Why do we burnout and what is love?

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Burnout is a depressing word.  Burnout conjures up feeling of deep discouragement, hopelessness and a since of lost purpose.  The pain of giving your life to become great at something, only to get lost along the way and hit a wall, is devastating. A wall that you can’t see over, under or around. A wall that leaves you feeling deeply discouraged, hopeless and lost about why you started this journey.

Note: this post is really about me looking back at my own burnout experience and breaking it down by revisiting my own emotions, mental state and comparing it with other people’s stories. Hopefully I can give you a little window into burnout and help you understand what is going on inside the hearts and minds of players.

Sorry I’ve not written recently, still working on finding the time with my new responsibilities.😉 Enjoy the blog post! 

What is burnout? Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in a said activity or relationship.

So what causes burnout?

Failure in achieving the expectations and/or identity you are creating for yourself or others create for you.

Many people think burnout only happens to the most intense players, but actually burnout is the reason every kid quits soccer. Burnout can happen to every player at every stage of soccer and to every level of player. Both Landon Donavan on the U.S. National team and 9 year old Johnny who plays recreationally on the Super Ninja Kickers quit soccer because they were “burned out”. So….If you suck, burnout can get you. If you are average, burnout can get you. If you are awesome, burnout can get you. And if the only game you play is life, burnout can still get you. So listen, this applies to you.🙂

So what is burnout? Why does burnout happen? Essentially, whenever someone’s expectations for how they want something to affect their identity is not being met, it can lead to burnout.  Failure to succeed in getting a desired result from an activity is an obvious reason for frustration/burnout. It doesn’t matter if you are the worst player and want to be the 2nd worst or the best and want to be the best EVER. Any time the expectation and result don’t match, burnout is a possibility. What about burnout from success? This is more complex as it usually has to do with how other people are heaping unrealistic expectations on you. These unrealistic expectations lead you into confusion about why you are doing this and what you really should expect of yourself. It could also be that you expected success to make you happy and rarely/never does in fact change our state of happiness.

I’ve noticed over the years that burnout is always contrasted with “love”.  When players start to experience what they call burnout, it always seems to turn into this desperate search to return to the “love of the game”. Somehow they seem to have lost this magical love for the game that they don’t know exactly how they found it or how they lost it.

When I think of my own sports career and trying to keep the passion alive, I felt like that guy balancing on those chairs on top of a skyscraper.  It was very difficult and risky!! If you are successful…you will be praised as this amazing death-defying daredevil and if you fail…the idiot who lost his life for a stupid and pointless thrill. While you might not be risking your life like this guy, every time we step out on the field, you may be risking either a huge boost in fame to your identity or a shamefully damaging blow to your identity.Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 6.57.39 PM

For those that live and breathe the game, they are truly putting it ALL on the line every time they step out on the field. Harold Abrams was a runner who dedicated much of his life to winning the 100m dash in the Olympics. Before he ran the most importance race of his life he said, “I have 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence.”  He was either going to experience a life-changing boost to his identity or a crushing blow to his identity. His life would either be validated forever or forever invalidated by failing to meet the expectations he had set for himself. He would either be a massive success or he would have wasted much of his life chasing an identity that would only turn into a shameful blow against his identity. So obviously he is scared to lose, but he is also scared to win…why? The haunting question is, “IF I do win, will my identity really be secure? Will it actually make me happy? If not, then what?”

Landon Donavan said, “I wanted to come back (from playing in England) because I wanted to play and be happy. I’ve always tried to make decisions that were best for me and best for my family and best for my happiness. I realize that’s not always popular with other people.”

Landon figured out that other people were putting a lot of pressure on him to play or do various things, but all he really wanted was to be happy. Many of us spend our lives in the quest for identity and glory because we truly believe it will make us happy; that’s why we are willing to suffer to get it. What made Landon quit soccer was not the size of the “wall of burnout” he faced; it wasn’t that he got cut from the national team. Landon stopped believing that if he got over this “wall” he would be happy.

Looking back on my own burnout experience, it wasn’t the size of my “wall” either. Yeah, I may have been cut from the youth national team, but that isn’t a reason to get depressed. Plenty of kids that got cut with me went on to have great professional careers. No, I stopped trying to climb the wall, because I stopped believing that happiness was on the other side.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a fascinating Ted Talk titled Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating. In her talk she essentially deals with burnout. As a young writer, she got rejection letter after rejection letter and talks about how devastating it was to her ego. All she ever wanted to do her whole life was to be a writer yet she was stuck waiting tables in a diner. She often got “burned out” and thought she should just quit while she was “behind”. She was failing to meet her own expectations for herself and wanted to quit. But she discovered something that changed everything…while she hated how every rejection letter was a crushing blow to her ego, she kept writing, simply because she loved writing. She said, “I loved writing more than I hated failing.”

Elizabeth, wrote a wildly successful book (10 million copies sold worldwide), but not until she was almost 40.  Interestingly, in her talk she discusses how the massive success of her book took her back to that same burned out state of mind she was feeling during her years of failure as a younger writer.  The pressure of the inflated expectations laid upon her from the overwhelming success of the new book, made her realize she couldn’t meet the expectations people had set for her. She knew the next book she wrote would probably be a miserable flop. She had to face the reality that her greatest work could be behind her. It’s truly a depressing feeling to think that your greatest work is behind you, and it’s especially hard on your identity.  It’s something that makes you just want to quit while you are on top, because your next work will probably detract from your identity.

The reason both massive success and failure lead to burnout is because both can take us away from “love”.  The only thing that brought Elizabeth back from her burnout was realizing her ego wasn’t near as important as her love for writing. She just had to accept that her identity was going to take a few painful knocks along the journey.  The book she wrote after the best seller bombed, but she still loved writing. She accepted the knocks against her ego and decided to not let it take away from her love of writing, eventually she wrote some more amazing books that were very well received.

That sounds great, but the reality is that failure pushes us into the shameful reality that we just don’t measure up. Success pushes us into the blinding light of fame and high expectations that pins us against unreasonable expectations we are sure to fail.  In both cases we can lose our way, in both cases we can start to fall into a trap. We let our ego boast in unrealistic expectations others put on us OR we fall into being ashamed of our failure to meet our own expectations.

There is a part of us that is incredibly insecure (our ego/identity) and it always tends towards either: 1. Being overly boastful in hope of creating an inflated protective covering for the ego to feel safer.  2. Running from the light of high expectations exposing our weaknesses and instead creating a protective covering of low expectations we can exceed easily. In both cases we can only trick ourselves for so long. We are not trying to find the balance between these two, but actually a whole new way of thinking.

Life is not a journey to find identity, but a discovery of love; and, any time the quest for love is replaced with a quest for identity, we are sure to lose our way.

I think we all want to find a home, an identity, a place that we can be at peace in this massive universe.  We all need and want to feel truly secure in an identity/home. For those of us so focused on creating an identity for ourselves, we must realize that an identity is simply a place for our ego to call home.  As much as we all like to act strong, there isn’t a single one of us who wouldn’t feel insecure (in their identity) if our most important talents or possessions were taken from us.  Consequently, we struggle to truly establish a solid identity, because the material we use- ourselves and everything around us- is fundamentally fragile.  As human beings we are only a moment away from losing our sight, our mobility, our mind, our family/friends… We like to think we are strong, but the reality is that our very life and all the things we love can be taken from us in a second.

We build homes for our identities on just about anything we can get our hands on, because the more “things” we have the safer we think we are. Yet at our core, we only feel at “home” when we are in a place where we can love and be loved. All of us feel lost when we are far from love.

I’ve been all the way across the world and when I’m with people I love and they love me, I feel totally at home.

On the other hand, I can be in my own house, a house I may have lived in my whole life and I can feel totally lost and alone, if I don’t feel loved.

We think that we will feel safer in our identity if we are successful at meeting THE expectations, but this only gives the illusion of acceptance and safety; it’s still fundamentally fragile.  It would be like thinking that by building a bigger straw house you are safer. This may make you feel better off than others, but the REAL problem is not the size, it’s the fact that it’s a straw house…

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.50.55 PMI struggled with burnout my whole career as a soccer player. I lived for those moments of glory! I found my safety in finding those moments of the risky perfect balance, when I would be the hero! Yet every moment I was the hero, I was haunted with the fear of me failing the next time, when the stakes might be higher.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s struggle with burnout led her to this thought: “I learned that I had to love writing more than I hated failing. As in, I had to love writing more than my own ego. Which is to say, I had to love writing more than I loved myself.

If I could go back in time and talk to myself as a kid, I’d be straight up with myself. I’d ask myself something like, “Alec, do you love playing soccer?” And then I’d say, “You struggle with burnout, because you love your ego more than soccer.  Until you decide to love soccer more than yourself, you don’t really love soccer at all – you love yourself.  ” I’d let myself think about that for a minute and then I’d send myself off with this,  “Go and learn what this means…be inspired by love (an unselfish love) in ALL things.”

Soccer didn’t teach me what love was, it was more of the revealer of my misunderstanding of love. As you may have learned from reading this blog, most of my good character traits and lessons come from God using Jordan in my life.

Contrary to my presentation, my ego is one of the most fragile things on the planet (marriage has exposed that)… YES, I said it! I’m not ashamed of it and the day you just admit it too, you will feel a whole lot better. Lol. I’ve realized that I’m not going to protect my ego from ever being hurt. Sometimes when I’m trying hard to be a good husband for Jordan, I mess up and she lets me know.  I wasn’t really looking forward to getting called out, but it comes with married life. We have to get our ego to accept that there is a risk to every meaningful (interdependent) relationship, whether we have a relationship with soccer or a person. Sometimes you put yourself out there and you get rewarded and sometimes you get shamed.   When I asked Jordan to marry me, it was either going to be a painfully shameful moment or a glorious moment. When Landon Donavan steps up to take a PK in the World Cup, he is risking ultimate glory or ultimate shame in the soccer world, this isn’t something they can escape.  I have to accept that I might be lifted up as the hero one day and thrown down in shame the next day.

