My assumption is that some of us are discouraged, disheartened, “done” because this wasn’t a winning season.
I know it’s hard to lose a lot of games, especially after you’ve had so many winning seasons.
But that’s sports. Especially with youth sports, players quit and find other teams or other activities. Players get hurt. Other teams get better. It’s the way of sports: stuff happens. We’re not
the first team to go without a win in a season, and trust me, we won’t be the last.
But that’s not important.
Here’s why: in life, stuff happens too. There will always been disappointment, discouragement and failure. We will all have “winning seasons” and plenty of “losing seasons.”
Most often, we are not in control of the stuff that causes winning or losing (ask your parents). Look at us. Players leave a team, players get hurt, a dufus coach (that would be me) screws up at game time.
What we are in control of is how we choose to respond to those things. Here it gets pretty simple. How do you respond to “adversity”? How do you respond to tough times, to losing seasons?
Answer: You can either quit or work harder. When you work harder you are still not guaranteed success. But if you quit, you are guaranteed failure.
I grew up with a dad who would rarely let me quit. Until the day he died, he worked. Even when doctors told to him to rest, it wasn’t in his nature.
A story: We lived in rural Minnesota where we had a pasture and boarded horses. We would also flood part of the field to make a hockey rink every winter. One February, when it was way below zero, the water line (that was six feet underground) froze and then burst. We had to fix it or the horses would be without water.
My dad and I talked and I volunteered to dig up the line. (It sorta sounded like fun; a teenage boy thing). Well, it was so much harder than I had imagined. I had to build a fire on the ground to melt the one foot of snow and frost before I could dig. I thought it would take an hour at most to finish. Four hours later, as it started to get dark, I’d only dug a few feet. I went back to the house and told my dad it was too hard. (I had already learned that we were not to use the word “impossible.”) He told me to get some hot chocolate, warm up, go back and he would join me to help.
It was a school night, but we dug together until we found the pipe and fixed it at 2:00 a.m. His lesson was simple: when you commit to something, you finish. Sometimes the only way out is to work, to dig, shovelful by shovelful. I’ve never forgotten that.
So, soccer. You’ve had a losing season. Guess what? This is the universe asking you what are you made of? Can you handle adversity? Are you going to stop digging? Or are you going to work?
I play and coach soccer because I love the game. I work at it because I love it. Not just winning; I love the game. I love every part of the game: the touch of the ball, passing, running, grass, talking about technique, tactics and shape and coaching. Coaching is such a blessing! Then there all the other fanatics — from dozens and dozens of countries — that I’ve become friends with over the decades. Winning is fun, but the game is the most beautiful, unimportant thing in the world.
Finally, if you’re lucky and you’re paying attention, you will find something to do in your life that you love. Then you will learn if you love something— truly love it — you still have to work. You will learn that you cannot give up, even after a losing season or two, or three. Most days you will wake up and know you still have to dig. If I could wish you anything, it’s that you enjoy the digging.
“The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.”
–Anson Dorrance, UNC women’s Soccer Coach
I worry a lot about stuff that’s not that important. For example, how does one continually come up with material for columns about dogs?
This last year, that particular worry evaporated because there seems to be an endless supply of material. (See the “emotional comfort” animal below.)
I’m excited to start a new year of researching topics such as: a day at the shelters, the Zen of the dog walk and exploring how to sleep as much as our dogs do. This last one will require me to actually follow their same schedule, nap when they nap, play when they play. It’s a sacrifice I know, but it’s for science!
Today, however, I want to sum up my top five lessons from 2014 concerning Canis Lupis Familiaris. (Woof!)
1. The “Emotional Comfort” Animal
“Huh.” I replied.Personally, I was fine. Actually, I’d much rather sit between a Great Dane and a German Shepherd than I would humans. That said, there is a bit of gaming the system with “emotional support” animals. Because of a loophole in the law, anyone can get an “Emotional Support” certificate online for their pet, allowing said pet to fly for free. Infamously, a woman successfully brought her emotional support pig on an airplane. It did not end well, because pigs can be pigs.My prediction is that either the loopholes will be closed or flying coach will be like taking a bus in Peru: dogs, cats, chickens and pigs wandering everywhere while the people and luggage sit on top of the plane.
Tip: Please think about it before signing your dog up. Remember there are people who are allergic to dogs and who fear dogs. They have rights too!
2. Dog Fitness
My next big take away from 2014 was the importance of keeping dogs fit. More than half of the dogs in the country are obese. It isn’t cute; it’s life threatening. There are three causes. First, we overfeed dogs. Second, we don’t allow them enough exercise. Third, our perception of a dog’s ideal weight is often wrong. A healthy dog is lean and looks more like a Coyote than the sleeping-on-our-couch chubby Bernese Mountain Dog.
- Make sure that you are feeding your dog the right kind of food for their breed, age and health. Ask your vet.
- Try giving them apples or carrots for treats. Our dogs have learned, if not to love them, to at least accept them without too much grumbling.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise! At the animal shelter this last week, we watched two mixes, Honey-Bee and Jamonsillo, chase each other around one of the fenced fields for ten minutes and then flop to the ground panting. This is what dogs need daily to stay healthy, both physically and psychologically.
3. Dogs love dog parks!
Dog parks are great for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a chance for more exercise, off leash! Second, dogs get to socialize with other dogs and people. Third, you can just stand there, drink coffee from Starbucks and your dog will still love you for taking him to the dog park!
Tips: bring water and poop bags. And please, pick up after your dog.
4. The Greatest Invention
Ladies and gentleman, I give you the dog door. For those of you whose daily agenda is to let the dogs out, let the dogs in, let the dogs out, let them in and repeat, the dog door (and a fenced yard) will restore your sanity.
We finally installed one and it changed our lives. They cost anywhere from $200 to $400 depending on size. We chose to have someone install it because I’m no longer allowed to do home improvement projects after I mistakenly flooded our laundry room. Long story, not important.
Now our dogs go in and out as they please. No more letting them out, letting them in. We can actually have a life at home.
5. The Gentle Leader
Final lesson: I was putting my life in jeopardy walking our two “enthusiastic” 120 pound dogs on leashes attached to chest harnesses. It often added up to 240 pounds of straining dogs lunging after a rabbit. Honestly, the only way they could actually catch a rabbit was if the rabbit was lounging on the road, smoking a cigarette and watching TV. But they definitely would go for it, taking me with them. Afraid for my life, we tried the Gentle Leader. It has a webbing strap that fits loosely around their snout. It takes only light pressure to turn their head and stop them from leaping into the bushes along the road. I am living and uninjured proof that they work.
Tip: Gentle Leaders need to be fitted appropriately and only used for a short walks (less then an hour or so). I also make sure to check their muzzle when we’re done to make sure it hasn’t rubbed them wrong.
There you have it, my lessons learned from 2014. Now it’s time to start on 2015 and the napping dogs project. I figure it will take at least a month of sleeping to truly understand . . .