Of love and technique

My three boys and I love soccer. I played as a kid and have coached my boys during their early years of playing the game, stepping aside when I got to the limits of my coaching ability.

But as much as we love soccer, we’ve all struggled at it. Other kids always seemed to have an edge. So, I recently picked up a soccer skills app called Sportsy to see if we could work on a few basic skills. And what’s been amazing is doing the drills along with my boys and discovering how bad my technique has been. From juggling the ball to the most basic of kicks, in all of my 40 years of playing the game, no one had told me that I was doing these things poorly. But a few technical twists have given me new control and power that years of practicing and playing never gave me.

Technique is essential to everything we do in life, not just soccer. Knowing the tricks of the trade and having the necessary tools makes all of the difference in the world in everything from plumbing to base jumping. There is a reason why the best coaches rise to the top of their game: They know how to channel the passion of their players while honing their technical skills.

But technique isn’t enough. It must be accompanied by passion, by love.

My youngest, Matthias, started playing club soccer last year. In his club, the coaches focus more on skill development than on winning games. They say that games won at this level with bad form are hollow victories and that games lost while being focused on learning and using certain new skills are hollow losses. Skills trump scores. I get it. And to a degree, I agree. But my son hates it.

He loves soccer, but he hates losing over and over again. Yes, it’s essential to learn the skills that I never learned and to learn them at an early age, so that they become natural to him as he progresses with the game. But when too much emphasis is placed on technique, the love of the game suffers.

It’s possible that Matthias may become an incredibly skilled soccer player while losing his love for the game. Again, this is true of all of life. There are far too many people who have become adept at their occupations while losing the spark that set them down that path in the first place.

Love without technique is stumbling and awkward. It demands training.

Technique without love is uninspiring and dull. It demands passion.

A life lived well is a life of discipleship. This is the life of a devout follower who is also a dedicated learner. This is what gets us in the game and keeps us in it. The other option is sitting on the sideline as a spectator.