I read John Holt’s classics How Children Learn and How Children Fail 40 years ago and they changed my life. One of them opens with him going for a cello lesson. He liked having lessons because it kept him in touch with the learner’s experience, how it felt to struggle, fail and gradually improve. I’ve always remembered that, and it’s one of the main reasons I still play soccer.
I go out occasionally with a gangle of people who’ve been assembling for decades now. We are led by my high school coach, Ernie Feibusch. He calls us the Sunday Stumblers but I think of ourselves as the Old Farts.
This Tuesday night with the Old Farts, an opponent named Moon had the ball. I went to high school with him, he was always part soccer player and part mad Taekwando practitioner. I closed him down (as you do), no way he could shoot. But he did anyway — like he always did in high school — and hit me in the ankles. Next thing I knew I was slowly toppling towards the turf, like the Chicken Walkers did when tripped up by Ewoks. Landed smack on my face, it was not pretty.
But lying on the turf, I was aware of the struggle all players experience when injured. Part of you is dinged up. You just want to lie there for a minute and take inventory. Your teammates and coach want you to get up and keep playing.
As I slowly got up and shook out the cobwebs, I thought of John Holt and his cello lessons. I was grateful to still be able to play, and in a perverse way I was happy to get clocked. It put me in touch with what my boys go through in every practice. It’s easy to yell “get up!” from the sidelines. On Tuesday I got a refresher on what all that entails.