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Life Lessons in Soccer

Jobs in Nigeria, Nigeria JobsEd. note: This is a guest post from Imisi Osasona on his adventures with football and life lessons from the beautiful game.
Every time I went away I was deceiving my mum. I’d tell her I was going to school but I’d be out on the street playing football. I always had a ball on my feet” – Ronaldo
I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion” – Mia Hamm

Twenty-two grown men chasing one little ball”! Is that what you also think whenever you stumble on a game of soccer?

I remember when I received my first gift of a pro soccer ball. It was all so cute in its deflated state that my head dripped with fantasies of what I’d do with it once it got inflated. My bro and I lobbied and pestered to get some air into it. We really should have enjoyed it in the “tame” state, because it was simply unplayable after pumping. Our feet ached terribly each time we attempted to let out as much as a pass. We just didn’t understand why a ball should be so hard. It never occurred to us that our feet could use some “hardening”.

A short while after, towards the end of my time in preparatory school, I found myself between the sticks – in goal. From my interactions with the defenders, I appeared to have built a reputation in goalkeeping. They spoke of me in ways that made me wonder how long I had actually been playing the role. Maybe I had been at it for a while – I just couldn’t remember any soccer heroics prior to that day. Anyways, I was in goal and the shots were flying at me furiously. Apparently, the opposing strikers also knew a thing or two about said “reputation”. One particular save glazed that experience in my mind. A striker cut through my defenders like a hot knife would butter. In those few seconds, all the crowd-noise seemed amplified within my head, as the striker balanced to score the match-decider. He let out a thunderous shot; bearing great intent – but mine was greater. I was so determined to end that game on a high that I made the “impossible” save. I knew very little of what I was in for; I saved the ball alright – but my left eye also saved some of the pebbles that followed. That day, my eyes shed more water than a tropical rainstorm. If I had been “sensible”, that should have been the end for the partnership of soccer and I – but you know better. Things were just getting started!

As I climbed through JSS, I began to loathe the goalkeeper position. There was this unwritten code in which that “privilege” was reserved for dudes who didn’t make the main team. I wanted in at all costs. Sometimes, those “costs” involved the exchange of knuckles – but before long, I was getting my fair share of non-goalkeeping action. SSS was pretty quiet soccer-wise. I was too engrossed in proving my academic mettle to remember that long lost love of mine. By the time I put the lid on SS education, however, things had taken a drastic turn. Adolescent (and severe parenting) issues had me desperately searching for sure mentoring. Crazy as it may sound, I found it on the soccer field. Soccer started out as a mere pass-time but through extensive metamorphosis, it became a mentor (more or less).

As is expected of any well-run venture, the “business” had grown appreciably by the time I was in Uni. By then, I could see moves on TV and try them out on human “substrates”! I gladly admitted my passion for the sport but my parents thought otherwise. They said I was obsessed, and the events following one particular Thursday seemed to give some backing to their claims.

At that time, school was on one of the many uncelebrated strikes – and I was making “judicious” use of my spare hours. That day, I was playing in my usual “Henry” role (sweeping from the left flank into the striker position) when I received a devil of a pass; beautiful by all counts {and it wore Prada too}. Usually, they say when something appears too good to be true, it probably is. The pass that came my way was too good. It was a well-weighted short-ranged curling chip-cross that sent the opposition midfield out of a job. I was left with the task of shaking two defenders and cashing my cheque! With a big grin and the typical shout of “correct”, I took the ball in my stride; leaping deftly to welcome it to earth with the conjugal accord of my right ankle and side-foot. That control stripped the defense naked before sending them on gardening leave. I was now the boss – well, almost. I only had to slot past the keeper and air the cheekiest celebration I could conjure. As I balanced to do as planned, the 80-kg goalie leapt forward {damn the goat! goalies usually dive sideways not forward} and landed on the one leg I balanced on. Whether it was the ground which came up, or I who went down remains a mystery to this day. All I know is that by the time my back made contact with the ground, I was more than sure I wouldn’t be playing again for a while. My half-open eyes looked on in faint hopes that the weak shot I managed to let out would somehow cross the goal line and bring me a shred of glory. It never did! My anterior cruciate ligament had been stretched and slightly lacerated. To sum up that experience in two words: “excruciating”, “pain”. I spent a harrowing month getting familiar with the gift from Paris {POP}; six weeks in all before I could walk unaided.

