Soccer, Dandelions and Listening
A lesson in choosing the right goal

The yells of my teammates rang in my ears as I sprinted down the field, dribbling the soccer ball toward the goal. With no defenders in sight—not even a goalie—this was my moment. This was my time to shine. And I was going to take advantage of it.

With a sideways dribble, I sent the soccer ball soaring into the corner of the goal. Score!

I jumped up and down, cheering for joy. I had finally done it. It was the proudest moment of my entire six years of life.

This soccer goal—my first soccer goal ever—taught me an important lesson about listening.

I was only about 6 or 7 at the time. Being a rather bookish youth, I had not played many sports before and didn’t really know what I was doing. The coach, seeing my deer-in-the-headlights look when he started explaining positions, put me on defense in the corner of the field that was least likely to be frequented by the soccer ball—as far away from the action as possible.

At one point, I had a chance to defend our goal, but my attempt to kick the ball away was wildly unsuccessful. I kicked over the ball, actually, and had to watch with a reddened face as a player from the other team scored a goal right under my nose.

My fellow 6-year-olds jeered: “Why are you even here? You’re really bad at soccer.” My eyes welled with tears. I had only wanted to be helpful, to join in the fun—but instead I was being jibed as useless.

Ashamed of my lack of skill, I stood in the furthest corner of the field, kicking at the pesky weeds in the grass, picking fluffy dandelions and blowing them into the air—as oblivious as an outfielder at a Little League game. The other kids ran around on the other side of the field, passing the ball back and forth. I watched as one of the more dexterous individuals on our team kicked the ball with admirable accuracy straight into the goal. Sighing the bitterest sigh a 6-year-old could muster, I turned away. I would never get a chance to have that kind of glory—to actually score a soccer goal.

I looked around and spied a particularly tempting dandelion that was a little closer to the action. Drawn toward it like a magnet, I walked over and leaned down to pick it up—when POOFFF!!

Dandelion fluff exploded everywhere. I was suddenly surrounded by a white, fluffy cloud. Being somewhat allergic to weeds and also annoyed that someone had spoiled my fun, I looked around with watering, angry eyes to find the culprit—only to discover that every other kid on the field was yelling at me.

Why? What had I done?

I looked around again and realized.

Instead of a sadistic older child who had destroyed my cherished dandelion, a black and white ball sat squarely on the squashed remains of the plant, surrounded by a cloud of dandelion fluff.

It took me about two tenths of a second to realize what an opportunity I had. The ball was there, I was here, the goal was behind me, and the closest defender was almost on the other side of the field. It was the perfect setup for my moment of glory—my first soccer goal. I would score the winning goal for my team and be lauded as the next Pelé by the adults. It would be sweet, sweet victory.

Whipping around, I dribbled the ball toward the goal behind me. A loud cheer rose from my teammates, and spurred on by their enthusiasm, I ran faster. My coach was yelling out instructions from the side of the field, but I knew what I was doing, so I didn’t hear a word.

It was a moment straight out of the movie Chariots of Fire. Slow motion—blonde hair rippling in the wind—face red with exertion—legs going like pistons as I narrowed the distance between me and my target. There was even some theme music playing, at least in my head.

With all my might, I booted that ball straight into the net and turned around, expecting to see the smiling faces of my teammates as they congratulated me on my accomplishment. Instead, what I saw was a group of tubby children with looks of absolute dismay on their faces.

“Did you guys see that?” I said excitedly.

“You shot the ball into our goal!” one of my teammates groaned.

At that point, I kind of wished that the Earth would open up and swallow me whole.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I said gruffly.

We did! We were yelling at you the whole time, but you just weren’t listening!”

What I had taken as cheers of encouragement were really the words of my teammates warning me against the dire mistake I was about to make. But I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t hear a thing. For all intents and purposes, I was deaf to their cries.

Thinking back on this experience, I realize that it taught me the importance of listening. I was so caught up in my own little world of getting back at the kids who had taunted me and gaining some glory for myself that I didn’t realize what I was doing. If I had listened even for a moment to what they were trying to tell me, I could have saved myself a lot of embarrassment. And I could have kept the other team from winning 2-1.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in doing our own thing that we simply won’t listen to advice or correction when we receive it from others. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I know all that,” and then just continue doing what we were doing before. But if we listen—particularly to parents and others in authority over us—we can often save ourselves from making mistakes that have much more dire consequences than my soccer goal.

It is too easy to just shrug off advice when people give it to us—particularly when we feel that we don’t need it. We can be practically deaf to their words, just like I was in that soccer game. I should have listened to what my teammates and coach were saying, instead of relying on my own instincts to gain glory for myself.

Ever since that day, when I receive advice, I remember my first soccer goal and the lesson I learned in listening. I realized that even if you think you know what you’re doing, it is always important to listen to advice of others. They might actually have something to say.