Jordan has taught me many facets of love with both her wisdom and with her mistakes. As amazing as Jordan is and as surprising as this sounds, there have been times where Jordan has embarrassed me (though they’re few and far between). Sometimes she has done or said something that made me look like a fool and my identity was put to shame in front of people whose opinions of me really mattered to me. Those are hard moments in a relationship. I had to deal with this question, “Do I truly love Jordan? If I just love her when she adds value to MY identity, is this true love? If I stop wanting to be with her, because she diminished my status and identity, maybe I don’t really love her, maybe I just love myself.”
But if I truly love Jordan, I’ll love her more than myself and I’ll embrace her even when she diminished my status and shamed me. And I won’t console myself by thinking of her how her good qualities will balance out the bad or thinking she can make it up to me. I can do that, but I would still just be loving myself. When love becomes selfish at the core, love ceases to be love.
However, for those that risk everything out of an unselfish love, you have a safety net for those falls of shame and an anchor for those blinding lights of fame. Best of all, is that if you have love, you have something greater than glory and something that isn’t scared of shame.  If you truly love someone you just go for it! Love let me asked Jordan to marry me, because the thought of NOT taking the risk was much more painful than the thought of her saying no- so the shame in failure wasn’t so scary!  Love lets Landon Donovan take the PK in the World Cup and make it, but it doesn’t mean he has to accept the title of greatest American player of all time, it just means he scored a PK in the World Cup! Love lets me forgive Jordan for her mistake, because I care more about her heart than my ego. Love says your book could bomb, but you keep writing, because you care more about writing than what people think about you. Love was what Harold Abrams was missing, because he was “forever in pursuit” and didn’t even know what he was chasing. He was afraid of the same of failure, but even more afraid to win and discover that not even the sweetness of victory satisfied his longing for happiness.
Most players/people struggle between the two extremes of taking risks that maximize glory to themselves and minimizing the risk of being put to shame. Many of the most successful players/people are the ones who crave fame and glory so much that they overcome their fear of being put to shame.  Overcoming the fear of shame is courageous, but I don’t believe it’s the answer.  What we really need is an entirely new philosophy! Not a philosophy which urges us to run from shame or to crave glory. Glory isn’t what we really crave; it will not truly satisfy.We were not made to be glorified. We were made to love and be loved. 
Is it true that love really is the thing we crave most? You would be hard pressed to find any book, any movie, any story, any poem or any song that has made any significant influence on society that isn’t about love. Love lost, love found, love hoped for, love of a father/mother/friend, dysfunctional love, unrequited love, romantic love….etc. Movies, books, poems, stories and music will all have this common thread running through them and that is because we all crave love. If love is in fact the thing we actually crave, (and it is)….it changes everything!
Life is not a journey to find identity/glory, but a discovery of love; and, any time the quest for love is replaced with a quest for identity/glory, we are sure to lose our way.
I wonder, how would we and the world be different if glory and identity weren’t the core motivation of life?
I wonder, how would the world be different if love (specifically a love that at its core loves outside its own personal good) became the inspiration for life?
I wonder, would we take bigger risks and have greater success, if love was the motivation?
I wonder, would we find true happiness begins where selfishness ends, if love were the motivation?
I wonder, would the world be different if this new generation of leaders were inspired by love in all things?

 

Fast and Free

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Last post I talked about living with all your humanity.  Today, I’m going to tell you a story about running with all your humanity!  To run with passion from your heart, to use your mind to study yourself and the opponent and to give all the strength in your physical body towards something greater!

Have you ever been to a state track meet? It’s not like State Cup for soccer . State track is not really like any other sports event.  There are races all day and tons of people just hanging out watching races while you wait for your team to be up.  Every class of school from 1A to 6A is running and there are thousands of people there from moms and dads to grandparents to uncles and aunts to little sisters and big brothers to teachers and friends. I’d driven for 3 hours and been watching and waiting almost 4 hours for really this one race…it was the last race of the state track meet. Jensen, my little brother was running it for his school, Maranatha.

The 4by400 relay race!  The 4by400 is always the last and it’s always the biggest and most watched race.  It’s also one of the most difficult races.  It’s one of the few “team” events although every race affects the team’s score, this race requires strategy and teamwork within the race itself, like few other races do. The 400m is an extremely difficult race, as the race demands a near full sprint the whole way around the track. The crazy thing is scientists have proven that humans cannot sprint their top speed for 400m, as lactic acid becomes unbearable, causing runners to collapse and/or faint. The race is a battle of the mind and heart over the body.  It’s a race that takes runners to their breaking point and asks them to stay there as long as they can. All year you train to run on the knife’s edge between too much and too little.

My little brother Jensen has been training to win this event with his team for a few years now.  He studied books on running since he was a kid and had been training his body with careful attention to detail.  They studied the teams they needed to beat and who their key runners were. This was the year, their year! They had possibly the best crew the school had ever put together.

I  worked my way through the stadium of 15,000+ people towards the front row…hoping to yell loud enough that Jensen might be able to hear me!  I could see the tension and intensity in his face as he tried to shake out the jitters and butterflies as he warmed up for the biggest race of the year!  “COME ON JENSEN!!! LETS GO BUBBY!!! I was only 20 or 30yds away, but he was already in…”the zone” and the shouts from the crowd drowned out my voice.

The questions and doubts were swimming in all the Maranatha runner’s minds as everyone calculated what it was going to take to clinch this race. What will I have to do? Can I do it? Will my teammates be able to do their part?

The Back Story

The runners were Caleb, Jensen, Briar and Shawn. The plan was for Caleb to start the race and hand it off to Jensen, who would hand it off to Briar and Shawn would bring it home! Caleb had run the 800m just an hour before and had run an amazing race that won him a medal, but left him collapsed on the ground after the race.  Jensen had finished 6th in the 400m only an hour and half before, which was a poor performance for him.  He was up against some hard competition and he kinda choked. So now he was not only tired, but low on confidence.  He would be facing many of the same runners he had just lost to. Briar had had to run the anchor in the preliminary race (qualifying race), because Shawn (their top runner and anchor) had a pinched nerve in his back and couldn’t race. Briar ran the race of his life as the anchor, barely pulling the team into the finals, but it nearly pushed him to a place of complete exhaustion.  Shawn’s severely pinched nerve in his back, made it hard to know if he could make it through the whole race, as it could spasm out at any time. But it was Shawn’s last high school race and he wasn’t going to miss it….his team wouldn’t let him miss this race.  They had been training all year for this race and if there was any year they had a chance to win their first ever State Championship in the 4by400 it was going to be this year! Even if it was a hope and dream floating against a stacked deck being ranked 4th out of 6 teams and having a smattering of injuries/setbacks across the team.

The Race

Caleb steadied his feet in the blocks of the 6th lane, trying to calm the butterflies in his stomach.  The gun shot catapulted him out of the blocks and he took off around the track! Caleb looked like he might pull away  as he rounded the last curve!  The Maranatha fans screamed with all their might to pull him towards the finish line in the final 100m, but he hit the WALL with only 60ft to go. It was as if his legs turned to lead weights and with each step it became harder and harder to lift them although he tried harder and harder with each step.  It seemed as if the finish line was running away from him and he wasn’t ever going to get there. When he finally passed Jensen the baton, the team was in dead last.  Jensen was just a step behind the team in the 1st lane as they headed into the curve (he was in the 6th lane along the outside heading into the curve).

Jensen’s Back Story

Being the youngest of 6 kids, he didn’t live in A SHADOW, but multiple SHADOWS.  All his brothers held records in soccer and track at Maranatha and he didn’t have any.  His siblings had held positions of leadership in the school and had made a name for themselves in one way or another. He was known more by the name he inherited from the siblings than for the name he had made for himself.  Shadows come with expectations, they come with a certain way you have to act, a way you have to perform, they are all things put on you by others and living up to them is like chasing your shadow.  There are few things heavier than an expectation you didn’t ask to carry.

It’s scary when life puts us in that exact place we DON’T want to be. As if to just look at us like…WHAT? What are you going to do about it! I remember standing in the stands thinking, this isn’t looking good!  Poor Jensen, he had a terrible 400m individual race and now he gets passed the baton in last place, all the hopes and expectations that he is always having to live under and now this. This is going to be really hard on his confidence if this race flops too.

I whispered in my heart, “God help him…”

With his back against the wall, Jensen really only had one choice, go as fast as I can, for as long as I can and hope I make it to the end of my race.  If I don’t give everything we don’t have any chance of winning.

So in that moment when Jensen took that baton, he did something he had never done before.  He made a choice. He ran for the first time free of the weight of fear! He cast off of the expectations of others and took up a set of expectations that he DECIDED to carry.  He decided to carry the expectations and responsibility to sacrifice everything he had for his team.  He stopped worrying about his past failures that day and other days or how it would affect his college opportunities. He stopped worrying about his times or how someone else messed up the race for him. He just took ALL of himself and put everything out on the track and prayed it was enough. He rounded that last curve with his lungs bursting, legs clinching up and fighting to the finish for something bigger…then something magical started happening…

(Maranatha is in green and white, in the 6th lane and Jensen is the 2nd runner)

Pure determination and self-sacrifice won them their 1st State Championship! Although Caleb passed the baton off in last, no one could say he didn’t sacrifice everything he had for the team! The fearless passion of Jensen as he glides past all other 7 runners….one at a time…1….2….3….4….5…6….7!!! I couldn’t believe it was happening! Brier’s determination looks like a wild man wrestling a bear to the ground!  The kid just refuses to give up even when he gets caught on the curve! Shawn, carries the team with the pinched nerve in his back and fights through the pain like a seasoned leader!

These moment we call magic moments, are moments when we collide with life in it’s most raw form.  I think it’s in moments that we feel as if we can’t breath, can’t see clearly and we are brought to the edge of what we think we are capable of, that we start to live.  It’s in those moments where our legs feel as heavy as lead and the mind is failing to block out the body screaming to stop! It’s in these moments where we allow ourselves to deeply care about something and we risk bitter disappointment that we access a part of our being that is mostly dormant. We access something deeper when we stretched ourselves to a level we didn’t even know existed inside us!  It’s in these moments that we become a part of something bigger than ourselves! You can’t plan these moments, they just happen! But these are the moments where we harmonize the mind, the heart and the body into a powerful expression and all that we are comes bursting to life!

The story here is much more than a race, it’s the story of a boy learning to cast off the fear and cast off the expectations of others, cast off the comparisons and just ran fast and free.  To play your best, a person must learn to play free! Sociological baggage/expectations is the heaviest of weight we carry in life.

Every person has a unique set of expectations and challenges that weigh them down and they must throw it off, but once they throw it off they need to pick something else up.  They need to pick up a new set of expectations and challenges, ones that they are willing to truly fight to achieve!

