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Can I have your autograph?

I have been walking among giants this week. Literally.

Just shouldered past Michelle Akers, FIFA female player of the century.Michelle Akers

There goes Amanda Cromwell, had coach of the 2014 NCAA national women’s soccer champions. Someone just shouted “Hey, Anson,” and I turned to see the legendary UNC Women’s coach walking behind me. Anson Dorrance

Outside the exhibit hall I shuffle past a young woman posing for a photo with US National team legend, Kristine Lilly. Kristine Lilly

I am surrounded by fame. The funny thing is, I don’t have the urge to run and get its autograph. In fact, I keep my distance. Here, at the national soccer coaching convention, everyone knows who these people are, but they’re revered for their contributions, not just their accomplishments. People follow them, but from a respectful distance.

What is it that compels us to swarm famous people to get their autograph? We want “our moment” with them and we want to prove that it happened. So we can show people that greatness paused to attend to us. We were right there with them. Perhaps we want to suspend that moment in time, hold onto it longer, remind ourselves that it happened.

Somehow this has me thinking of James, John and especially, poor Peter, the disciples invited into the moment we call “transfiguration.” When an illuminated Jesus met up with pals Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop Peter, dumb-founded but ever action-oriented, offers to build dwellings for the three. Why not help them get cozy and stay a while?

Peter did what we do when dazzled by the brilliance of the moment in the presence of magnificence, we act stupid. We can’t help it; our brain takes a break and leaves us fumbling for words.

Which has me wondering if, now knowing that I can resist the urge to accost celebrities in the halls of the convention, I could apply my new found discipline if Jesus strolled my way. Am I over that need to prove that I met him by trying to suspend the moment? Would I ask for an autograph? I sure hope not. I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t be giving them out, but still. So what would I do?

Well, the last day of the convention, I couldn’t help myself. As I exit my session I see Tony DiCicco, head coach of the 99ers, the women’s world cup winners that inspired millions of girls onto soccer pitches all over the country, walking down the main hallway. He’s dressed in suit and tie, probably headed to teach a lecture session. No one else is with him, and he doesn’t seem hurried, so I did it. I crossed the main hall, and he stopped and looked at me.

He was smaller than I thought. Fit and handsome, but aged as I am. I touched his arm. “Thank you,” I told him, “Catch Them Being Good (his book about the women he coached to a world cup championship in 1999) has inspired everything I do.” It has.

He smiled, nodded his thanks, and went on his way. Humble man, that one. Huge legacy. Not really suited for fame. More for followers.

If I met Jesus, perhaps that would be a reasonable strategy: touch his arm and say, “Thank you. The Bible (that book about living a victorious life) has inspired everything I do.” It has.

Perhaps He’d smile His acknowledgement and go on His way. Humble man. Huge legacy. Not really suited for fame, more for followers.

I wonder if people ask for His autograph.

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Plan to Catch them Being Good

Catch them being good. That’s the name of a terrific book by Tony DiCicco who coached the 1999 World Cup winning women’s soccer team. You remember it, don’t you? When Brandi Chastain fired the game winning penalty kick past the Chinese goal keeper? 5-4 USA! Then Brandi stripped off her jersey in exultation, displaying her ripped torso adorned only in a sports bra. Oh my. Should women be allowed to do that?

No, don’t answer that. It’s no snarking week. We are banished from things spoken from a critical spirit. (Though, as Carol told me at the picnic yesterday, no one can criticize the blog post this week. Whew!)

Better stick with catch them being good. Tom’s challenge in the sermon yesterday to ‘corner the criticism’ and his example of the wagging tongues on the soccer sidelines made me think of a practice developed by the Positive Coaching Alliance that we employed the years I coached a travel soccer team. It’s called, “positive charting.”

It’s a simple thing. You make up a sheet with the names of all the kids on the team with a few empty lines after each name. Then stick the sheet on a clipboard with a pen (or copy and clip several) and hand it to one (or more) of your parents with the instructions: “For each kid, write down good things you see them do.” ‘Good things’ was broadly defined. It could be soccer skills, sportsmanship, coachability, kindness. It just has to be good.

Then, a funny thing happens. When parents start looking for the good they see on the field, they overlook the not-so-good. Especially in their own kids. They are furiously writing,  capturing stuff I missed or never would have noted as a coach. Truthfully, I knew this would be positive for the kids; I didn’t realize how positive it would be for the parents (and the coaches).

After the game, I would thank the parent(s) – usually several – who captured the good things and stick the clipboard in my bag. Next practice, the girls warmed up and then sprinted to the team huddle where they sat and looked at me expectantly. That was when I read out “the good things.” You should have seen how those faces glowed. They knew their name would be called and praise would be offered. For kids who are subjected to evaluation all the day long, counting on complements was a bit of a welcome respite, I guess.

Now, full disclosure: had I not adopted the PCA’s postive charting I never would have had these moments. And neither would my players.

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