Editor's Letter: Behind the Scenes with Soccer Stars

Rachel HuttonFor our feature on an elite Minnesota youth soccer squad, photographer Carlos Gonzalez captured players performing the sorts of athletic feats that would land the rest of us in the emergency room. Remarkably, each time Gonzalez requested another shot of a headfirst dive or mid-air scissor kick, the guys picked themselves up off the turf and did it again, nonchalantly, no big deal, as if he’d asked them to simply smile and say “cheese.”  

This Minnesota Thunder Academy “dream team” has 11 members with Division-I college offers, three playing for the U.S. Youth National Team, and one recruited straight to the pros. Their success compelled Karen S. Schneider, a veteran profiler of athletes, to pose the question: How did a futball squad this good come out of hockey country?

Most of us will never perform athletics at a world-class level, and neither will our children. Our team-sport experiences more closely resemble the rag-tag soccer squad I coached with a friend one summer when we were in our early 20s. The league was supposed to be for kids ages 6 to 10, but some of our players would bring their younger siblings along. And who could turn away a 3-year-old named Angel, even though he couldn’t pull his tube socks over his shin guards by himself?

Most of our kids were brand new to the sport and possessed more enthusiasm than skill. (We were also short on uniforms, so coaches did the team’s laundry, toting home a garbage bag full of sweaty little T-shirts, shorts, and socks.)

Needless to say, our team never won a game. But even if we weren’t able to launch tiny Angel on the path to World Cup stardom, I hope that we introduced
him to some of the lifelong skills team sports can instill.

Off the field, goals can be more complex than getting a ball into one net and keeping it out of another, but the fundamentals behind working with others toward a common objective are transferrable. No matter how good you are, you can’t take on 11 opponents singlehandedly. You have a responsibility to your team to contribute your very best. Mistakes are to be learned from and then shaken off; and when your teammates make mistakes, you help them do the same. You can only trust that your teammates will do their very best—and be sure to let them know when they do.