That’s my kid up there, flying through the air, catching a ball with the tips of her fingers.
Man. I love to watch her play. Ruby is thirteen. She’s been a soccer goalkeeper since she was nine. I’ve spent countless hours in my folding chair, watching her. I’m a soccer mom and I don’t even care if that makes me a weird cliche.
Hell, I even had a mini van until last year.
Anyway, I was thinking this week about how much I’ve learned from watching my girl in the goal. Here are five of the most important lessons.
Don’t be afraid to dive.
When Ruby’s in the goal, she knows the one most important thing (the ball and keeping it out of her goal) and she literally throws her entire being — body and soul — at it. She isn’t afraid. If she was, she might hesitate and that hesitation is the thing that will hurt her. She trusts her instincts and her training in that moment and just goes for it.
Every once in a while, something happens to let fear in. A ball gets past her that she thinks she should have been able to save. Her coach is sharp with her from the sidelines. It doesn’t happen often, but maybe she’s injured. When she starts thinking too hard about the result of diving, her game falls apart.
Keeper Take Away: Try to find the one thing that’s most important and then throw yourself at it. Be fearless in that moment, once you’ve decided to dive, and trust that your instincts and your training are good.
Talk to your team.
Ruby stands at the edge of her penalty box and calls out — encouragement, direction, warnings. She’s the only player on her team that can see the whole game. It’s part of her job to lead the defense.
She’s also thirteen though, and screaming out directions to her peers did not come naturally to her. When she talks to her team, when she asks for help, when she shares her unique perspective — her whole team plays better.
Keeper Take Away: Don’t be afraid to speak. Ask for help. Give advice. Share your perspective.
There are a lot of things about being a keeper that don’t come naturally. It goes against human nature to put your body in front of a flying ball. Or to throw yourself at the ground. Or to lead a team. Or to make split second decisions about how to best respond to a shot against your goal.
During a game, Ruby has to rely on her training and hard work. She has to trust that the hours she’s put into practice will give her what she needs, when she needs it.
It makes me think of the old adage about writing a million words if you want to be a successful writer. Practice matters. It maybe matters more than anything else.
Keeper Take Away: Put in the hours — then trust what you’ve learned.
It’s your competition that makes you better.
Here’s what happens if Ruby’s team is a lot stronger than the team they’re playing against in a game: the team wins, but Ruby stands in her goal not doing much of anything at all, beyond shouting encouragement.
Shouting because the whole game is happening on the other end of the field. In front of the other keeper. You know what’s happening for that keeper? She’s getting better. She’s fielding shots. She’s diving and drop kicking and learning how to direct her team during tough play.
Playing on the best team isn’t what helps Ruby be a better keeper. Playing against the toughest competition does that. Even if that means her team loses. Even it means that goals get past her sometimes.
Keeper Take Away: Seek out opportunities to stretch yourself, even if it means you don’t always win.
You can always tell the keeper’s mom at a kid’s soccer game. Everyone else is on the edge of their seat when the ball is near the goal. She’s covering her face with her hands and maybe whispering a prayer that her kid’s teeth don’t get kicked in when she throws herself under the trampling feet of a dozen soccer players.
Ruby can’t watch from the sidelines. Especially not when things get hairy. She has to put herself into the middle of the action. She has to be brave. That bravery involves trusting herself, her training, and also her team mates.
Keeper Take Away: Be brave enough to put yourself in the middle of things.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nationand the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.