In introducing this story, I asked if the kids were soccer players, because a few weeks ago I told a story about baseball, hoping they played it and would know about it. Well, I struck out. Then I tried telling a story about a Yu-Gi-O, the card trading game, hoping they played that. And I ended up with an empty hand.
So this week I turned to soccer, which everybody plays now, right? and once again, I failed to score. I think they’re due a penalty kick…
There was a boy who really wanted to play soccer. He loved it and he was always eager to play, so he joined a league and he joined a team.
There was only one problem: it turned out he wasn’t very good at it.
There are kids who run fast. He wasn’t one. There are kids who can kick the ball any direction they like. He could kick it pretty much anywhere but where he wanted it to go.
He kept forgetting that you can’t touch the ball with your hands, and he’d reach out to grab it as it sailed by. And the first time he tried to “head” the ball, which is to hit it with his head, it went very badly indeed. Not only did he miss the ball, he managed to trip himself and fell face-first into the grass.
It’s hard on a team when there’s a player who’s not very good. Sometimes, though, those players bring a sunny spirit to the game, and they make everybody else feel good. It happens.
But… not this time. Every time he missed a kick, he’d mope. He griped about his slowness and his clumsiness, and he moaned every time the team lost, which, it has to be said, was most of the time. It wasn’t his fault (entirely), but they weren’t winning.
His teammates, frankly, would have been just as happy to see him go. He wanted to play, though, and his coach said he could stay, so he did. Poor skills and sour attitude and all.
As the weeks went on, though, his teammates began to notice that he was always at practice. He never missed a game. He moaned and groaned, but he worked hard to get better.
And he did get better. Not a lot, it’s true, but he kept trying and trying. He stopped raising his hands to catch the ball, and he stopped tripping over his own feet. He didn’t get fast, but he got faster. He didn’t kick the ball terribly hard, but more and more it went his way.
He never got worse. Each time, he was a little bit better. Never very good, but always a little bit better.
The rest of the team noticed. First one or two, then two or three, and then the rest: they noticed he was getting better.
And if he could get better, they thought, so could they. So they did.
They worked the way he worked, and sure enough they got better. They got better, and they started to win games. By the end of the season, they had more wins than losses.
As for this one boy who wanted to play soccer, it’s true that he was never a very good player, let alone a great one. But he was a leader. He was the one who led his friends to improve, just a little, each time, to be come a pretty good team.