Growing up in a small rural town in Montana, your exposure to the outside world is limited, unless you seek it out. My parents had a thirst for adventure and separately left their home towns of Boston, MA & Orlando, FL to seek out the mountains of Colorado and eventually a small ski town in Montana. Through visits to their home cities, going to college, and travels of my own, I was able to expand my perspective a bit, but like many, I've always had a curiosity and desire to learn more. Through many autobiographies and podcasts, I think I share (stole) the thought of many thought leaders in the past and present...."I'm smart enough to know I don't know anything."
Moving on, we had the pleasure of hiring a long-time friend and teammate last year, that we stole from a much more stable and consistent job. Like Roland and I, I think Victor lives in a mind-set that anythings possible and with one documented life to live, you always regret the things you didn't do, rather then the things you did. (Another stolen quote) Also, he's a soccer fanatic and the hardest worker we know...so the perfect fit.
Back to broadening my perspective...I obviously spend many hours sitting in the same office as Vic now, so I've come to learn about his upbringing and journey from Uganda to America. It's difficult to quantify someone else's fascinating life in a short paragraph, but to explain his humble beginnings in one sentence....him and his brother's and sisters would walk to the one well in the village everyday, wait in-line for hours, and carry water back to their family. As a naive middle class American kid, it's basically the picture of Africa that we saw when we were growing up. We knew it was out there and it was sad, but there was no way to relate with it and like many do, we just moved on. Come to find out, it wasn't sad Victor's family, it was just life.
To stay on topic for the title of thearticle, this is where I learned a different perspective on what the love for the game really means. The one thing that was a constant in Vic's life, was football. Any chance he got to play, he would play. No ball? No problem...make your own. No goal? No problem...you got sandles. No coaches or parents? No sweat...you formed your own teams and made up your own rules. No cleats? No biggie...bare feet is standard. It didn't matter how it looked, all that mattered was that there was a game to play. Young kids playing with older kids, splitting teams on your own, fouls encouraged, no time limit...just PLAY.
Similar to Victor, we played on our own and developed the love to play, but as coaches now, we struggle to find any game being played without an adult or a structured training session. We see a majority of kids playing the game because their parents told them to. Showing up for practice, it's probably 50% of players are excited to be there, 15% actually work hard and want to get better, and the rest cannot wait to get back to their house for the the tablet, phone, or video games.
Now, I don't think it's the kids fault, it's just the abundant middle-class American environment that they grew-up in. They have a lot of options and everything is handed to them without any expectation to work for it. (Just a generalization) You have to search American pretty hard to see kids dealing with true adversity. I think there's a general vision in parenting that the more we give our kids, the better they'll be. The fact is, adversity is probably the one thing that is best for them. Giving them less will actually give them more in the end.
When developing our new ZANYA ball, these stories of Victor's past and our own experience within US soccer, lead us on a path to help inspire the next generation to PLAY. Break free of the structured practice, the new facilities, the paid coach, and the 90 minutes you're allowed to practice. Grab friends, find a spot, and go. We want to encourage players to play on their own and find the love of the game.
When we asked Vic what the translation was for PLAY in his language....he smiled and said ZANYA.