September 20, 2010.
My son has been playing on a competitive soccer team for almost three years. What started as just a fun after school sport has turned into an all out way of life for the Lentzner Family. Our weekends are spent at soccer games, tournaments, wearing our favorite jerseys and subscribing to the cable soccer channel. You don't even want to know what it was like during the World Cup - we were fanatic. One summer afternoon while my kids were....wait for it, playing soccer I found myself devouring a special soccer edition of Sports Illustrated. At that point, I knew we had gone too far.
Ball to the Walls
I am not sure when the constant banging started, but it has been at least a year. The Thud. Thud. Thud, Thud, I would hear through out my house. When my son was awake he was constantly kicking a ball, any ball around my house. As the days morphed into weeks and then months I noticed he was always touching a soccer ball.
If he could not find a soccer ball he would kick a beach ball, a basketball - hell I once found him juggling with balloons. He was always methodically touching the ball as he walked through our home. The ball was always with him, no matter where he was - he was tapping the ball. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Whether he was doing homework, watching TV or just putting clothes away - he was always touching the ball. Walking to get a glass of water took 14 touches, 3 turns and then he balanced the ball on his right foot as he drank his water. Taking a shower was heading the ball against the walls or trying to rainbow the ball into our sink before he did the dirty deed.
At about this same time he started watching soccer on TV and attending any games he could. He would beg us to stay for the next game on a Saturday, or watch his competition while he waited for our next tournament game. While watching TV he started analyzing the plays, the tricks and he watched how the players controlled the ball. He memorized the stats of European players. He knew the Premiere league from the league in America. He reads about soccer too, books, magazines, the internet - he has immersed himself in the sport.
He's Got Balls Too
At one of our many soccer games last weekend I mentioned my son and his ball touching....err honing his ball skills, and how he was kicking the ball around our house to a few other parents. I asked them if their sons did anything like this.
One Mom laughed out loud and nodded at me. She then went on to describe her son doing the exact same thing as my son, daily. The hard word floors were easy for him to push the ball around effortlessly, in socks even. However, not only did he have a soccer ball at his feet, most days he also had a baseball in his right hand, as he dribbled the soccer ball around the house. Talk about multi-tasking, I can only imagine him doing a maradona around the kitchen table while he practices his knuckle ball with his right hand. I felt better about my son's 'touches', yet I still did not know why he did it.
That Kid Has Balls....Skills That Is
Like I said, it has been over a year of kicking the ball around and as much as I loved my son's commitment to the sport, I was tired of the Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. All of my pleading, begging and crying for him to stop with the soccer ball in the house, only ended with me being frustrated and him continuing to touch the ball. In one exasperated moment I blurted out to him while he was laying still reading in bed, "Why? WHY? Why are you kicking the darn ball around the house day after day, after day??"
Without missing a beat, or putting down his 500+ page book my son replied to me, "Remember about a year ago when Dad told you about how to be an expert? I heard him say if you want to be an expert at something you need to do it a lot to get really good at it. I want to be good at soccer, I want to play it and if I can't play in high school, college and professionally, then I want to coach. And after I coach it maybe I will do something else. Don't you remember Dad telling saying that?"
Actually I did recall that conversation, but I did not know he was listening. We discussed many other factors about how success takes time, not always talent, the expression 'Practice makes Perfect' was thrown around. Our children were in bed and we were having quite the late night intellectual conversation. The original quote was after a sales meeting my husband attended, and his exact quote was, "If you want to be an expert at something you need to do it at least 5,000 times".
All Balls Out
It is so simple, and so true - experts or even professional athletes do not succeed without lots and lots of practice. I once saw Joe Montana speak at some Inspirational Positive Lecture thing. He told this amazing story about how he first mastered throwing a football through a tire, then his Dad swung the tire and he mastered that. His father just kept making it harder for him, and until he mastered it - he practiced.
The thing is my son is quite good at soccer, he is very cerebral and he has great ball skill. He is not by far the best or biggest on the team - but he there. He is quietly honing his skills, practicing while others goof off, juggling while some play video games. I am pretty sure he is not the Joe Montana of soccer, but he sure is trying to be.
Being an expert takes a long time, and is a huge commitment. I started to wonder if I was an expert at running Jamie's Painting & Design? I have made over 5,000 Name Plaques and Birth Certificates. I am sure we have shipped over 5,000 products. I have worked over 5,000 hours on my business and at the same time cried 5,000 tears. Calling myself an expert sounds sort of pompous and arrogant, not sure I would stamp that on my business card.
Becoming an expert takes time, not just talent.