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Of all the American kids playing soccer today, only 1 girl in 90,000 will ever put on a uniform for the US Women’s National Team team in the Olympics.

So if her chances are that low, why should she bother playing at all?

A dumb question, but after the US Women’s National Team’s heartbreaking loss to Sweden in the quarterfinals in Brazil and keeper Hope Solo’s controversial post-game comments, we coaches and parents find ourselves doing some familiar soul-searching about what things of value - if not gold medals - our girls bring home from the pitch. 

Breakers Academy Director Tom Durkin lists some of the best ones in Beautiful. “Self-reliance. Teamwork. Trust. Cooperation.” And the list goes on: Hard work. Preparation. Grace. Composure. Sportswomanship.

Unfortunately, today’s headlines about American soccer are all negative, and focused on Solo’s comments about the team that sent the US women home from Brazil on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. She bitterly criticized Sweden for bunkering in and playing a defensive, counter-attacking style to neutralize the US team’s superior attacking talent and athleticism. Solo called the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” and added: “The best team did not win today.”

My 9-year-old got a soccer-themed teddy bear for her birthday the other day. She named it “Hope.” When their heroes talk, our girls are listening. So here we find ourselves in another teachable moment, searching for the words to flip a negative into a positive, to turn one of life’s disappointments into a life lesson. Well, I think those things of value Tom talks about are a good place to start.

Teamwork: Hope is wrong here. The US may have had better players, but the Swedes were the superior team. Coach Jill Ellis had it right, Sweden and Coach Pia Sundhage had a game plan they thought would work against the Americans and together as a team “they executed it well” and won. 

Preparation: After going down a goal, the US started showing signs of frustration with Sweden’s playing style. But they had ample time to prepare and should have had a game plan that would have let them eventually break through the bunker without leaving themselves vulnerable to the counterattack. The US has by far the biggest talent pool of female soccer players in the world and they are ranked No. 1. They know that weaker teams (especially well-coached ones) are going to bunker in.

Composure: When the game went to penalty kicks, it wasn’t the US – with the best collection of strikers in the world – that looked like the more confident and composed side. Maybe it had to do with expectations; the Americans were 16-0-2 in games leading up to the Olympics and they looked like a team carrying the impossible burden of being expected never to lose. Being prepared to deal emotionally with both winning and losing is as valuable a skill in life as it is in sports – it frees you up to give your best effort.

Grace: The Latin roots of the English word “compete” come from two words: com which means “together” and peterewhich means “to strive.” As Tom points out, that is the Olympic ideal of competition: We strive against each other to make each other better, not to win at all costs. Teaching the true meaning of competition helps our girls embrace the essence of sportswomanship. The girl in the other color uniform is not the enemy – she is a fellow competitor who deserves our friendship and thanks for making us better.

What lessons will you teach your daughter today?

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