This is much easier said than done and especially for Jensen.  He is the youngest and if you have never been the youngest sibling you can’t really understand what it feels like. Especially when your 4 older brothers hold many of the records in the school for track, soccer at your high school among other accomplishments. Jensen doesn’t live in just a SHADOW, he lives in multiple shadows and has all his life.  Learning to cast off the fear and cast off the expectations of others, to cast off the comparisons and to just run fast and free…is hard.

To truly be free we can’t play and live for the expectations of others. Neither can we live for only ourselves.

We need to take ownership of our own goals, objectives, expectations and at the same time realize that everything we do impacts other people.  Freedom is NOT discovered in the void of responsibility, but in the willing choice to take responsibility and to make sacrifices for those things you are responsible for.  There is a huge difference between living under others and CHOOSING to give ourselves to goals that serve others.

Post Game Story

I remember cheering as the boys walked arm and arm together! Bodies broken in pain, legs that could hardly take another step, but the biggest smilies I’ve ever seen! A tunnel of fans, friends, family and coaches cheered for them! It was one of the most unique sporting moments I’ve ever seen.  Like something in a movie that just makes your chest burst with pride. We usually cheer for what athletes do or amazing plays they make, this was totally different!  Everyone was cheering, but we weren’t cheering for what these boys had done, no we were cheering for who they had become!

Coach Zarda, the track coach spoke to the fans, friends, and family as we surrounded the boys to celebrate. To be honest I can’t even remember what he said, but I do remember that as he spoke, slow tears come down his face and he hugged those boys tight!  You would have thought that his chest was going to burst with pride as he stood there, his face glowing with a deep knowing that this was a truly meaningful moment that these boys would never forget.  A moment where these boys had passed from being boys to being men in a way…

Good luck today at the State track meet buddy! I’ll be there again!🙂

 

PS. Congrats on graduation and try not to totally out shine and over shadow all us “big” brothers! At State Track today!😉  You are my hero!

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

So I wrote this blog post on May 30th, the night before the Kansas state track meet.

UPDATE: It’s June 1st, 2014 the day after the 2014 state track meet. Well…Jensen did out shine and over shadow all us all big brothers! Lol.

He absolutely killed it! He broke personal records, school records and got 2 State Championships this year to add to his one last year! He is a living legends at his school and in the track world! A two-time State Champion in the 4by400, both times in a thrilling come from behind victory; plus a 400m State Champion. The kid is an animal! The kid runs with no fear and just crushes people!  He runs like a deer only smoother!🙂

So this years 4by400 was even more epic than last year. Briar ran again this year with Jensen, only he had a broken hand, which wouldn’t be a problem…only he gets tripped in the race and tumbles to the ground and has to scramble back up to get back in the race. Jensen gets the baton as the anchor with a lot of ground to make up!

If you are wondering, did he pass them because he was fast or were the other guys just slow? He ran a 48.67. It’s freaking fast for a white kid in high school!

What makes his story epic and awesome is he is all training. What made Jensen’s State Champ in the 400m so awesome & epic was that he had trained for 6 years & had nothing to show for it…till now!He isn’t a natural. His running technique, is all training.  His grit and determination, is all training. His ability to “finish” races, is all training.

What made Jensen’s State Champ in the 400m so awesome & epic was that he had trained for 6 years & had nothing to show for it…till now!  He had been training for years and failed the last three times on the 400m. He hasn’t always been so fearless. He use to choke in big races. He use to die at the end of races. He use to give up when things got hard.

Winning 3 State Championships is awesome, but to see a kid who wasn’t great, become great…to see the process and the struggle is really what makes it awesome. To see him coming home late at night from his bare foot runs or killing himself in training…and then going out and NOT SUCCEEDING is hard.  It’s hard to watch someone put in so much time and effort and NOT see the result. I’ve seen Jensen fail a lot. And now to a see a kid who puts in years of training and to finally see the fruit of all his work come together, is awesome! It’s awesome to see a kid blaze a new trail and have the courage to take his own path. All his brothers played soccer, but he decided to do something different!  It’s awesome to see a kid find his confidence and his courage to just be himself.

It’s something I hope to help all the boys/girls I coach find.

Check out the 400m State Championship race. Make sure to watch the interview after the race, it’s very telling about his journey.

 

Harmony With Our Humanity

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Introduction

I’m starting this post off with an introduction into why I write this blog, as we have had a lot of new people to the blog and I’d like to cast a vision for those that have been here as well as help the new people understand why I write.

We all have our own way of communicating, our own way understanding, our own way of living…. Something I’ve found fascinating is the complexity of “being human” and how our complexity of layers keeps us from fully understanding ourselves and experiencing the world around us. There are three levels I think we can all see in our humanity which I’m going to talk about.

1. There are those of us that are naturally “practical”, we like the physical, we like the tangible. We like less talk and more action.  We like to DO more than talk or feel. We don’t like to talking things to death and we for sure don’t like to talk about our feelings.  We like to cut through all the crap to the core of the practical application.

2. There are those of us that are naturally “intellectual” we enjoy talking, debating, discussing. We like analyzing and discussing complexity.  We like facts and scientific studies.  We like evidence more than intuition.

3. There are those of us that are naturally “emotional” we embrace our emotions and let ourselves “feel” the world around us. We trust our gut and intuition more than surface facts. We face the world with our heart on our sleeve.

And if we are very strong in one of these categories we might have a sense of frustration or elitism around those that are not “like us”.

I am pretty sure that everyone reading this blog falls into one of these three groups.  At the same time we aren’t all one, we are a combination of all three, because these are the things that make us human. 

There is a reason that some of you will read one of my post and love it!! The next one you read you either don’t get it or think it’s bad. While some post just aren’t that good, it might also be that some posts speak YOUR language and others will speak someone else’s language.  I fully realize that I’m connecting with some of you in some posts and totally missing others in different posts.

The reason I do that is, because this blog, like Toca, has a holistic approach that tries to hit all three layers. I’m crafting for you, “The Toca Way”…which is a holistic player and club development style.  It cuts across all three levels of what make us human. At Toca we want to learn how to play the beautiful game and in turn learn how to live the beautiful life.  The Toca Way is about harmonizing our feelings, our thoughts and our actions.

I can’t possibly fully unpack this concept in this post, but just so you know…I’m unpacking it in every post and tweet, little by little.  We call it a “way” because it’s a progression not a destination, I’m simply asking you to go on a journey with me across the emotional, intellectual and practical layers of our humanity.

Some of you might be scared to go on  a journey that is so “abstract”.  And as much as I’d like to tell you every detail of the journey, I can’t. Honestly, I don’t know every detail and part of what makes it worth going is that you don’t know, you will GET to discover it as we go.😉 But here is the goal…

The progressive goal is to harmonize the levels of what make us human so that we can live fully alive.

Harmony With Our Humanity!

There is something amazing about harmony.

This video captures the concept of harmony is such a tangible way, the visual with the music is captivating really. None of us have ever “seen” music and yet this video gives us an idea of what music “looks” like. The idea that music has a certain look, a certain flow to it, a certain way of expressing itself in the physical…it’s fascinating.  You might need to watch the video more than a few times before you can really appreciate the piece. It’s truly amazing how the visual can help even the novice musical ear catch things in the song that you might have missed if they had only listened to the audio.  Every time I watch it, I notice something new.

What captures and pulls me in about this video, is the synergy they created between the way the music and visuals complement each other.  As humans I think we are naturally attracted to harmony across our senses.  Our human senses are always active, but there are those moments when the senses combine into one experience, which always makes the experience more potent. This video combines seeing and hearing into one experience that complements itself in simplistic harmony.

If harmony is so uniquely appealing, I wonder if we could look to combine and create multi-level experiences more often?

FC Barcelona is a club that seems to be trying to create a harmony of who they are internally with who they are externally. They say about FC Barcelona, “it’s more than a club, it’s a feeling.”

What are they saying?

I think they are saying, it’s not just about the external futbol we play, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of thinking, it’s who we are…

The holistic harmony creates a connection that true FC Barcelona fans have with the club and it runs deep. It’s also the reason why the fans “freak out” when there is an apparent deviation of the style of play away from who Barça presents itself to be internally or in other areas of the organization. To live holistically is a high standard to hold yourself to and maintain across a lifetime. None the less, harmony is uniquely appealing and worth seeking.

If harmony is appealing, what about disharmony?  How do we feel about disharmony? Jordan (who is Jordan?) is really helping me understand this concept. I’m trying to help her plan a wedding and I often get this from her, “Alec, that just doesn’t ‘flow’.” Apparently, I don’t really know what “flows” sometimes.  Some people are “tone deaf”, and other people “flow deaf”. lol.  We might all have different ways we like to make thing “flow” or ways we like to harmonize, but we all think it’s important in our own way.

Does anyone like listening to a band playing off beat?  Or singing a song off key? Contradictions, dysfunction, inconsistency and randomness is universally accepted as not ideal, if not totally repulsive (with the exception being those few people that like random inconsistency, which I could argue that they only desire that because they are just trying to harmonize with the internal randomness and inconsistency they feel inside. However, isn’t this still an attempt to harmonize?)  All to say harmony seems to be more desirable than inconsistency and randomness.

I think we can all agree that harmony is objectively appealing.  It just feels good, it feels right and contradiction and confusion doesn’t feel right. I believe we were made to value order and be frustrated at least on some level with disorder.

I believe as humans we have an intrinsic desire to harmonize our life as well. To take what we believe inside and live it out in the physical world, to harmonize the inside with the outside.  I think much of the frustration we feel in life can be linked to the contradictory reality we find ourselves stuck in.

Does anyone like a hypocrite? Does anyone say, “I just love being around people that say they care about one thing and then live in total contradiction to what they say.” And while if we are honest, we are all hypocritical at times, no one desires hypocrisy. Until we admit that we are hypocritical at times I don’t think we will ever learn to be genuine. Even just now, some of you excluded yourself from the “hypocritical” category and were holding in your mind someone you are repulsed by for their hypocritical behavior. #irony

Going back to the music clip, I wonder what it would be like if our actions and behaviors sent a trail of music behind us wherever we went. So instead of the colors responding to the music, the music responded to our every action.  I wonder if our way of life would change if we knew that our life gave off a resonance or a song of sorts.  What if our life emanated a musical resonance? What would it sound like?  

