College coaches line the sidelines and the best club teams in the region fill the fields. After 12 years of playing soccer, I’m playing in what may be the final games of my competitive career. Our team is decent, but we’re not likely to win it all. The good news is that I play sweeper (last defender), and I’m probably going to get a lot of action. I’m hoping to play in college and I have not been recruited yet so this is my chance to be seen. Sure enough throughout the weekend our team is under siege and I have plenty of work to do stopping counter attacks, directing our team defense, and generally putting out fires. I’m in my element – reacting, identifying the other teams strengths and responding, arranging our defense to stop their attack and chasing down their attackers when they get free.

Its no accident that I’ve played defense my entire competitive career. Its suits me. I enjoy analyzing what the other team is good at and responding strategically. I take it as a personal challenge to stop their best player, and I’m a good communicator. I don’t realize all of this at the time, but as my career progresses and I’m asked to play other positions, it dawns on me how ill prepared I am to play anywhere else on the field. The fascinating part to me is that when I am challenged to play other positions, its not just about learning new physical skills. It challenges me to get out of my comfort zone, asks me to initiate the attack rather than respond, forces me take risks that I’m not keen on taking and generally pushes me into new mental territory.

A lot of people see sports as a game that kids and adults play. It’s entertaining to watch, fun to play, helps you stay in shape. Maybe they see some of the ‘next layer’ benefits of sports – learning to function within a team, positive social interactions, helps provide structure for your life. These are valuable, but what people often miss about sports is that it’s a powerful platform for personal growth and self-expression.

The playing field (or court, rink or track) provides an amazing opportunity to see the limiting patterns that you experience in your day to day life played out on the athletic field. This could take the form of group dynamics that come up with your teammates – letting everyone else do the work and not taking responsibility, wanting to be the center of attention at the expense of team goals. It could come up in your relationship with your coach – how you respond to different types of authority. It could play out on the field in your movement patterns (rigid or tentative tendencies), your willingness or unwillingness to take risks, or your communication with your teammates. If you pay attention, sports provides endless opportunities to look at these patterns and make progress that will help, not only on the field, but in your daily life.

Another way to look at this same phenomenon is that sports gives you chances to explore different options for self-expression. If you are normally shy and reserved, you can try out being bold and outspoken on the field. It may sound like this contradicts what I said in the previous paragraph, but it actually supports it. The pattern of being shy and reserved that is familiar in your day to day life shows up on the field as well. But….there is an opportunity to shift this pattern by trying out a different way of being on the field – being bold! Not shying away from confrontation! It can be profoundly empowering to discover that this side of you existed all along. Now that you’ve made contact with it, you can explore how to access it in your day to day life.