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5 Powerful Life Lessons I Learn Through Playing Soccer

by Say Zhi Hao, Jeremiah

I started playing basketball and soccer since I was about 7 year-old. I was never a gifted player. Not now and definitely not then. I always struggled to fit into any team. When it came to ‘Captains’ choosing their teams, I was always the last one picked. Heck, they had rather picked a girl over me. I was that bad. During my younger days it was a blow to my confidence and I cried to bed almost every day because I wasn’t a gifted player like my brother and many friends my age.

I started playing since young because my elder brother, Zhiwen who is a year older is a tremendously gifted athletic. He loves to play soccer and basketball. As a younger brother myself, I join him in those sports. He was blessed with amazing footwork and has incredible speed. He was one of the fastest runner in the entire Temasek Primary School and throughout our secondary school days at BNSS. He was the best basketball player and got MVPs – in plural – many people looked up to him. I, on the other hand, was a clumsy athletic.

The Power of Focus

Since I couldn’t dribble well or run fast, I was usually placed in the defensive or goalkeeping position. I hated these positions and I tried to ‘prove’ people wrong by doing too much. In fact, I made a fool out of myself in many games because of this.

It was only recently (probably between 2014 or 2015) that I had decided to work on my strengths instead of my weaknesses. I know my strength was defending because I obviously can’t attack. I got complimented by friends and some random players that my defending is great and I should be work on that, I guess these are what gave me confidence to focus on my strength rather than continuing being a joke in games.

So one day I decided to do an experiment, I wanted to see how much my team can accomplish if I just focus on defending and allowing my teammates the freedom to attack. We won ALL the games throughout the entire 2 hours that day. I was flabbergasted. Sometime must have clicked.

It is amazing to know how much one can accomplish by just focusing on one task at the time. I am not saying that I won the games – we won the game! Soccer is a teamwork sport, I was focusing on defending, my teammates were focusing on doing their duties too, the midfielders focus on passing to the wingers or striker(s) when attacking and closing down the center when defending. The wingers cover the entire left/right flanks throughout the game, the striker focus on shooting on sight or passing the ball back when opportunity didn’t present itself and closing down through the halfway line when defending. I as the main defender focus on intercepting, tackling, sliding and putting myself on the line to block as many ball as possible. Once I got the ball, my job is simple, just make a simple pass to any teammate present and a do a route-one pass to the striker every once in awhile.

It was the best game in my life not because we won all the games but because I learned something very important that day. The power of Focus!

The Power of Teamwork

Teamwork is important; not just in sport. It is vital in any aspects of life. I am a introvert by nature therefore I used to view soccer as me, myself and I. I want to be the best. I want to be the star player in the team. I want to have the ball every time. I thought that by solely focusing on defending, I was the best defender among my friends. I got caught up by ego and gave nasty remarks to teammates whenever they do something wrong. I mean who doesn’t make mistakes right? I am far from perfect either.

I also thought that it was unfair being a defender. I have to put myself on the line to block balls – in case if you don’t know, it is quite scary and painful – I have to run double or even triple what my teammates ran just to cover their positions. In short, I grumbled and complained a tad too much. This isn’t teamwork.

I have to learn the tireless way to accept the fact that I chose my position as a defender therefore it is my job to run as much as possible and block painful incoming balls. I can’t complain, it is what I chose. It is my job. There’s no fair or unfair. Only teamwork or no teamwork.

I learn that regardless of who my teammates are, I will just be a team member to them. I can’t control their actions and thoughts; I can control mine. I will defend and pass the ball as much as I can, if they lose possession frequently that is their problem. I will defend again and again and again because I am a team member and it is my job as a defender.

I am willing to suffer for my teammates but I would rather die than to allow my teammates to suffer because of me.

Once in awhile, if I am lucky, I will encounter teammates who share the same philosophy that teamwork is greater than self. And when we come together as one, we will surely have fun (even if we don’t win the game)! If I don’t meet teammates like these then I will just take it as a learning opportunity to improve my temperament in games.

This is the power of teamwork, not just in sports but also in any area of life. Church, family, community etc. A team is form by individuals. Before a building a team, an individual needs to know what to focus on. Otherwise, he/she will just contribute rubbish and mess to the team. That’s the last thing we want in any team member – one without focus.