What attitudes, actions and thoughts would put out a beautiful sound? What attitudes, actions and thoughts would put out a sound that would make us cringe?

Would our song make people dance, would it make people laugh, would it make people cringe or would it make people cry…?

If you listen while I’m coaching you might hear me say things like, “find the rhythm boys!” I think people probably think I’m crazy sometimes. “What rhythm, what song, what is this guy yelling about?”

Find the rhythm, is like saying, “find the feeling”. Start “feeling” the game boys, don’t just play mindlessly. Start playing the “song” we have been working on together.  It’s a call to the boys to restore order to the game and start playing OUR style.

What am I saying when I say, “find the rhythm”?

Practically, I’m saying, find the patterns we have learned in practice.

Intellectually, I’m asking them to engage the game with their minds, like a coach.

Emotionally, I’m calling them to connect with their teammates and to play as ONE, to commit to something bigger than themselves.

How does a coach engage players across all three mediums and teach across them all? How does a coach teach rhythm to his team?  He must first be a person that tries to live his life across all mediums.  He must truly understand the “song” he is trying to teach them.  The coach has to know the details of that song, every detail of that style, what instruments are needed, what type of players are needed, he has to know the current level and the potential of those musicians, he must know how to layer the teaching of the song and style. The coach must be an expert on all details of the song and style of play, as well as have a commitment to continuous growth.  And if he really wants his students to play the song all together in harmony, he must immerse himself in the song, so much so that he becomes one with the song on all levels of his humanity and teaches them to do the same.

Teaching American kids to play true possession is very much like teaching a group of kids to play in a symphony, in a culture that values the kazoo as the most complex musical instrument.

Neither the parents nor the kids have any idea what exactly they are trying to do. They have no idea the level of individual skill required or the complexity of how every individual will need to flow with the team as one organism. At times the kids and parents may think, “Wow this is so much better than any kazoo I’ve ever heard.” Other times in the in-between stages of development, they may think, “You know I think I could get these kids to ‘gel’ better if they were all playing the kazoo.”  And there is some truth to both of those statements.

Only the coach can really hear and know when they are “hitting it on the head” and when they are totally missing it.  Sometimes the coach will walk away after the game super excited by what he saw, even though it was a loss. Other times the coach will walk away frustrated out of his mind, even though they won. Only the coach knows when it is truly being played correctly and progressing towards the ultimate goal of becoming a symphony. While the kids might not totally understand every detail of the symphony yet, they do have those moments of escalation when they truly are in the flow with their team.

Part of a coach’s job is to help teach and improve the complexity of the understanding of parents. The parents will have a hard time understanding as they don’t get to be in the music like the kids and they don’t have the understanding of the coach. However, the more the parents learn the details, the more they will enjoy listening.

One of the things I really hope to teach my players is that if they want to fully enjoy playing our style, they need to live a life in harmony with our style. Honestly, we may never see the system in full strength without holistic buy-in from everyone. Sometimes Kyle (my assistant) and I will see a great play in a game and say, “That was ridiculous! If they’re this good now, what are these kids going to look like when they are 15,16 or 17?” I can’t even imagine if the players combined their full buy-in on the field with a full buy-in off the field! This would be the actualization of the symphony manifestation of tiki-taka in Toca! #mind-blowing

The Toca Way is about a way of living, a way of speaking, a way of thinking and a way of taking action….

I want our kids to play with heart, to play with emotion and passion, to really care about each game and each person around them!

I want our kids to play with their mind, to be a coach on the field, to understand and master the techniques and tactics of the game.

I want our kids to play with all their strength, to give everything they have, to be strong on the field, to learn to physically push themselves to new limits.

There is nothing more rewarding and powerful than giving and playing as a fully alive person.  To be fully alive requires us to engage our heart, our mind and our strength in what we do.

When someone says, “this is what I’m passionate about!” That’s their heart! When someone says, “This is something I’ve studied and applied myself to become an expert on.” That’s their mind. When someone says, “And I’m going to do ________ with my life,” that’s them putting their body into action.  When someone doesn’t just have feelings about something and they don’t just study this thing, but they wake up every day and combine their emotion and their mind into a physical action towards the goal… that’s when they have begun to live fully alive. When someone finds a cause worth fighting for or a person that’s worth dying for and they sing a song with their heart, mind and strength together… it’s POWERFUL!

While holistic living is powerful, I wouldn’t go so far to say, living holistically is the end goal to discovering happiness. Living with our heart, mind and strength fully invested simply allow us to engage life naked so to speak.  It gives us access to our potential. It will allow you to feel…to connect, but that could be painful…it could be hard. It will allow you to see…to hear, but you might see and hear things that are ugly.  Holistic living keeps us from hiding part of ourselves, we aren’t pretending, we aren’t just holding up an image…we are taking ALL of who we are and plunging into life naked. 

This is risky, but I think it is part of the search for wholeness. The journey to find truth is risky.  The problem of our day is NOT a lack of truth or lack of information.  I think we all have access to truth and really all the information we could ever need.  Most of us have a very strong sense of what is good, what is right and what is pure.  The problem is that truth exists in only one layer and we need it across all our layers for it to become real, for it to move from informational or conceptual to tangible.  The problem isn’t a lack of truth.  I don’t think we would recognize truth if it smacked us in the face, because in order for us to truly recognize truth we need to experience truth holistically.

We live in a world that has access to more information, more knowledge and more truth than any other generation in history. Yet access to information does us no good, because we need to experience truth, we need truth to penetrate our heart…..our mind…..and our body.

When I let myself dream about what Toca could be, this is the idea that captures me the most.  To teach our kids to harmonize their life and create not just a beautiful style of soccer but a beautiful way of life, lived fully alive!

Holistic truth that is real and tangible is reserved for those that engage life holistically.

Rhythm

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In the U.S. we have managed to raise up entire generations of soccer players that don’t have a clue about off-the-ball movement. It’s one of the reasons that American players have been considered low-class in comparison to the global standard for futbol.  (Their 1st touch is the other reason Americans are low/middle-class players – see last post: World-Class 1st Touch)

Why is off-the-ball movement so important? As a player or team progresses in levels of competition, it’s always about increasing speed of play.  Opponents are always pressuring harder, quicker and with more organization. It’s always getting harder to play with intelligence and keep the ball or attack with the ball.

There are two key ways to increase speed: 1. technique (aka 1st touch) 2. increase time and space.

The last post was more about increasing speed through technique. This post is more about increasing intelligent speed of play by increasing the time and space players have on the ball.

How do we get more time and space on the ball? Can a player really manipulate time and space to gain more?

YES, they can and it’s called OFF-THE-BALL MOVEMENT.  It’s called tactical intelligence.  BUT it can ONLY truly be manipulated in the context of a team moving as a collective organism.  The ultimate example of a team manipulating time and space is Barcelona. Never in the history of soccer has a team made the game look so simple.  They dominate world futbol with 1 and 2 touch passing and moving. It’s so simple it blows my mind! What people don’t always realize is how much wisdom is in every pass and every run off-the-ball.  Nothing is passed too hard or too soft.  The runs off-the-ball are not too early or too late and the spacing is not too far way or too close. So simple and yet so incredibly hard to master.

Off-the-ball movement in possession is what allows the speed of play to be faster, while still being purposeful.  Without good off-the-ball movement, there is no real team intelligence to the way a team plays. It becomes 11 individuals out on the field with 11 different ideas.  11 players just reacting to the game in different ways, in no real, cohesive rhythm.

At every level from U8-U80 it’s important to have flow. The player at left back counting clouds or digging in the dirt needs to work on their off-the-ball movement. They need to stay involved in the game even when they don’t have it.  This is the most basic form of off-the-ball movement and this is not where the break down in American soccer is happening. It’s happening at the high levels, because we (as a culture) lack a rich understanding of the game.

Reacting quickly and playing high intensity jungle ball is totally different from intelligent off-the-ball movement both in attacking and defending.  Americans are actually okay at defense off-the-ball movement, but we have no clue what to do when we get the ball.

Off-the-ball is about anticipating, not reacting. It’s about moving with the flow of the game to find the beat and keep the rhythm.  It’s about exploiting space and/or keeping possession.  It’s about a team moving as one and playing the game as one organism.  It’s about the right back knowing what the left forward is going to do and starting his run to the back door way before anyone else sees it. It’s seeing the game more like a coach and understanding what everyone else on the field is doing, knowing why they are doing it and how you should respond.

Something I remember hearing growing up and still hear to this day is that American soccer players weren’t good enough to play in top European leagues. Sometimes there would be a really technical player that everyone thought was going to do amazing in the EPL or some other league, but then they would end up getting dropped soon after getting picked up.  Part of that may be that there is a glass ceiling for what people “think” American players can do in Europe.  It’s partly that they lack the commitment.  Sometimes it’s just confidence to believe in themselves. However, the majority just lack intelligent off-the-ball movement.

They didn’t have a high enough Soccer IQ to play in any of the European leagues because they can’t keep up with the speed of play.  They may have had the technique, but their ability to move and understand the team game as a cohesive unit is seriously lacking.  They lack the details of intelligent tactical understanding.

WHY?

No rhythm and no possession.
Learning to move off-the-ball is difficult for every player in every environment to learn well. It’s a little like the challenge of learning to dance well. The problem in the U.S. soccer is that we are trying to learn to move off-the-ball/dance without any music, without any beat or rhythm to our style of play. And we wonder why our players can’t “find the beat” and don’t grasp movement off-the-ball.

Teams want to go to goal so fast that they get stuck in transition between offense and defense without really ever fully establishing control of the ball AS A TEAM.

We are impatient and choose to press forward, which forces us to play the game as individuals or in small groups of two or three rather than as a collective unit.

What is rhythm in soccer?

Rhythm = predictable ball movement that allows for intelligent movement OFF-the-ball by teammates.

Rhythm and possession are intrinsically linked.  It’s impossible to make intelligent off-the-ball movement without a predictable “beat” to the game. How can a player anticipate more than one pass or play ahead when there is never more than 1 or 2 passes in a row and there is no clear plan when the team gets the ball.  Any attempt to anticipate and play with purpose is a low percentage guess at best!

So what does a rhythm look like in soccer?

