they only play on Sunday if they embrace the team culture. Just ask Mario Ballotelli, a talented forward who isn’t wanted by most European clubs because he usually plays for Mario.

The words used by sportscasters tell the real tale of success in soccer. Players are lauded for their work rate; and even if he doesn’t score, a player’s industry is remarked upon. His fitness is praised. So is his attitude.  Creativity; Initiative; Determination: All the traits of a good work ethic are discussed more than a player’s skill or individual talent.

And unless you get hurt you’re playing the entire game. No breaks, no resting, no time to regain your composure: you run for 90 minutes.

American sports aren’t even close to that level of work rate. NFL wide receivers know when they won’t be getting the ball so they run three-quarter speed and play only half the game. NBA centers can be on a winning team even if they never make it past half court. When they get tired they come out for a spell. And they still get the big bucks because they’re like rich Honey Boo-Boos we can’t stop watching.

But in soccer, you have to run the full distance, at full speed, all game, even if you don’t get the ball.

In real life, only the rare person succeeds without a good work ethic. Only the lucky man gets to the top without running full speed. And no matter how good you are, no matter how hard you work, you might well reach the end of the game without scoring at all.

Real life is scary like that.

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David Sneed

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss; The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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