The Power of a Good Leader

Sport such as soccer where most of the players are guys, odds are good that some random player will naturally try to emerge as a leader to his team. Usually the loudest, the fittest, the most aggressive, the most talented or the most whatever will try to make his way to the leadership position.

I’ve had played soccer for quite some time now to know that the loudest, the most aggressive or whatever doesn’t make a good leader. A good leader is not one who is shouting and cursing all the time although some of us might interpret it that way.

A good leader isn’t one who demands respect from his team and opponents, he earns it. A good leader don’t just say ‘go’, he does something and says ‘follow me.’ A good leader isn’t just a ‘talker,’ he is a ‘doer.’ A true leader doesn’t talk his teammates down, he encourages them. A true leader, no matter the circumstances will NEVER walk away from his team even when in defeat.

Loud and aggressive are two characteristics that many define in a leadership quality especially in soccer. However, I beg to differ. Contrary to that, the greatest leaders I have seen are usually the most humble. They are the ones who allow their actions to do the talking. They are not perfect and they will apologize when they make mistakes rather than blaming his teammates for his own shortcomings.

It is not easy being a true leader. A true leader has to do the right thing; not the easy thing. It is easy to shout commands; it is not easy to lead by example. It is easy to talk; it is not easy to do. It is easy to blame teammates; it is not easy to encourage.

You know you are following a leader when he is working his ass off for the team and not just ‘slacking,’ doing his bare minimum and merely shouting orders. If it is the latter, you’re likely following a manager. There’s nothing wrong being a manager but just don’t call a manager a leader. A manager is one who manages people; a leader is one who leads. Big difference!

I reckon only 5% or less are true leaders. When there is one true leader in a team, it can do A LOT of positives! Firstly, his presence will rub off intangible energy to his teammates to do their best for the team. He doesn’t have to command, it flows very naturally.

Secondly, when a true leader is in a team, he will inspire his team to improve at a much faster rate. Again, he doesn’t have to command it, it happens naturally. Every one wants to improve for the team and the leader.

Lastly, every team member will enjoy the game and will garner a feeling like it is one of the best games they have ever played… even when they lose.

To conclude, everyone wants to be a leader but NOT everyone is a true leader. The opposite of Leader is not Follower; it is Manager. Learn to see who you’re following not just in games but in life. You might just be following a manager. And following a manager will not be as fulfilling as following a true leader. Choose now who you will follow.

The Power of Prayer

Jesus is my true leader in life and I will follow him for the rest of my days. I had only learned to pray before games in late 2018. Whenever I engage in leisure soccer (not even competitive), I get heated up very easily. If an opponent does a nasty or dirty tackle on my teammates, I’ll do back the same. Praying before a game has helped me to be responsible for the safety of others and myself.

When others are playing dirty, it is better to walk away from the game than to retaliate. So far, I am proud to say that I had walked away from a game once in December 2018. It was too much. If I stayed, the chances of us clashing and fighting are incredibly high. Soccer is a physical sport, I am quite physical myself with my opponents and I won’t hesitate to be extremely physical if need be. In the past, I would deliberately injure another person if I don’t like him. As a defender, I am still quite physical today so prayer helps me to tackle cleanly and not deliberately try to injure others especially when doing sliding tackles, if there’s a chance of injuring him, I will not go for it. I am still struggling with this because I find the temptation to play dirty or retaliate is high, I need to learn to surrender my weaknesses and pray more. I know it will get better as I pray more and more.

In sport, trash-talking and bad-mouthing are inevitable. People will say things just to bring your morale down and attack you that way. These loud people are usually the most insecure in themselves. I know all these but I still find it difficult to ignore their remarks. May God grand me the wisdom to deal with situation like this in future. Not ‘if’ but ‘when’ it happens.


Many people ask me why I take leisure soccer so seriously, it is just a game. Yes, on the surface it is just a game. On the inside, it is a war. Not with any one but with myself. I grow up playing with people who are extremely talented and gifted, they don’t have to do much to do well in games. I have to work hard and give my best. Even when I give my best, many times it still isn’t enough.

Starting from 2018, I go to every game to give my best not because I wanna destroy my opponents – perhaps a little – but mainly because I want to be reminded to give my best in life. I want to be reminded that I wasn’t talented and the only way to succeed and play well is to work extra hard. I know when I improve myself as a soccer player, I will also improve myself as a man in life.

To me, soccer is more than just a game. It is a war with myself to keep improving and keep doing better. Thank God for soccer!

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