Five passes is the minimum number of passes needed to start a rhythm.  Only after five passes can the offensive team start to make well-timed runs to lose their man off the ball to keep possession and create opportunities for passing penetration.

What about counters?

It’s true that counter attacks usually happen before five passes, but these are based on the opponent’s mistake. At best, it’s a result of good defending that leads to a turnover in a dangerous area.  Obviously, in the short periods of time when we defend we want to create counter attacks in our offensive third.  However, this can’t be our only source of goals and strategy.  We are putting our fate in the hands of the opponent by hoping they make mistakes when trying to pass the ball in dangerous areas of the field.  A counter attack system is an “underdog” system. Teams that sit back in their 18 yd box and wait for a mistake will always be “underdog” teams if they decide to stay with that path.

Possession is different, because it doesn’t put the game in the opponent’s hands at any time during the game. In possession it is ALL up to us to defend by keeping possession and attacking with collective creativity in possession.  The focus is on us playing OUR game, executing our style and has little to do with the opponent making mistakes.

Possession is about systematic domination and choreographed attacking play, NOT luck.

The more our team has the ball, the greater the possibilities are to create player movement off-the-ball. Players can start anticipating two, three and four steps ahead, which leads to really dynamic and fast-paced ball movement. Fast-paced ball movement leads to more goals and domination, because what can a team do if they can neither steal the ball nor stop the attacking team in their attack? They will be forced to chase their tails the whole game and are at the mercy of the attacking team’s ability to execute their attacking patterns.

Q:Why doesn’t everyone play possession if it is so superior? 

It is harder than most parents realize to really teach. It’s much more complex than the average soccer fan can see, as it is the details that create or kill the execution in games.  It’s like creating a complex musical piece or a work of art.  On the other hand, it’s actually easier than most coaches realize.  Coaches see the details of the game better than the average fan and they tend to believe they can’t teach possession for lots of different reasons. They make excuses that the players don’t have a high enough technical quality or can’t grasp the tactics. They are right, but only in part.  They aren’t able to break down the tactics into simply enough concepts for the kids to grasp it. Technical quality is a problem, but its only half the issue. The fact is that even if many of those same coaches had players with amazing technical quality, they couldn’t get them to possess.  The reason is that even the most technical players will not be able to get out of pressure if  they have not been taught how to manipulate time and space tactically. Correct spacing and understanding of tactics can give players more time and space, which lowers the technique required to play possession. Both the technique and the tactical understanding have to grow together for a great team to be created.

The coach has to create the vision of how the team should play and communicate it to the kids. The coach is responsible for teaching the players how to read and think ahead TOGETHER. . The coach must show the players how to maximize their time and space. The players have to believe and commit to becoming one and playing unselfishly. The parents have to support the players and the coach through the process.

Here are some tips on why it’s so difficult and how to overcome the challenges of playing possession.

Teams are always in one of these three phases: 1. defensive shape 2. offensive shape 3. transition.

Since soccer is such a fast-paced and free-flowing game it’s very easy to never fully settle into a phase. Obviously, the goal is to settle into the offensive shape, because who wouldn’t want to have the ball?

As one of the greatest coaches of all time said, “Whoever has the ball, is the master of the game” – Johan Cruyff

The challenge is transitioning out of a defensive shape and settling into an attacking rhythm.

Q: Why is it so hard to move from a defensive shape to an attacking shape?

When a team is playing defense they are making the field small. They are “crunching” the ball as I like to say.  If everyone is packed in together to win the ball, what TWO really important things do we NOT have once we win it?

We don’t have time or space.

Q: What happens when we don’t have time or space?

When we don’t have time and space we have a much harder time making good choices with the ball. When space is limited and time is limited, the turnovers come quick.  It’s much easier for the opponent to pressure and win the ball back when a team is “crunched” in a small space. What many times happens is the team turns the ball over right after they win it and they get caught moving between phases of the game without ever really finding their rhythm.

At the most simplistic level, the goal when we don’t have the ball is to “crunch” the ball and win it. As soon as we win it, we have to “spread”, we have to expand out and spread the field.

Q: If we spread out or drop away, what are we giving ourselves more of?

We are giving ourselves more time and more space when we receive it. And more time and space leads to better choices on the ball and better choices on the ball leads to keeping possession. Keeping possession allows for off-the-ball movement and choreographed attacking play and goals….. which is a lot of FUN!

Where does the rhythm begin? How do we start the beat?

It BEGINS in the BACK! Possession ALWAYS begins in the BACK!  It must be BUILT out of the BACK! If you don’t build possession out of the back you are not really a true possession team.

When a team can start with their own keeper and possess into the back of the opponent’s net – they are nearly unstoppable.

The 1st phase of building the rhythm is to KEEP IT as soon as we win it! Keep it usually means making the simplest pass out of pressure (NOT forcing the ball at the goal). Usually a trail to a center back or an outside back is the simplest pass out of pressure.  The 2nd phase of building a rhythm is working the ball side to side around the back. Once the team has connected 5 or 6 passes around the back, going side to side – the mids and forwards can work on timing their runs, so the defenders can connect out of the back.  The 3rd phase is to work the ball in and out of the middle of the field. I like to use the analogy of a wheel with lots spokes going in and out of the hub.  Everyone on the field finds the rhythm as the team moves as one unit side to side shifting as a unit and constantly looking to play in and out of the middle.  The goal when a team is building the rhythm isn’t to score it’s just to get everyone on the field involved and to get everyone on the same page connecting. It’s ok to make simple passes and to pass even when there isn’t pressure. It’s ok to not go forward.  It’s ok to keep it simple, it allows for everyone to get on the same “beat”.

Once the team has mastered movement as a unit and can shift together – players will then start to be creative based off of the possession framework that has already been established.

Something counterintuitive about creativity in soccer and many other things is that creativity comes from simplicity. It actually comes from a focus on the basics. Creativity comes from learning the basics so well that a player can perform them perfectly on autopilot. It comes from being able to keep the rhythm of the song subconsciously. If a player can do the basics on autopilot, their mind becomes free to think how to improvise off of the basic framework. However, the player who can’t do the basic framework on autopilot, will have a brain that is already occupied just trying to do the simple things.

Freeing brain space is the key to creative improvisation.

This is true for individuals and teams.  For a team to be creative – the whole team must be subconsciously  proficient with the basic framework before they can improvise on top of that framework.  Individual creativity can destroy the flow of a team if the player doesn’t master the possession framework. It’s truly amazing when a player learns the possession framework and then breaks out into individual creativity and 2v1 combination play at the critical moments.

So back to one of the early questions we asked: Can a player really manipulate time and space to gain more?

Yes, through correct spacing and good movement off the ball they can add time/space and increase intelligent speed of play.

Increasing a team’s collective speed of play should be the coveted goal of every coach. The important thing to remember is that speed of play comes from technical quality and learning correct spacing and good off-the-ball movement.

A team learning intelligent possession follows these things:

1. Finds a rhythm

2. Builds a rhythm

3. Masters speed/accuracy in a basic team rhythm/framework

4. Builds creativity off of the collective team rhythm/framework

So much more I could talk about, but I can only write so much in one post. This will get us started. Love to answer thoughts or questions as this is a massive subject.🙂

World-Class 1st Touch

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Today we are going to explore where a world-class 1st touch comes from! It’s actually so simple it might just blow your mind. 1st touch is what separates the amateur from the pro, the good from the great, the Chance Myers from the Danny Alves and the Kei Kamara from the Andres Iniesta.

Today, the lesson is on developing a world-class 1st touch. Let’s start off by saying, we have NEVER had an American player with a world-class 1st touch. So whatever your definition of world-class is, it isn’t anything you have seen at any level of U.S. soccer, I’ll tell you that much.  The reason we can’t develop a world-class 1st touch is not because we don’t juggle enough or play enough games or practice enough.  While all those things are elements to the issue, the real problem is actually a systematic problem. We have a philosophy and cultural problem, not just technique-based issues.

( The video at the bottom of the page will give an example of what world-class is)

Soccer is a game of touches.  It doesn’t matter if you are tall or short or even “un-athletic” if you spend enough time with ball you can become a great player!  At Toca we believe that soccer development is based on maximizing touches on the ball. This post will focus in on the type of touches that make a good 1st touch.

The 1st touch is the most significant element in developing speed of play.  And speed of play is THE KEY to success at every level, from U8 to U80.  A player might be super skillful, but without a technical and smart 1st touch, they will never be able to play at the higher levels of competition.  Players must be able to receive the ball from all angles, in small spaces, out of the air, rockets on the ground, pop ups, high balls off their chest and more. Another element is correctly positioning the body to maximize options or shield away from pressure or attack on their 1st touch.

These are the two elements of a 1st touch:

1. correct technique, in a variety of scenarios and situations.

2. smart 1st touch, where the player correctly reads where to be before they get the ball and correctly positions their body to receive the ball to keep possession and/or attack.

Defining a 1st touch: the balance of a perfectly timed – connection and response. Not a moment too early, not a moment too late, not a touch too hard, nor a touch too soft.

There is a reason mastering the 1st touch is considered a “black art”. It’s hard to teach and its hard to explain. It’s a feeling a player must develop. It uses a small set of muscles that the player can’t control so much with their intellectual mind, it has to be a feeling they develop.

It takes the player being very in-tune with the details of every facet of how the ball is hitting their foot and to study that feeling.

How do you make the ball stick and respond?  How do you make the ball an extension of your own foot? How do you create the connection?  Young players often struggle with how to control the ball. It’s as if their ankle either becomes this wet noodle that couldn’t stop a snail or it becomes this baseball bat they smash home runs with.  I like to describe to players that a good 1st touch is like a kiss. It’s strong and gentle at the same time.  It’s soft, but not limp. Usually when I say that, I get a lot of “eew gross Coachalec!” And then all the kids start making smooching sounds every time they trap that ball. LOL.  Surprisingly, it actually works.

Hopefully the day will come when soccer in the U.S. will actually be fun to watch. Because right now, honestly, rape might be a better word to describe the 1st touch of the majority of American youth soccer players, if you can call it a 1st touch. (A world-class 1st touch is a magical connection between the ball and the player, “laced” with a love for the game. Most American soccer player’s first touch is like a violent abuse to the beautiful game itself!) Few things bring me more pain than a nasty 1st touch. To have eyes to see the sad state of youth soccer comes with a heavy burden. It’s hard to watch sometimes, truly painful.  I’m not joking…agonizingly painful. Hopefully things will start changing!

