“I suck!”

My teenage daughter didn’t need to give me any additional context in her short, accurate text from the team huddle. I knew exactly what she meant. The first half of her soccer game had been a snoozer, and my girl’s game was off. In fact, no one on her team seemed to make the correlation between running, kicking (the ball, at least) and scoring points. One defender consistently made solid contact with the ball and sent it 20 or 30 yards. Sadly, the direction of the ball went straight up instead of out, leading all players to follow it skywards, catch their breaths and resume fighting when it finally returned to earth.

I’m a father. I want what’s best for my children. I want to groom and mold the self esteem of my children so they believe in themselves and have a healthy sense of their worth and value. So I spent the second half figuring out what I could say to my fragile little girl to help her once the game ended.

After the game, my dejected little girl got into the car, set down her stuff, and sighed, “I suck,” repeating what she had texted me earlier.

Bearing a look that was both compassionate and understanding, I patted her little leg and said, “You’re right. You stunk up the place.”

“WHAT!?” she screamed.

So young, I thought to myself. Just a child, and yet already practicing for dating…unhappy if someone disagrees with her, and even more offended if someone agrees with her. I kept these thoughts to myself.

“No, I mean it. You all played poorly,” I added, sticking to my–and her–original evaluation.

“But…” she started to say.

“But that’s okay,” I assured her. “How many people on your team actually care about soccer? How many of you actually practice on your own to improve instead of just attending practice once a week to prepare for your once a week game?”

She didn’t have to think long. “Never.”

“That’s my point. If you cared about soccer, if it were something that you were passionate about, you would spend your own time practicing. And you’d make steady improvement. But it’s hard to get better when you’ve already told yourself that it’s not that important to you.”

As evidence, I pointed out to her the two times she got injured playing soccer in the last three years. One time the ball hit her in the head when she wasn’t looking. No, not a bullet off the boot of another player. The ball went high in the air, and she didn’t see it coming because she was engaged in a conversation with a teammate. The second injury was a bruised rib she suffered mid-game when she gave a hug to one of her friends who must have just told my girl, “I like your socks” or something equally soccer-relevant.

My daughter loves the trappings of soccer. She loves the snack after the game. She loves the huddles where she hugs her friends. She loves the relationships she has with her BFFs on the team. But my daughter doesn’t love the game of soccer.

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Here’s my point. The next time you’re tempted to say “I’m fat,” or “I’m no good at (something),” or “I’ll never learn how to (something else),” take a deep breath. Don’t say what you’re thinking. Instead, ask yourself this: Am I innately unable to change this condition, to develop the skills or competence to improve? Or have I made no effort to get better, and choose to complain instead?

It’s so much easier to complain. It might even make you feel better for a short time or even help you gain sympathy from others. But if  you want to improve or, put another way, you wish to “suck less,” it’s going to take a little more than words to change anything.

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