Unless you are the LA Lakers, Chelsea FC, or the NY Yankees, “do more with less” is every coach’s mantra. This idea resonates even stronger in a youth sports environment. Coaches are given a group of players, a handful of equipment, and a patch of grass to mold their individuals into one cohesive unit. What happens from there is a fantastic blend of creativity, observation, and adaptation – but the ability of that coach to develop his or her players, and of the future success of that unit, relies greatly on the motivation of each individual.
What do the players want, and what are they willing to do to achieve it?
I have been fortunate in my twelve years of coaching to work with players all over the world. They have gathered on clay dirt fields and plush grass stadiums. Some have played with shiny new equipment, some simply rolled out a ball made from trash and banana leaves. But despite the circumstances in which these players train and develop, whether their home pitch is a $10M synthetic turf field or a plot of dirt with two sticks as goalposts, the deciding factor in their success is and will continue to be their own internal drive and motivation.
Spending time in Kampala with Fields of Dreams Uganda last month and working closely with our boys and girls players from ages 11-20, I was able to see the source of this motivation. What I saw was joy.
This type of joy is simple and unconditional, not like we often see in the States. Often times, myself included, joy can be conditional and transitory like when it comes from scoring a goal or making a great save. However, because soccer (football) to them represents an outlet from unbearable daily life, it holds much more significance. It is a break from the difficult survival mode of every day – where you may not know when your next meal will come or whether you will have shelter when you sleep at night. Soccer is not just another “thing to do” for these young men and women, it is an activity that transforms their day, their lives, and brings great joy into their world.
Here’s one example: One hot (upper 80’s, humid) afternoon at Wakiso Children’s School of Hope, the players had a day off from their Hope Cup matches and were spending it training with their teams, washing uniforms, preparing food, and enjoying time with one another on the Wakiso campus.
Training had ended, teams were scattering to the dormitories or to the sidelines to chat with their teammates – and there in the corner of the field was a group of young teenage players running sprints. They took turns doing shuttle runs over about 30 yards, and once they finished one sprint they stood by and encouraged their teammates, waiting for their next turn.
As this was happening, some players on the sidelines took notice and joined the group – increasing the number of participants one by one. This continued for about 20 minutes until they all came together, spoke a few quiet words, and walked off the field.
No coaches were there. No managers were standing over them screaming, “one more!” No one stood by with a stopwatch. It was just them, their teammates, and the joy of putting in the work.
There is a quote I often see that reads, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.”
I can tell you from first hand experience that our FoDU players are men and women of character. They have taken full ownership of their development as athletes, and as more importantly, as human beings.
These players know what they want – to make their teammates, their peers, and their coaches proud. They know what they need to do to get there – more. And they do it all with an unwavering feeling of joy.
I wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year filled with unconditional joy!
For more information on Fields of Dreams Uganda and how to get involved in their work, please visit www.fieldsofdreamsuganda.org or email Jeff Oleck at firstname.lastname@example.org