Competitive sports are long gone for this old man. Even as I write this article, my head is killing me and my neck is sore. It's only Monday.
My wife loves to remind me that, "I've taken too many hits to the head." Six concussions later I'm barely allowed to put cleats on these days. My biggest athletic risk nowadays is the annual parent-player game, and I still end up sore the next day.
For many of us middle-aged, former athlete folk, no matter what our bodies tell us, we think we can still give it go. The desire to compete and be part of something bigger than yourself never dissipates. That’s why I, and probably a lot of people like me, miss sports. I miss the battles, bus rides and the team bonding. But sports are so much more than that, and an unlikely leader - my son, brought this back to my attention.
My son loves soccer. He and his friends would play every day if they could, and most days they do. My son has 20 jerseys, five sets of cleats, two outdoor goals, three balls and a closet that’s a shrine to his accomplishments and trophies. Some would say he's obsessed.
I like to think his mother and I are the driving force behind his activities, but we ultimately want to set him up for success by following their passions. We sign our kids up for sports because we believe it’s important that they learn to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to be relied upon.
We had the chance to see that in practice when our son Wes played in the Dimitri Cup in Florida a few weeks back. He and his teammates have been looking forward to this for months. His team was good. The competition was great. And then, in the second game, he took a fall and landed awkwardly on his arm. He never stays down, and he didn't this time, either. Right back up and into the action again.
That night, his elbow hurt, but he was with his teammates so the pain was an afterthought. The following morning, his team was set to face off against a team that hadn’t lost all year, and was ranked as the #1 team in Florida. When his mother and I asked if his elbow was ok and if he still wanted to play, he gave us that confused smile. I am fairly certain now that the thought of not playing never crossed his mind.
“I don’t wanna miss this game.”
He ended up playing the entire match to a 3-3 draw. A gritty performance from a gritty player for a gritty team. In the quarterfinals, as Wes was tearing down the field with the ball at his feet, he was taken out by a tough challenge on the ball. He landed on his bad elbow again, and just like that, his tournament was over. It was clear this wasn't just a bruise, and unfortunately, it wasn’t. Wes had broken his elbow and fractured his humerus.
Fast forward to today. He got the cast off for another x-ray this morning, and got some good news. His bones are healing just fine, but he’s going to need more time in the cas. As you can see from his face above, he’s not exactly thrilled about getting another hard cast, let alone another 10-14 days of recovery. Still, he’s holding out hope that he'll be on the field with his friends at The Weston Cup in a few weeks. That undefeated team that they tied, the number 11 team North America? They are entered as well, and the boys want another shot. Wes doesn't want to miss that either.
To this day, he has not missed a single practice because of his arm. He's there two to three times a week, working on technical skills, fitness, and whatever else he can that doesn’t require both arms. And his passion and dedication to his team is the lesson we all should apply to our businesses.
"Dad, I played three games with a broken elbow. What did you do?"
Focus on the characteristics that make a good teammate and leader. Look for the person who will play through a broken elbow for you and your business, not because they have to, but because they want to. We can learn things from the most unlikely of people if we watch and listen. In fact, I find more inspiration from stories like this than I do any podcast, motivational speaker or industry expert. Hopefully you can, too. It's all in us.
**A quick note on Wes**
During a game last year he took a ball to the face and it knocked out his tooth. He caught the tooth mid-air, kept possession of the ball, kept dribbling toward goal, and scored. He handed the bloody tooth to his coach after the play, expecting to stay in the game. His coach still tells that story. He's a tough little bastard, but really he just wants to be on that field with his boys. I think we can all relate to that.