I dream of the day when Toca kids can mesmerize the ball out of the air, weave through their opponents with the ball glued to their foot and slot silky smooth passes through defenses.

And maybe once we smashed enough teams by 10 goals or more with possession – people will start realizing things need to change. Instead of having to choose between bringing my blind fold or ripping my hair out at youth soccer games, I’ll bring my lemonade, a lawn chair and I’ll sit back and enjoy, because there is nothing more beautiful than watching a team possess the ball around with silky smooth smart 1st touches!

Ok, snap back to reality, we got a lot of work to do…so how are we going to fix this?

How do we change U.S. youth soccer? How do we develop a world-class 1st touch?

It’s about spending quality time with your ball.  You need to develop a relationship with the ball, spend time alone with the ball, understand the ball.

Correct Technique in a variety of scenarios and situations comes from juggling.   You need to be able to explode with it attached to your foot.  Let the ball out in front of you at just the right moment. And rip it on a rope! Everyone knows that juggling is super important to developing a good 1st touch and an overall “feel” for the ball. It’s not just about being able to juggle, it’s about learning to master the connection between the ball and you. Do you really know how to juggle? That is the question.  If you are serious about developing a world-class 1st touch, how about getting up to 2,000.  Once you got to 2,000 (only feet) you will have pretty well mastered the basics of juggling – but this is just the beginning, there is so much more to juggling.

The next stage is walking while juggling, then jogging while juggling and then running while juggling. Punting the ball 30 or 40 ft and controlling it out of the air and getting back into a steady juggle again before punting it again. Juggling only one inch from your foot and learning tricks are equally important. Using every part of your foot and body is essential to a world-class 1st touch. Juggling is all about creating a connection and being creative with it.  You have to make it fun while still challenging yourself. Something fun my brother Jon and I would do is juggle over the house, we would kick it over the house and it would bounce around up there, then fly over the gutter, giving us just a second or so to react. We would take it out of the air, juggle it a few times and send it back over.  It was a lot of fun and it was a challenge to see how many times we could make it back and forth.  Your imagination is your best tool for becoming great at anything, especially when practicing by yourself or with a brother or sister.

My guess is most of  you still have a long way to go before you have really mastered juggling.

However, there are lots of players that have great technique and have spent hours and hours mastering their connection with the ball, but this is where our American system fails them. Try as they may it’s nearly impossible to develop this next element of the 1st touch on their own.

The smart 1st touch, which is knowing what to do with your 1st touch.  At the higher levels you only have a fraction of a second before someone cracks you.  There are people pressing in on you from all around and if you don’t know what you are doing before you get it, it’s too late… SMACK!!! And you’re on your back.

Here is the perplexing question: Why has the U.S. never developed a player with world-class 1st touch???

The “smart” 1st touch is mastered primarily through 1st touch experiences in games, which is what all U.S. kids lack in their development.

When I was a youth player, sometimes I had to play on teams where they skipped the midfield constantly and I only got 5 or 6 real chances to receive the ball from a pass….the WHOLE game! As in someone from my own team passed me the ball vs winning a tackle. So the way I got touches was winning a 50/50 ball.  Fortunately, I went away from teams that played like this and you should too, if you want to be a good player. Unfortunately, this is the norm in America. I wish this wasn’t the norm of yesterday or today in youth soccer, but it’s the standard style. I remember those coaches saying, “The team that’s going to win this game, is the team that wins the most 50/50 battles!!!” Looking back I want to scream, “Someone save the children… from this stupidity!” The average player out at Heartland probably only gets 5-6 real opportunities per game to practice their 1st touch from a real pass.
Let me ask you this question, how many touches do you think Xavi on Barcelona gets a game???
Xavi against PSG in the Champions League received and then passed more than one ball per minute without misplacing a single attempt – 96 for 96. All I can say is…WOW!  That’s world-class, that’s actually BEYOND world-class! Xavi gets about 95-100 touches on average each game. 95 touches a game, 95 times he receives the ball, 95 times he passes the ball. In light of that thought: is there really any surprise that Xavi has a world-class 1st touch?
Is it any surprise he can go 96 for 96 on passing accuracy? Ok, well maybe it’s still unbelievable that he had a perfect game.  But with all the practice he gets, is it really that surprising that his touch is unbelievable? Is it a surprise that he is a whole class above any normal human soccer players?
Did you know that Barcelona completes on average about 700 passes a game? Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 11.32.28 PM The average number passes for an EPL team is between 300 and 350. Average number per player is a little over 30. Hmmm… I wonder why Barcelona’s players have an immaculate 1st touch? I wonder why Barcelona can make other professional teams look like Rec teams?
Sooo…. CLASS…. why do you think Barcelona has a team full of players with a world-class 1st touch and the U.S. has never had ANY player with a world-class 1st touch in the whole history of our country?
It’s a stupid question, isn’t it? But since there are no stupid questions in a classroom – I’ll explain with a story.
Let’s compare the two stories of a possession-based player and a jungle ball player (referenced from Gary’s definition of jungle ball or the NOT Development example in the last post).
Just think about this for a second, imagine that you grew up playing on an average American youth soccer team from the time you are say…9 years old… you played on a team where every game you played, you got about 6-8 passes a game on the ground to your feet. So you got 6-8 opportunities to work on your 1st touch. 6-8 opportunities to make an intelligent pass.  6-8 opportunities to essentially work on your speed of play. And another player from the time they were say… 9 years old, every game they got 90-100 opportunities to work on their 1st touch. 90-100 opportunities to make an intelligent pass.  90-100 opportunities to essentially work on their speed of play.
Who do you think is going to have a better 1st touch? Who is going to be a better player? Who is going to have a faster speed of play?
It’s a stupid question isn’t it? Do bears poop in the forest? Is the Pope Catholic? Does possession develop better soccer players?
Let’s continue the story… The average club player plays about 40 games a year, if not more. So a possession player could get about 4,000 touches a year during games. You want to know how many touches a jungle ball kid gets? About 320 a year! So the jungle ball kids will be about 1/12th as good on their 1st touch after ONE YEAR than the possession player. Not bad, maybe he can catch up if he has maybe a little more…. time???
What will be the difference by the time they are 18 or 19?
Possession Player: (10 years later) 40,000 touches
Jungle Ball Player: (10 years later) 3,000 touches
After 10 years the jungle ball player will almost have caught up to the amount of 1st touches a U9 possession player gets in ONE SEASON.  So I guess if the jungle ball player played another….say… 30 years they could get closer…and when they retire at 50 they will be at the same level as the possession player when he was a U11. The difference is soooo big, it’s mind-blowing. It’s kinda like when someone is trying to explain the vastness of the universe and they tell you something like, “Astronomers estimate there are about a hundred thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone. Outside that, there are millions upon millions of other galaxies with hundreds of thousands of millions of stars inside each of the millions of galaxies!” Your mind flatlines and just taps out before it explodes trying to calculate the vastness of the universe. Just calm down, there is no reason to flatline, all they are trying to say is the universe is big.
All I’m trying to say is:
Possession = Development
Jungle Ball = NOT Development
It’s not complicated.🙂 LOL.
Coaches only expose their soccer illiteracy to read or understand the game or have any clue about player development when they talk about possession being boring or possession being meaningless or possession being bla, bla, bla…
I’m racking my brain trying to think of a way to make this more clear…..
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Sorry…. honestly, I can’t think of a way.  This will have to do, I can only lead a horse to water.
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Below is an example of a world-class 1st touch, it’s not magic that made them this way, it’s possession, possession, possession.  And this is exactly the type of ability we expect to develop with our Toca players, because from as young as U9 and U10 we want to have about 80% possession or more every game and give our kids over 40,000 touches in game situations by the time they graduate.

PS. if your mouth doesn’t have a tendency to awkwardly hang open during some of these plays, it’s because you don’t know anything about soccer or how difficult these plays are. LOL🙂

Free extras for those of you that want more:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XrDUiCBPIU    

High IQ = Possession

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Today… I’m going to break it down, way down. I’m going to show you the basic foundation of why we play possession. I’m going to point out the obvious. And hopefully make the basic WHY of our philosophy a little easier to understand. That’s what this post is about.🙂 Enjoy!

Lets start this lesson off with what might be one of the most important “short films” in youth soccer today!!!! The 1st section of the film shows an example of youth soccer players that are “developing” and the 2nd section of the film shows an example of what you see every day out at Heartland….NOT “development”.

After my freshman year of college at MNU, my brother Jon and I were invited to train with a USL professional team in Cleveland for the summer.  It was a great opportunity to play and be around professional players for the summer and we both learned a lot.

Something I had to learn fast, because it was screamed in my ear and other people’s ears…. daily, “Don’t $#&T the ball away!!!” Which meant, don’t give the ball away! Don’t give a hospital pass to someone! Don’t shoot from 50 yds out! Don’t send your cross to the keeper! Don’t turn the ball over in dangerous areas of the field! Don’t just kick it out of bounds, etc.

You have to work so hard to win the ball at that level and no one wants some idiot kid to just kick it away in a panic.

It’s a very simple concept, but it’s true at every level of soccer.  Looking back on that summer, it become very clear that the quality that needs to be improved most when you jump up to a higher level is… decision making. Essentially, what do you do when you get the ball. Do you turn it over or do you keep it for your team.  How fast can you weigh all your options and make a good choice.  Sometimes you only have a fraction of a second to decide what you will do with the ball.  There is nothing that teaches this better than playing possession.  Possession, possession, possession…all the time.

One of the marks of a quality player is their ability to keep the ball for their team. At every level from recreational to professional we all know that the weaker players are the “black holes”.  You give them the ball and you never see it again. The better players are the players that keep the ball for their team.  And in turn create opportunities for goal scoring chances for their team without giving goal scoring chances to the opponent.

You are probably thinking that this is the most obvious thing you have ever posted about, Alec. And you would be right, but it’s so simple that most people miss it.

Keeping Possession = Higher Soccer IQ,  High Soccer IQ = Better Player

Turning Over Possession = Low Soccer IQ,  Low Soccer IQ = Weaker Player

This is so simple and yet it’s not really understood by most coaches and parents.  It’s easy to understand this concept and totally miss the practical application.

If possession = higher Soccer IQ

and

higher Soccer IQ = a better player

and

a better player = development.