Many wondered when I turned up by the field the next day with a heavily bandaged leg and a walking stick (I hadn’t been to see the Doc by then). When the Doc was finally called into action, he put a cast on it and said I was to quit the sport for a minimum of eight months. Despite the leg only being able to bend about 40% when the cast came off, I returned home with a new ball. Of course, mom and dad almost threw a fit at that sight. My siblings grunted when they saw me take personal charge of my physiotherapy – lifting a heavy dumb-bell with the leg through the pain barrier. It all stood me in good stead, as I was able to return to the pitch about 9 weeks after the incident. Interestingly, the first goal I scored was against the same goalie – with the same injured leg! You might also like to know that I’ve played more soccer after the injury than before.

So, what is it with soccer? What did I find discover that almost drove me nuts? Easy now! I talk better without a gun in my face. One day, I heard a man say “all the laws of life come into play on the soccer field” – and I was determined to search those laws out. The list is truly inexhaustible, but there are a few we should look at.

In scaling life’s many hurdles, there is nothing more important than attitude. No matter how empty circumstances say you are, if you could find a way to improve your attitude, astounding results would follow. The shrewdest of coaches ignore superstars and recruit dung-clad gems. They then invest quality time into improving their attitude; making them believe they can be world-greats. Case-study: Alex Song.

Team Work
No matter how good you are, there are some dreams you could never birth on your own. That’s the perfect time to “pass” the ball. If it comes back to you immediately, it’s because your team-mates value your ability/position and place their trust in you. That in itself is a motivation. It’s called a “1-2”. Case study: Leo Messi.

The best defenders have said the trick to not getting {comically} dribbled is to keep your eyes on the ball. If you ever get carried away by the flying legs in life’s “leg-overs”, you’d be left chasing. Case study: Nemanja Vidic (though even the best get schooled every once in a while).

Give & Take
It has been researched and proven over time that players who receive the most passes are the ones that pass most often. People generally hate to pass to selfish show-boating players. If you want to receive, learn to give. Case study: Cesc Fabregas.

Talent is over-rated. Nothing takes the place of hard work. It is never enough to rise to relevance. The harder part is staying relevant. Until the world’s most expensive player started coming first to training and leaving last, he was just “another talented guy”. The results of such hard work are glaring. Case study: Christiano Ronaldo.

Ash prevents new fire; the greatest hindrance to fresh success is the most recent one. Never underestimate any opponent. Foes with concealed strengths are the most deadly. Prepare adequately for any challenge – and remember: it is never over until it is! Case study: the team that surrendered a 3-0 lead to lose 3-4 at the finals (names withheld for security reasons).

Service & Leadership
If you work hard for your team-mates, they will respect you. That’s exactly why lazy players never become captains. Captains are usually picked from people with the most commitment; the ones who’d take a yellow card to preserve a delicate lead. The ones who’d contest referee decisions when they feel slighted. The way up is that of service. Case study: John Terry.

Let’s get this right once and for all: putting the moves on someone of the opposite sex is just a tiny (and almost over-used) part of seduction. Seduction is influencing the powerful to swing that power in one’s favour. If you want your new team mates to accept you, play to the strengths of the most respected mate (usually the captain). Case study: Fernando Torres.

The trick to being appreciated lies in lowering people’s expectations of you. The fellow who answers “I do my best for the team” to “can you play ball?” has better long-term prospects than the one who says “me? I be star oh! I giff you 3 goal in ezaily 5 minute”. When you exalt yourself, you become overly exposed to damaging cynicism. Fly low – but well!

Unforeseen circumstances seem to find “the big stage” a safer haven than “training”. No matter how hard you work, there would always be a factor you cannot control. Learn to live with it!

Victory is not always reserved for the most skillful. Sometimes, it suffices to simply outlive your challenges.

Once heard of a man who hit a shot against the wood-work during a game and cursed faulty post dimensions during the post-match interview. To satisfy public inquest, the posts were re-measured – and as the man had claimed, the dimensions were wrong. If you ever want to be relevant, to have a sense of entitlement, it’s simple: be good at what you do. Case study: David Beckham.

One might look back on performance as motivation for subsequent challenges but, when the chips are down, only results matter. If you’ve put all your efforts into performance with no results to show for it, it might well be time for a change of approach. Case study: Arsenal FC.

We shouldn’t forget this “tiny” one:

No one argues {successfully} with results. That’s why I don’t regard dudes who break bottles after the final whistle. The ref may apologize but he’d never change his decision. It takes true maturity to eschew excuses and say “I have failed myself. I must come back stronger”. Problem-admission, they say, is the first step towards finding a solution!

Who’s still asking “what do you guys see in that silly game?”? We’re good? Ok. Now, may I have my Vuvuzela back? ?

Ed. note: This is a guest post from best-selling author, adjunct Professor at Kellogg School of Management and senior scientist with The Gallup Organization – Deepak Chopra. Deepak just asked his LinkedIn network to share ideas on how we can help the people affected by the current disaster in the Gulf. Here are his thoughts on the topic.
Nathan Jeffery
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