Former sporter that I am, I once made the mistake of an offhand comment to a retired coach I knew: “It’s not as though I’ll use soccer prowess in my everyday career someday.” A sharp look from this early Title IX advocate showed me I was about to get an earful. “As a coach,” he replied, “I worked hard every day to make sure I was teaching my kids lessons they would use every day of their lives—and not just in their careers.”
He went on to tell me what they were, and that perspective has shaped my own thinking about the world since. Individual sport, indeed, teaches us many things: discipline and determination; practice, and also self-care; both the pursuit of perfection and the knowledge of ones limits. Team sport lends its teaching to the coordination of groups: passing and receiving, both tasks and information; knowing ones role, and learning how to fill in for others; seeing oneself as a part of a whole, a member of the body of Christ.
Most importantly for me as a self-centered teen, was learning the importance of constant external awareness. Team players must track their attention not only to their own obstacles and avenues, but *even more importantly* toward the other players about them. Their own work comes to nothing if they don’t attend to the team.
In the church, with our committees, discussions, and joint goals, we are constantly working like a team. Regular gifts are constantly making our team stronger. Attendance at practice helps hone us toward achieving our common work. We bend our heads in prayer, a team in huddle to heal our community and our world.
Americans are quite individualistic creatures. We, the free and the brave, have at least the remnants of a culture forged in the press of personal liberty, and we prize the “self-made” entrepreneur and self-sufficient individual. In some ways, we are taught not to look around us at the team. This is an element we must, if not fight, at the least challenge.
I’ll admit someday to that old coach, if I ever get the chance, that I have used soccer playing in my career. It’s not just that more people have commented on that than any other part of my background here in soccer-loving Ithaca; it’s the teamwork. I go back to the field in my mind, sometimes, to correct my framework and remind myself of my work.
And ah, the goals! When we get them, friends—when we succeed in something, and achieve—it will be all our work, together.