I just discovered that FIFA has a 10 Commandments of the Game. I think they are worth posting here because they have meaning for players of any age, their friends and family, and all coaches and officials.
1. Play to win
2. Play fair
3. Observe the laws of the game
4. Respect opponents, teammates, referees, official and spectators
5. Accept defeat with dignity
6. Promote the interests of football
7. Reject corruption, drugs, racism, violence and other dangers to our sport
8. Help others to resist corrupting pressures
9. Denounce those who attempt to discredit our sport
10. Honor those who defend football’s good reputation
These are lofty goals for anyone playing a sport that offers our young people the opportunity to set some standards for themselves and their team beyond winning a game or a championship. While few 6-year-olds will need to concern themselves with numbers 6 through 10, the commandments can progress with them as they reach the maturity to consider issues such as drugs, violence and reputation. Parents can certainly benefit by paying attention to what the governing organization of world-wide soccer considers important elements of the sport. We can use these commandments as a springboard to discuss with our kids the various on-field behaviors of players, especially with the World Cup fast approaching. While I personally find these commandments a bit stilted and stifling, I still see their overall benefit in providing a moral backdrop for the game and our developing players.
We don’t often talk about the ethical aspects of the game, except when something monumental happens on the field. We’re quick to denounce slide tackles from behind or overt jersey grabs. But we may be missing the opportunity to look at some bigger issues with our kids. I wrote last week about swearing. How often have we opened up a dialog with our children about the language they are hearing on the pitch? We would certainly be surprised to find out how often and when young players begin using foul vocabulary. In addition, we should be inquiring how often our kids hear other players using slurs directed at opponents whether ethnic, mental, sexual, religious or gender-based. Several terms that would never have been considered spoken in the past have become part of our regular lexicon without regard to the residual impact the language has on members of particular groups. When our kids hear those words used without restriction or consequence, they learn to accept it as a normal part of the on-pitch banter. As parents, we can provide the contextual understanding of what these terms actually mean and who they hurt. We can also convey the message that we won’t tolerate our children using loaded language. That means we need to watch our own language, which in the heat of excitement or frustration may cross a boundary during a game. The most important factor is to keep a dialog open with our kids, so they can help you understand what happens and how it affects them.
These commandments also got me thinking about what inspires our kids. Commandments can be a drag — restrictive rather than liberating. While it should be a good thing to have guidelines, kids also need motivation and vision when persevering through tough times. I don’t know if Albert Einstein ever played or even watched soccer, but he did make a good point when he said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." He didn’t talk about success or achievement or triumph, but only about the possibilities that exist in our lives that we can transform to a positive degree if we are willing to work through adversity. Our kids need to find and seize the opportunities without expectation. We can teach them how to look for and appreciate the moments handed to them to simply try. Sometimes trying will end up with success and sometimes trying will end in failure. Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of the all-time, pointed out that he missed more than 9,000 shots, lost more than 300 games, and missed 26 game-winning shots in his career. "I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed." We parents need to take the harshness away from failure and instead present it as another opportunity. What might our child or her team have done differently? How can she build her skills and confidence using the lessons from the unhappy event? Tell our kids that there are really only two options: giving up and passively accepting defeat or making plans and plowing ahead. As Ayn Rand said, "The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me." We can nurture our children’s efforts in such a way that they don’t become their own roadblocks. The truth is that however our kids consider themselves, winners or losers, they are right. We want them to consider themselves winners.
When we talk about the 10th commandment — "honor those who defend football’s good reputation" — we are actually talking about how our kids can honor their own reputations. The stronger they become as players physically, mentally and morally, the more they honor the game and by reflection themselves. Aiming for their highest soccer-playing goals will serve them well as they approach any objective in their lives. That will be the strongest benefit of learning to seize opportunity and persevere in soccer. Soccer should be fun. It should also be honorable and character building. Anything else is icing because few will rise to the highest levels of play — not because they lack determination, but because they have already arisen to their highest level of skill. Therefore, we parents need to support their dreams by also shaping their character. Helen Keller stated, "Character cannot be developed in ease or quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved." Soccer offers our kids plenty of experiences that fulfill trial and suffering. What our children make of those experiences depends a great deal on how we parents approach those experiences. We can inspire, we can honor, we can teach and we can encourage, or we can be negative, defeatist, accusatory and angry. The latter behaviors convey to our children that failure is unacceptable rather than an opportunity.
No one wants to experience defeat, an injury, an insult, a dressing down, or lack of playing time, but those things do happen both in soccer and in life. Like the bumper sticker says, "Giving up on your goal after one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat." We can help our kids learn how to change a tire by pointing out opportunities. We can give them a framework for honorable play with the FIFA Ten Commandments. We can build their character by engaging them in discussions of what constitutes proper deportment on the pitch. But most importantly, we can provide a strong, personal example of how we exercise these factors in our own lives.