Five Tortured Analogies About Soccer and Writing

What Soccer Can Teach You About WritingWho would have ever thought I’d be a sports fan? All those years sitting through football and basketball games in high school band weren’t enough to convert me. Dating sports lovers did nothing to sway me. Denver’s undying love for the Broncos never infected me. Nothing could pierce my hard, athletics-proof heart.

Until the Sounders.

The Sounders joined the MLS a month before we moved to Seattle. They played their first game a little over a year after we got there. I’m fairly certain there’s no other city in the U.S. that loves its soccer team like Seattle loves its Sounders. I felt the draw. When we happened to see the team’s supporters following their marching band from Pioneer Square to Century Link Field one night, singing and celebrating, I fell in love. Like flipping a switch.

I’m not a marcher or a chanter or singer, but for the first time in my life, I have a team. I seriously love my Sounders.

Of course, we don’t live in Seattle anymore, so I’ve had to make do. We go to Colorado Rapids games. I cheer for them. Until they play the Sounders, at which point I abandon all pretense and wear the Rave Green with pride.

God help me, I’ve become a fan—not just of the Sounders, of soccer, in general. I love a sport. I’m as surprised as anyone.

We’re deep in soccer season right now. It’s not just World Cup time. MLS is back from break, and the U.S. Open Cup is nearing its final rounds. In our house, that means there’s rarely a night without a game to stream, and I’ve now spent more time at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park than at any other entertainment venue in the state.

With all that soccer in my life, I suppose it’s only natural I’d start taking some writing lessons from the pitch. (See? I was going somewhere with this!)

Five things soccer has taught me about writing:

  1.  There’s no shame in a road draw. Sure, a win is always better, but home field advantage is a real thing. If a visiting team manages to fight to a draw on an unfamiliar field, after an exhausting travel schedule, in front of a hostile crowd, that’s a decent outcome. As a writer, what that means is: don’t beat yourself up when circumstances are against you, but don’t give up either. Write a sentence. Write a paragraph. Write your daily minimum and that’s it. Some days are harder than others, but you can at least write to a draw.
  2. Rock it at home. On the flip side, use the home field advantage when you have it. The Sounders have the highest attendance in the MLS, about double that of any other team. When the Sounders play at home, they’re riding a wave. The Colorado Rapids stadium doesn’t even hold half of the Sounders average attendance, but they have another trick up their collective sleeve. DSG Park is at about 5200’ altitude. For a sport where players run an average of seven miles per game, that’s a huge advantage. Whatever your home advantage is, whether it’s a surge of inspiration, a day when the kids are gone for an extra couple of hours, or making your scheduled writing time like clockwork, milk that edge for all its worth. Rocking it on the good days means you can roll with a few unavoidable defeats.
  3. You can’t score if you’re offside. I’m not going to try to fully explain the offside rule, but suffice it to say, it doesn’t do you any good to hang around by the goal and wait for someone to pass you the ball. The shot won’t count. In writing, what that means is you have to do the work. A publishing contract isn’t going to drop into your lap because you came up with a brilliant idea and chatted with an editor on Twitter (and if it did, I don’t want to hear about it.) You have to work the ball down the field yourself. You have to write.
  4. Fresh legs can turn the tide. Soccer teams get three substitutions per match. Sometimes, they’re forced into using subs when players are injured or penalized. Often, though, they save those precious substitutions for the last minutes of the game, when the other team starts to flag. Calling on someone who hasn’t spent the past 80 minutes running can be the difference between a loss and a come-from-behind victory. If you’re a writer, beta readers, critique partners, and editors are your fresh legs. Put them in when you’re exhausted, and they just might change your entire outlook.
  5. Never give up. In the USA-Portugal match this World Cup, the U.S. National Team was up by a goal after 90 minutes of play. The referee added five minutes of stoppage time, and Portugal scored in the 95th minute. They tied the game at just about the last possible second. I saw the same thing happen last night, as Seattle battled Portland in a U.S. Open game. Portland scored 30 seconds before the final whistle, to keep themselves alive for added time. The writing lesson here is obvious, isn’t it? It’s not over until it’s over, so whatever you do, keep playing. Keep writing. Don’t ever, ever write off the possibility of a last-minute stunner.

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