Five life lessons the World Cup can teach your kids

JohnOSullivan-HeaderOn June 12, the 2014 World Cup kicks off. This is the most watched, most passionately followed sporting event in the world. But you already know that.

One of the things I love about the World Cup is it can bring families, and entire communities, together watching a month long soccer tournament. I cannot wait to watch these games with my children, my friends, and their children. I can’t wait because this is not only a glorious sporting moment; this next month will be one teachable moment after another.

Right up through the final on July 13, I will be looking for opportunities to teach my children the following five things. Perhaps you can teach yours some lessons of your own.

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[ + READ: World Cup Mania – Seeing Starts Believing]

Life is Not Always Fair: The game of soccer is such a cruel game. Hoards of possession, domination of territory, and numerous chances can all end for naught, as a well organized, counter attacking team can spring one break and nip a 1-0 result. So may times as a coach, I found myself saying “Did we really just lose that game?” At times I said the opposite. The real lesson here is that sometimes life deals you a harsh hand. You have done everything you can to succeed, yet you do not. What matters is not what happened; it is what you do next. This holds true in soccer and life.

Talent Only Gets You So Far: In our culture of You Tube superstars, we are often led to believe that talent is something you either have or you do not. Yes, some people have a genetic advantage for certain activities (I am not playing center in the NBA anytime soon) but every athlete on display has not only talent, but determination and grit. They have worked incredibly hard to get to that stage. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are not only known as the best players on the planet; they are known as the hardest working ones as well. Alex Ferguson talks in his latest biography of how he had to literally kick Ronaldo off the training field every day. All the pomp and circumstance of professional sports can easily overshadow the time in the trenches for our elite athletes. If you kid wants to be the next Messi, hand them a ball and show them a piece of grass, and tell them “get to work!”

[ + READ: LeBolt – Youth teams getting it right in pregame warm-ups, but still work to be done]

How You Win Does Matter: We will not have a World Cup without controversy, without phantom fouls and dubious penalties. On video evidence, we will see players feigning injury, or purposely gaining an advantage to win a free kick, maybe even win a game (hello Luis Suarez in 2010). Each of these will be teachable moments for you and your children. How much are you willing to sacrifice ethically to get a result? At what point do your compromises for victory overshadow what you have accomplished? I have written on this before (click here to read it), so my thought for today is whatever you tell your child is OK in sport, you are telling them is OK in life. When the only thing you focus on is the result, and not how it is accomplished, you are potentially setting the stage for your child to feel it is OK to cut a corner or two. How you win does matter.

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The Glory is the Journey: We sometimes forget that we are watching the World Cup Finals! The actual World Cup started in June 2011 in the far corners of the planet, as 207 teams played 820 matches to get to this stage. For some nations, just being there is a glorious achievement for their nation and its athletes. For others, getting to the second round is all they hope to accomplish, and you will see them sad, but still celebrating a glorious run (I think of the USA in 1994 and 2002). And for an elite few, only a World Championship will be considered a success. Watch for moments of tremendous disappointment, and within them you will find players looking around the stadium, being serenaded by the crowd for a glorious effort, and finally taking in all they have accomplished just to be there. What better place to teach your kids that a journey is not always about reaching your final destination; it is what you accomplish, and what you become, along the path that really matters!

Dreams Can Come True: There will be a World Cup Champion. There will be players whose names are etched in soccer lore for what they do over the next month. Teach your kids that each and every one of them started in the exact same place as your kids did, with a ball, and a dream. Through years of passion, commitment, enjoyment, failure, disappointment, and perseverance, they have achieved greatness. A dream without action is just a dream. A dream with action is a journey. And in some journeys, dreams do come true!

Enjoy the World Cup everyone, and never forget that events with this much coverage, passion, and community involvement are some of life’s most teachable moments. Choose your words and actions wisely.

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