Dear soccer Mom ...

It was a beautiful October day and my schedule that afternoon was wide open. I made the easy decision to attend a local NCAA women’s soccer game. I know the coaches of both teams so it was a great opportunity to support a couple of former colleagues.   

It was late in the fall and for one of the teams their season was going to be over very soon, but the other team would likely advance into post-season play.

I selected a seat in the sun and settled in for some quality soccer. I hadn’t paid attention to who was sitting behind me but it didn’t take long for me to put the puzzle pieces together. That row consisted of two women who each had a daughter playing, but they were playing on opposing teams. 

One woman started the conversation by saying how miserable the season had been for the team. She shared that they hadn’t won very many games and they were really ready for the season to be over. Her comments lasted just a minute but it opened the floodgates for the other woman whose comments still have my head spinning.  

Over the next 45 minutes she complained about her daughter’s coach, her daughter’s teammates, parking on campus, the limited number of times they offer science classes each semester, the refs, the opponent, last weeks opponent, how the conference schedules games, a teammate’s boyfriend, the other parents on the team, how quickly the campus is growing, who is subbing in, and how her daughter has hated playing soccer this season. It was non-stop complaining.

There is an activity I do with teams where I put them in small groups and each group is given a paperclip. I give them five minutes to create a list of all the other things a paperclip could be. Some examples I’ve heard are; a fishing hook, a nail cuticle cleaner, a bubble wrap popping tool, and my all-time favorite … a hook to clean the hair out of a shower drain! Gross, but also really creative!

I use this process to introduce a session where we focus on the question, “what else could it be?” We have all been taught that a paperclip has one function but when we spend some time asking, “what else could it be?” we discover that things aren’t always what they appear to be. As the session progresses we eventually arrive at a time when we can look at the challenges within their sport experience and ask that same question, “what else could it be?”

I’ve watched light bulb moments happen as athletes discuss their struggles, ask “what else could it be,” and then experience the freedom that comes with seeing something differently.

Some examples are:

  • I’m not a starter because my coach doesn’t like me. What else could it be? Tactically it helps the team when I come off the bench.

  • When coach sends me a text saying that we need to talk I know it’s because I did something wrong. What else could it be? I forgot to sign a form and she needs me to stop by to sign it so I can travel with the team this weekend. 

  • Coach wants to me to watch extra film because I haven’t earned his trust and he thinks I am not a good enough player. What else could it be? Coach wants me to watch extra film because he knows I am a visual learner and he wants to help me be the best I can be.

This process can transform players and teams who are stuck with negative thoughts. A simple question, “what else could it be?” gives them permission to see things from a deeper and often more accurate perspective.

So back to our soccer mom … maybe the campus is growing rapidly because they have taken a stand to provide an affordable tuition rate and many students find this attractive. Maybe parking is limited because they built a new student recreation center in an old parking lot because the health of their students is important to them. And maybe they offer limited science courses each semester because they want their faculty to hold a significant number of office hours so they can connect with and mentor their students.

The challenge for this mom is that she wasn’t willing to ask, “what else could it be?” Instead, she assumed the worst and in the process she wasn’t teaching her daughter how to take ownership of her experience by looking at things from different perspectives.

So the next time your child states something as a negative fact I encourage you to ask them the question, “what else could it be?” By doing so you’ll help them to own their situation and see it through a healthy lens of critical thinking. And in the process you both might discover that the thing you are resenting is actually a gift. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, “what else could it be?”

Molly Grisham