While my soccer team is on winter hiatus, I have been musing about how much playing a team sport reminds me of relationship building. What makes relationships strong and what creates challenges are similar for a team, a couple, or a family. Soccer promotes good sportsmanship as much as good foot skills. Since taking up soccer three years ago (yes, I was very late to the game!) I have noticed that team play also provides an opportunity to practice good relationship skills.
At its heart, a soccer team is all about relationship. Every player has a relationship to one another and to the team as a whole. Dissatisfaction arises when we play as individuals rather than as a team. We feel ‘out of synch’, disconnected and isolated from one another. If everyone is “doing their own thing”, the game goes badly. Relationships last longer and are more fulfilling when we share a common goal and work toward it together.
A successful relationship, like the team, requires commitment. Investing time and energy into team-building is a priority. Communication is essential. Relationship suffers on and off the field if we don’t talk or listen to one another. Silence is deadening to relationship. And mindreading is no more effective among soccer players than it is among family members!
Trust is essential in relationship, as is working together. New soccer players tend to chase the ball around the field as though they are the only one there to defend or score a goal. No single player, regardless of skill, can play for the entire team. Doing so is exhausting, and teammates get frustrated if they’re not involved in the process. Players have to learn to trust that teammates will do their part and will assist in the work. It’s a sign of trust in any relationship to show vulnerability, and to let others help and provide support. Communicating that support is available builds trust between partners/players.
I am grateful to be in relationship with teammates who offer support, reassurance and encouragement. We rarely speak harshly or critically to one another. I’ve heard other teams attacking, blaming or being sarcastic to one another when errors are made. Being human, we do get frustrated occasionally, but we take ownership of our feelings and apologize at the first opportunity. We never leave the field angry with one another. The use of positive words is so important, in any relationship.
It’s easy to work together and be committed when we’re on a winning streak, when life is going well. The challenge is to stay together and work harder when facing challenges. Staying together through tough times can be very satisfying in a relationship. My team has had seasons in which we’ve won every game, and seasons when we’ve lost every game. One of the hardest games I’ve played was on a freezing Sunday morning when only seven of our players attended the game. We faced the other team’s full roster -eleven players on the field, several eager substitutes on the sidelines – for the regulation ninety minutes. By the end of the game we were exhausted, delighted that we’d only lost 4-0, and deeply bonded with one another. We had shared a daunting challenge together. We never gave up on the game or one another. Not the most fun game, but it was the most deeply satisfying and memorable game in our history.
As my interest expands and I watch other team sports, tennis, basketball, football, the same lessons appear repeatedly: without trust, commitment, communication, support, and respect, the team/relationship faces challenges to its success and its existence. It’s never too late, or too early, to learn such lessons, and to keep practicing, at home and on the field. The more we practice, the more skilled we become. And, in all relationships, sometimes we need a coach to point out where we are stuck and teach us how to improve our ability to connect, communicate and be effective together!