April 12, 2023

Hold It Lightly

I played soccer most of my life. I got into the game because I was an exceptionally chubby middle school kid who hated to run, which made me a perfect candidate for a goalie (or so I thought). During PE class, I gladly raised my hand for the position. And then quickly learned my mistake. As kids kicked the ball as hard as they possibly could, directly at my face, I cursed the masochist who designed this hellish position.

But once the other kids knew that I was willing to play goalie, it became commonplace to “put Victor in goal.” It felt kinda good to be needed in an athletic capacity for once. So I leaned in. And eventually, I fell in love with the position.

My favorite moments had nothing to do with the big games. They were during pre-season when we were playing so much soccer that a goal against me didn’t matter. I took risks as a goalie because I knew it would be ok. And those risks helped me understand different styles of play during the big moments.

More importantly, the more I let myself enjoy the game, the better I played. In contrast, the more worked up I got about an upcoming game, the worse I’d play.

By the end of my soccer career, I learned that playing goalie was more of a mental game than a physical one. It was about holding things lightly. In the words of Ted Lasso, “think like a goldfish.”

Most work feels like being a goalie. When you take the game too seriously — when it sucks the mental and emotional life out of you — you play worse.

Learn to play lightly. You’ll play better, and for longer.

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