Coaching soccer for kids in the five-to-nine-year-old range is a real challenge in the US, mostly because they don’t grow up watching professionals playing on television. It’s easy to spot the kids who have, because they know one of the key fundamentals of play: if you don’t have the ball and someone else on your team does, it’s your job to move into space so you can draw off defenders or receive a pass.
I’ve done a lot of coaching over the years, and I can tell you from direct personal experience that spreading out into space is not intuitive for American kids, because at these ages, everyone wants time on the ball. We even call it ‘playing bee-ball’, because they gather around the ball like a swarm of bees.
What’s worse is that the more athletic kids will run up behind the least skillful members of their team when they happen to get the ball, and take it away from them. When that happens, you’ll inevitably hear me yelling “Same team!!” from the sidelines. They know that means they’re doing something wrong, because I’ve drilled it into their heads during practice: if you steal the ball from your own team, you’re not only demoralizing your friends, you’re actually being counter-productive: soccer is won and lost through effective team play, and there’s nothing less team-like than getting in close to your own teammate and taking the ball from them.
And this brings us to the subject of this post and this piece: for the last twenty-five years or so in the US, we’ve been playing bee-ball with our politics. There are a lot of reasons why, but the larger point is this: regardless of which political party you’re affiliated with, or whether you consider yourself conservative, liberal, or something else, we’re all on the same team, and right now, we’re playing to lose. There are lots of examples of self-defeating behavior you can see in this piece, but it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on, so long as you can grok that we’re being pulled into bee-ball by people who thrive on chaos and destruction in America.
So here’s some free advice to my fellow Americans: play like you’re on the same team! Give your friends on the opposite end of the political spectrum a break, even when they spout off nonsense, and get open for a pass by asking them how they’re doing, and if they’re under any unusual pressure or stress lately. Tell them you care about how they feel and that their feelings are understandable, even if you don’t agree with everything they’re saying. Warn them that people who are just like them are being targeted by extremists who want them to adopt fringe ideas and beliefs, and if they fall to realize they’re being subject to conversion, they might end up stealing the ball from their own team before they even realize what’s happening.
Post Script: I had the vision for this piece over a year ago, and decided to try writing the blog post about it first to focus my thinking. It’s taken quite a while to finish, and I was hoping we wouldn’t need it by this point in time, but we’ve still got work to do.