And if everyone is saying it’s all about “development” – than why isn’t possession made central to everything coaches do?

Possession and development always go hand in hand.

Why aren’t we focusing more time on developing possession soccer players??? The problem is coaches don’t know how to teach it, so they mask the lack of development by trying to find ways to win without possession.  Now many coaches at the older ages will do lots of possession drills in practice, but this won’t fully develop good decision making on the field.  Possession drills MUST be connected to possession in games! Only possession in games will really teach players to become directional and purposeful with their possession.  Purposeful possession that is attacking is the most difficult concept to teach to players. Essentially, the coach has to think into the future.  He has to teach players how to predict the future as a team, to move off the ball, to imagine what can happen and to take calculated risks. This is way easier said than done, because the coach has to know the difference between a stupid turnover and a good idea that might still lead to a turnover.  The coach has to know why every pass fails and what needs to be changed.

Possession in games, day in and day out will develop great possession players, which are….better players.  Possession is the best way to develop a higher Soccer IQ and when a player has both technical quality and a high soccer IQ we have a true “soccer player.”

What evidence can I give you to validate this view…

At the bottom of the post there is a video, which is a perfect example of why possession players are universally identified as better soccer players.  It’s a video of the players selected for a recent U14 National team camp. Watch it… really sit down and watch these boys play. If you know quality, you will see some quality 1st touches, quality passes and some quality speed of play (truly elite for their age).  If you don’t know soccer you will watch and say, “These kids don’t look special to me”.  The reason some of you won’t be able to see it, is because these kids really aren’t that much different from your kids.  What they have that your kids don’t is a better mastery of the invisible details of the game.  They have the ability to make everything look easy and unless you know how hard it is to play at that level, you don’t really have any idea how good they are. You simply look at how fast can they run, how hard they can kick or how flashy their moves are.

The red team is the National team, which is kids between 12 and 14 years old.  They don’t know each other well, because they met at the camp and have only known each other a few days. However, they all know how to play real soccer. The white team is a very talented local California Development Academy team that is nationally recognized.

Even though the red is smaller and younger they out played the white team in both videos because they have two things: 1.  Higher Soccer IQ. 2. Greater Technical Quality (developed through YEARS of possession soccer).

The ability to keep possession at the highest level is directly linked to the quality of the connection between these two things: (1.) Technical speed and precision and (2.) Tactical speed of thought and understanding.  If you isolate these two things from each other – you have an average player – if there is a synergy between these two things you have an unbelievable player.

A player’s ability to both anticipate and react to the game with correct tactical understanding and technical proficiency is the key.  Are you correctly reading the game?  Assuming you are reading the game correctly – Is your brain translating your analytical thoughts into a precise technical execution strategy (an action)? Do you have both good instincts and the ability to evaluate the whole flow of the game and adapt during the game – possibly making choices outside of your natural instincts based on the bigger picture of the holistic flow of the game?  These are the things that good possession will teach a player and it’s also what makes great players.

How did these kids selected for the national team get so good? It’s obvious that all these kids come from teams that play possession soccer.  You can see it in how they move off the ball and the quality of their passes and 1st touch. There is nothing that trains players better to play at the top level than possession soccer.  Nothing teaches the game more holistically than possession, possession, possession.

Is it any surprise that the players making the youth national teams are possession players?

Parents ask me sometimes about our style of play, “Will this style (referring to our tiki-taka possession soccer) help my son (daughter) make their high school team?  It’s a hard question for me to answer, because honestly my goals for these kids are much higher than making their high school team.  I have no desire to make the next great high school “wood-chopper”. I want to develop players to their very highest potential, which for many of them is to the highest level of high school, college and for many the whole country.  I want to see every player develop to their highest potential from wherever they start. Possession (once the core technical skills are mastered) is the key for the beginner and the key for the advanced player.

True possession, our tiki-taka, is designed to take players way above the high school level.  That doesn’t mean they won’t do well in high school, because every coach from recreational to professional wants a “smarter” player and they want a more “technical” player. For example: wouldn’t every MLS coach in the country take Iniesta or Xavi on their team? Even though they don’t “fit” their system, they would die to have them and they would both do great in the MLS I’m sure. However, playing in our athletic long ball style of soccer, most of their talent would be wasted.  Does that mean they should have been trained in another system, because it doesn’t “fit our style”? No!!! That would be like spray painting the Mona Lisa so it would look better when you hang it in a back alley among the street graffiti!

Tiki-taka is going to train players to be smarter and better…PERIOD.  It’s going to train them to play at a collective team speed and individual speed that will prepare them for the highest level.  This is why the pursuit of wins has little connection to who makes it to the “next level” and how players are developing individually and as a team. HOW you win is what determines development more than IF you win.

Possession is not just a style of play or a soccer fad, it’s actually just what better teams and smarter players DO. It always has been and always will be “the way” of the best teams and players.

StL Trip

As we start a new year and get ready to start a new season… I wanted to take a look back at how we started the fall season!  Or at least how my U13 boys team started the fall season! We took a trip that set the tone for everything we do at Toca from the youngest to the oldest. A trip that combines everything that Toca is… into one experience!  This is the first time we have done a trip like this and really it couldn’t have gone better! We had almost every boy on the team there and many of the dads.  It ended up being a great father son trip.🙂
With it being our first time, we didn’t really know exactly what to expect as far as where we were sleeping, exactly where it was, what we were going to do once we got there, or really any of the things that most (or maybe all) moms absolutely must know!! I knew it was going to be a “dude trip” by the way we started.  We all met at Metcalf and i435 to set out to St. Louis, as I thought the plan was to go as a group.  However, that lasted for about 100 yds of i435 and we pretty much didn’t see anyone again until the halfway point for dinner and then again in St. Louis.  I thought for sure without any mother hens herding all the boys we would surely lose a few on the journey, but everyone made it just fine. LOL.
We served with a ministry in St. Louis called New City Fellowship.  They have planted themselves in University City, which is diverse ethnic community with refugees from all over the world as well as white and black americans.  Their mission is…”To bring about racial reconciliation and address the needs of the city through the power of the Gospel.” It was super exciting to be a part of advancing this mission and seeing the impact on the city first hand!
It’s hard to quantify the impact on the kids, but I think there were some great seeds planted in their hearts.

I asked the kids, “What were you expecting when you first came here?” One of the kids said, “I thought when we first came up to the house that the people wouldn’t like us (his group was doing mostly yard work, for people in the community). But they were some of the nicest people I have ever met.”

I think we all have a natural fear of people that are “different” from us.  There are people that I see and I just don’t understand them. I don’t get why they act the way they do. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.  I assume that they probably think the same about me and they won’t understand me. And if they don’t understand me, then they probably wouldn’t like me and I probably won’t like them either. We would never say this out loud, but I think this kind of thinking goes through our heads from time to time.  I think we all want to be understood and when we fear we will be misunderstood, we get scared and defensive.
I think trips like this have the potential to really blast our prejudices out of the water.  They have the potential to help us understand people that are very different from us. I don’t think it is entirely possible to understand ourselves or others until we have had some experiences outside of our own culture and community.
Something I have been discovering through my experience in St. Louis and back home, is that we as humans are all very different.  And while we may feel and look different, we are actually more alike than we are different. The core desires of all human beings are similar, we just all go about getting those desires fulfilled in different ways.

The question I get asked a lot is… “Was this trip about character development or soccer?” At Toca we believe that, what we do and how we play… and who we are are all intertwinedThe way a player is taught to play soccer influences their sense of values/character and their values/character also influence the way they play. It goes both ways.

We have a holistic approach to everything we do, because who we are will directly affect how we play. So… YES, it’s about character development…..YES, it’s about soccer.
Our tiki-taka style of play is unique because it really demands a high level of character to play the system well.  It demands trust between teammates, respect for the coaches, respect for each other and an unselfish attitude that is giving by nature.   It’s an inclusive approach to playing soccer, that demands a collective team effort that doesn’t allow for any freeloaders or lazy players. We need constant connection and linking between player.  We need players to attack and defend NOT as a group of individuals, but as ONE. These are just a few of the things needed to play our system well and they are all (at some level) linked to a player’s character.
We believe that when who we are, what we do, and how we do things are in harmony it creates a synergy that is much more powerful than when these things (even when they are individually strong) are isolated.
The most important thing this trip accomplished…is starting a process We asked the boys to think with their mind about the needs of others, to feel their pain with them, and to take action.  We are teaching them to develop the skill of empathy.  I hope that we can create lots of experiences like this one that will open the kids hearts and minds to things that will stretch them and challenge them to think and feel more deeply.
Thanks for being a part of the journey!  Thanks for helping to create these unbelievable experiences for our kids!

Becoming an artist of life…

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Julius Campbell (left) and Gerry Bertier (right)

Gregory Howard was passing through Alexandria, Virginia and stopped to talk with two elderly locals, as he was curious about the little town.  The two men were in the middle of bantering back and forth with stories about the local high school football team and how they were so amazing. “We had the best defense in the state with Julius Campbell and Gerry Bertier.”  “What really changed things is when the Rev got hurt and Ronnie Bass stepped in at quarterback.”  Howard was impressed by the stories and asked, “When do they play? I’d like to watch them.” The elderly men looked at him like he was crazy, “We’re talking about the 1971 T.C Williams Titans.”  It was 1999 at the time.

That’s when Howard knew he wanted to hear more about this Titan football team. Why were they remembered as if they had just won the State Championship yesterday? The movie Remember the Titans is based on this true story…that Gregory Howard ended up writing. It’s a story that pulls us in like few stories can. We can’t always put our finger on why we love the story but something inside of us says…. “YES, that’s what it is all about!” What is it that makes us say “YES”? What is the message of the movie?

Is it the seemingly unredeemable environment that the characters are cast into and  how the team comes together and overcomes?  Is it how a team full of selfish and egocentric players learn to lay down their ego to serve each other? Is it how the two enemy “ring leaders” of the black and white sides of the team (Gerry and Julius) inspire a the team by becoming servant leaders? Is it how people who are very different culturally, socially, economically… can become like brothers? Is it how a coach under intense pressure to win in the war-like sport of football continues to genuinely care about his players?  Is it how all the forces of injustice, racism, prejudice, politics and hatred seem to almost strangle the life out of the team and yet they emerge victorious?

