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Soccer: Only a Game — Or Is It?

Only a Game — Or Is It?

Sometimes Life’s Biggest Lessons are Found Where You Least Expect Them

As many of you know, Daniel (Danny) Jackson is a former Major League Soccer (MLS) star and was captain of the Seattle Sounders for five seasons. Jackson, the Colorado Rapid’s first round pick in the 2002 MLS draft, recently retired from professional soccer following a successful career.  An accomplished author and writer, Jackson is also a soccer coach of youth teams.  

SN is proud to announce the launch of Danny Jackson's new column and offer our readers a chance to go behind the scenes into the world of pro MLS soccer and youth coaching. 

 Danny Jackson on writing his new column on SoccerNation

When is a sport more than just a sport? When it comes to youth soccer, the answer is: always. Soccer, and youth sports in general, teaches many lessons and helps develop numerous character traits that aren’t necessarily learned and developed in the classroom. We are often told about the great importance of sportsmanship and being a good teammate, but there are so many more things that we can take from this wonderful game. Whether you are a recreational or a premier player, the many lessons and traits that we learn as soccer players will carry over to life off the field. And these lifelong gifts are the greatest value of youth sports. 

Take dedication and determination. You’re not feeling good, you’re a little bit injured, and you’re sore. But in spite of your aches and pains, you have to pull yourself up and push yourself forward. If you don’t go to practice or show up at a game, or you don’t give your very best, you’re not just letting yourself down — you’re letting your teammates down as well. Soccer gives every player the understanding that they’re part of a team and not just an individual, illustrating a sense of responsibility to others. The same concept is true in many aspects of life, from friendships to business. 

Patience is another important lesson that’s learned on the soccer field. Skill development takes time. You have to be committed to improving, even when you think you’re playing well. As a youth player, your development is never complete – you are never done. There is always more to learn, more to understand, more to develop. I have a firm belief in maximizing your potential. In soccer as in life, you can always do better; there’s always somebody out there who’s working equally hard, if not harder than you. Your goal may not be focused on becoming a professional player, but the commitment you can make to yourself is being the best that you can be. Listen to your coach, absorb the information that is given to you. Feel proud about what you accomplish, and take the time to enjoy the small achievements on the field. Aim for small improvements each week, and before you know it, your newfound quality will add value to your team and the game. Every minute you spend out on the soccer field and touch the ball is time well spent. 

SoccerNation: Red Soccer BagsThen there’s hard work. It may be cliché, but you can’t be successful at anything you do — on the field or off — without an element of hard work. When you’re an eight-year-old player, you play for the love of the game, and that should continue. But as you get older, you realize what it takes to improve, and what it takes to be a good teammate. Soccer provides an environment in which hard work is rewarded over time. You don’t always have to be the most skilled player, but with hard work, you can have a huge impact. People will look at you and think to themselves, “that person will never let me down.” You don’t have to be the most naturally gifted player; but your positive commitment is something that can never be questioned, and will make a profound difference on you and your teammates.

So how do these lessons get taught and learned? Simple - by listening to your coach. In fact, coaches can be the very best teachers and educators that kids can get. Soccer can be the conduit to learn strong characteristics, and the vehicle in which to teach powerful lessons. Only a small number of soccer players will play in college or in the professional ranks, but we can all take a huge amount of value from playing youth sports.  When kids are having fun, they have a greater tendency to listen. The coach has the platform and opportunity with sports to highlight those life lessons, and with age comes a greater understanding of how soccer can help you be a better son or daughter, sibling, student, friend, and member of the community. 

Of course, soccer isn’t the only sport to teach these things. When you play an individual sport like golf or tennis, there’s still a team behind you. It might be supporters in your family, it might be your coach, it might be your caddy. A team environment will help you enjoy the highs and support you in those lows. When you lose a game, or make an individual mistake, it is difficult to deal with. But looking at the big picture is vitally important. There is always tomorrow, another opportunity to go out there and play hard, and rectify that mistake. As each year passes and you are exposed to more as a person and as a player, it is quicker to bounce back. A strong character that is developed by these experiences, and aided by a supportive team, will help gain back your confidence, shake off the aching muscles, and shed the disappointment. 

As a person and a player, I have so appreciated my experiences in soccer. Friendships and characteristics that I have gained during my playing years have so much more value than any sporting success. These traits and lessons that you learn from sports will be the defining qualities that you’ll cherish in your life, both on and off the field.

Daniel (Danny) Jackson is a former Major League Soccer player and was captain of the Seattle Sounders for five seasons.  Jackson, the Colorado Rapid’s first round pick in the 2002 MLS draft, recently retired from professional soccer following a successful career in which he led the Seattle Sounders to two USL National championships. At the University of North Carolina, Jackson was a multi-year All-American, team MVP, and three-year team captain. His UNC team won a National Championship in 2001, and he was named Soccer America National MVP and National Championship MVP the same year. Danny was awarded the 2002 Patterson Medal as the UNC Student Athlete of the year.

Danny Jackson's recent coaching experience ranges from youth soccer at Eastside FC and the Sounders FC / ODP youth development program and speaks to high schools and youth clubs regarding the far reaching impacts of youth sports. Danny also is serving as the Director of New Business for Korrio.

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