Yes, Yes, Yes… it’s all of these things and more.  Notice that it has almost nothing to do with football.  We don’t remember the Titans just because they were good at football.  The story may be about a great football team, but it is so much more than that and we all can feel it.

We tend to think people are remembered for what they win, but it that really the reason? How is it that high school football teams “win State” all over America every year and we don’t even know their names,  but yet so many people remembered Derek Redman‘s famous 1993 400m Olympic race even though he came in last place (see last post)? To add to the confusion, no one remembers who actually won the 1993 400m Olympic race. First place was forgotten and last place was burned into the memories of every person that watched. We think winning a title or a championship like the Titans will bring us immortality and ensure that we are remembered forever…but will it?

State Championships and National Championships might be talked about from time to time, and game-winning goals and amazing saves will be filed away for occasional use in conversation.  When we look back… it won’t be about the games and tournaments anymore; those things simply served as the means to creating a story about something greater.  What you never forget – is how the these events and experiences change us and change the lives of those around us forever.

The Titans are remembered not because they won State, but for what they represented. Although they may not have fully realized it at the time, they represented ideas and convictions that were much bigger than a football State Championship.  Their run to the title served as a means to the discovery of the humanity that links us all,  the fulfillment of self-sacrifice and the power of love, among other things.  And not only did they discover these truths, these truths were planted inside them and continued to guide them long after their playing days.

It’s not that the pursuit of greatness or the pursuit of wins and championships isn’t important. It’s actually vitally important to the journey of discovery. Without wins and losses, titles and championships…where is the test? What is the point? What is the parallel to life? We live in a competitive world and we have to learn to compete to survive.  However, how we compete, how we win and the process that we go through matters immensely.  The pursuit of championships and titles leads us on a journey… a journey that allows us to discover what really matters and how we should go about competing. It’s a journey that allows us to craft an amazing story and message if we are willing to play for something greater.

War or Art?

What should our driving philosophy be behind our pursuit of victory? I often hear sports compared to a war, “It’s going to be a battle today…” Although this is kinda the world we live in and there are games like that, the war mentality is too much of the driving force behind much of sports today – which is a tragedy. War is about the exploitation of your opponent’s weaknesses; it’s about beating someone else down lower than you. Even if you are both in bad shape, if the other guy is dead and you are only “mostly dead”… it’s a success! It’s status-based; so if you are bad, there is no need to really get better, just cut that the other guy down to just below your size.

An alternate philosophy is that of the art mentality, which we are working to cultivate at Toca. I actually like to compare it to painting.  Obviously, these two ideas of art and war are different and they are totally different philosophies.  Painting is really different, because it’s more about taking an idea, a concept, something you think is beautiful, something you think is important, something that represents a truth and then you express it on a blank canvas.

The purpose of war is to suppress and conquer.

The purpose of art is to elevate.

These are two fundamentally different approaches, but they are both a tool for “overcoming”.  Art doesn’t look to suppress, but it does look to overcome. Art (like war) also looks to destroy its opponent, but its opponent is everything ugly and untrue.  It destroys not by cutting down the opponent but by making the old way obsolete and irrelevant… because, something much more beautiful and true has become a reality. It overcomes ugly not by attacking ugly, but by casting a vision of beauty and truth to be lived out.

War might have a similar desire to destroy its opponent but, its primary goal is to be on top, it surpasses others in order to be elevated above them. War looks to sabotage and to suppress to gain an elevated status.  War overcomes evil with evil. It replaces ugly with ugly. It justifies its replacement of the previous by being “less ugly”, not by being truly better. War also has no purpose once it has beat the competition, so it falls into stagnation where it ends as….ugly.

Art on the other hand is about the constant pursuit of elevation, by definition.  Art has the potential to be a powerful tool to overcome, but unless we cultivate an art expression that also has a message that elevates, it’s no better than war. Art-driven players play to get the opportunity to take what they believe on the inside, who they want to be or who they are and translate that into an outward expression on the field. In an art-based philosophy we play to express ourselves.  And the purpose of “expressing” must be to elevate!

In sports and life we are always expressing ourselves. We are always crafting a story.  Our life is a canvas and we are always painting. Our life is a blank page and time is continually writing. It doesn’t matter where we start, from the lowest valley to the highest mountain, there is always an opportunity to elevate.

To start the journey we need to own our story! We have to embrace whatever circumstances we are in and start making something beautiful out of it.  We might think our story isn’t interesting or it’s dysfunctional or we wish we had some else’s canvas, but we must paint with what we have and expressing nothing isn’t an option.  Even those in the war philosophy are expressing what’s inside them, it’s just ugly.

The beauty of art is that anything can be used to create something that can elevate. Even things of low meaning, can be elevated to great significance.

A famous artist once had an idea for a piece while at a friend’s house and asked for a napkin to sketch it.  The man replied saying, “It’s just an ordinary napkin, it’s not for drawing.” He, replied, “Nothing is ordinary in the hand of an artist.”

Nothing is ordinary in the hand of an artist!  How does one become an artist against the backdrop of life? How does an ordinary life become extraordinary? Until we start playing for something more, until we start playing to elevate, we haven’t really started playing…we haven’t really started living. So what are we elevating toward? At the end of our life there will be a defining message, a painting that points to something greater than us, and that will be our last gift to the world.  

Your message will need to be something so important, something so valuable, something so beautiful that it surpasses you…and even after you die…it will still be significant.

What will your story be about? What will you paint? What will your message be?

There is a really powerful scene in Remember the Titan’s where Gerry is at the hospital – he was hit in a car wreck a few days before the state title game. They don’t know if he can play again, they don’t know if he will even walk again. Although the movie starts with Gerry and Julius being enemies, there is only one person Gerry wants to see now.  Julius walks in slowly and Gerry greets him with a smile.

They make small talk and jab at each other a little and then there’s a long pause before Gerry says… “I was afraid of you Julius……….   and then when I saw what I was afraid of – I realized I was only hating my brother…

Julius turns away as he can hardly hold back the tears, struggling to hold his composure.

Julius says, “When all this is over… you and me are going to move into the same neighborhood together, we’re gonna get old…gonna get fat and there isn’t going to be all this black – white between us.” 

In the moment Gerry reaches up and Julius grasps his hand.  The hand of his real and true brother.

10 years later Gerry died….the whole team and community gathered around Gerry’s casket at this funeral on a fall day in 1981. Memories flowed as Julius firmly held Gerry’s mom’s hand as they looked and listened to the message that Gerry gifted to the world after this death. “People say it can’t work, black and white. Well, here (in Alexandria) we make it work everyday. Sure, we have our differences, but before we reach for hate we always… always remember the Titans…”

What will your story be about? What will you paint? What will your message be?

A Father’s Heart

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I know I’ve been slacking in the blog posting department recently. Sorry… or you’re welcome – depending on what you think of them. lol.  Jordan is my inspiration, editor and motivator so it’s hard with her being 6,561 miles away.  Thank God for Skype…🙂 Sorry for the delay, here is a post that I hope will inspire all our parents, players and coaches to look beyond the result (win/lose) and catch this vision of playing and living for something more. I think we often focus on helping our kids be “successful/win”, the kids may even believe this is what they need most, but it’s not…they need something else much more from you than helping them win a game.

Here is a story that captures a true father’s heart…

Derek Redman was favored to medal or win in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the 400 meters, although he had never won a medal in this race. He held the British record for the 400 meters sprint, and was in the best shape of his life as he stepped into the starting blocks for the race of this life.  Derek shot out of the blocks just as planned and he was running a great race until around the 150 meter mark, when his right leg tightened and something snapped.  Derek’s whole body shot with pain and adrenaline as everything came to a screeching halt with his mind racing with fear and confusion.

The pain of the snapping hamstring was only lessened, by the more painful chattering of his dream slipping way.  The swirling of fears, dreams, pain and confusion left Derek frozen in time on the edge of the moment when a dream and and hope of the heart becomes a reality or vaporizes into the air. Watching Derek I can’t help, but feel frozen with him. Imaging in an instant all the work he must have put in all those years, all the moments he gritted his teeth and pushed through, believing that his moment would come and it would all make sense… but the moment he so desperately wanted was slipping way. Suddenly Derek jumped back to his feet, with blurry thoughts and a sense of deep desperation bursting from his insides, he started limping on one foot towards the finish line, with each step straining to grasp the dream that had already slipped way.

Derek’s father was in the stands that day watching. I can only imagine what his father was feeling as he was probably the only person in the whole stadium or anywhere that understood what was going on inside of Derek that day. When a father really loves his son, he can’t help, but hope and dream with his son. He can’t help, but want the very best for his son.

when Derek’s father broke through security to come to the aid of his limping son, we can’t help but feel in our soul – YES! The overflow of love in this father’s heart is compelling him to take action! This is what a true father does for a son he loves. He comes to him in his moment of total failure and total despair and loves him just because he is his son.

This is the powerful message that every father should spend his life sending to his kids. You can just feel the intensity of the father’s love as he breaks through the barriers to reach his son! You have this feeling that this love he has for his son is coming and it’s not stopping. It’s a powerful love, unlike most loves, because it comes from a father that bases his love on the unchanging truth that this boy was given to him to love by divine design and NOTHING the boy could do would ever change the way this father felt about his son!

What is also so powerful is how we see this son limping along possessed to finish his race, scrapping to keep his dream alive for another moment.  The passion of the boy to finish the race is driven by this painful reality of his dream and his worth and his value and his hope all slipping away!

And the beauty in this story is how we see the father run to the son while he is still a long way from the finish line! He overcomes obstacles and even the son resists for a moment before giving into the embrace of his father. The unwavering love and intensity of the father’s genuine love is irresistible. He comes along side his son and embraces him, and it’s as if he emanates out of his very bones this truth…

YOU are LOVED

YOU are VALUED…

YOU are WORTHY…

YOU can NEVER ESCAPE MY LOVE…

YOU can NEVER GAIN my love, because you have ALWAYS HAD IT!

And with that truth imparted into the very soul of the boy he goes on to finish his race changed forever by this NEW REALITY.

This is the truth that every father should seek to impart into the very soul of his child. It’s a truth that has to come from a father’s bones, from his every thought and action towards his child.  It’s not always spoken it’s imparted from the father’s heart to the son’s heart!

If you impart this truth to your child you will set them free to love and not fear and chase dreams and become all that they were created to be!

Here is the race…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2G8KVzTwfw