My father was my soccer coach for many years. Like many in his generation, he never played the game growing up. Football and baseball were the sports he knew best. But, when the local soccer league needed coaches, my dad answered the call and coached both my soccer team and Uncle Perry’s for many years. He was a great coach. We won a lot of games, and many trophies. His coaching approach was basic – focus on the fundamentals, keep the ball on the other teams side of the field, and don’t be afraid to shoot. It is hard to score without shooting. He also had a few sayings that sort of became his trademark. One that I have always remembered is “talk with your feet, not with your mouth”. This phrase may seem odd to some, so here is where that phrase comes from.
We were playing a game one Saturday. Nothing spectacular about the game. Neither team doing anything special. That all changed when my good friend Willy, who played goalie, received a red card for cussing on the field. The incident was not overly dramatic. He simply disagreed with the referee’s call that resulted in a penalty kick and a goal for the opposing team. Willy let the ref know that it was a “BS” call. The ref decided, rightfully so, to issue a red card. I don’t remember why, but that red card really made me mad.
I did something quite out of character next. I took it out on an opposing player. I proceeded to foul the player for no good reason after the ensuing kick-off. It was not a fair play. In fact, it was a blatant cheap shot, and the player stayed on the ground, needing medical attention from the sideline. I would love to say that I felt guilty, but I don’t remember feeling anything but angry. We were down a player and likely to lose due to a poor call by the referee. My father called me over the sideline for a chat. He asked me why I had fouled the kid. I responded that the call the ref made was BS and that we were going to lose because of it.
Imagine that, a pimpled nose twelve year-old cussing at his coach, his dad, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran. I was wrong, and I knew it, but I did not really care. My father’s response was fascinating. He did not yell. He could have. He would have been justified in putting me in my place. Instead he leaned towards me and spoke softly.
“You need to stop talking with your mouth. Talk is cheap. You need to start talking with your feet. I don’t care if you think the referee’s call was fair. That matter is decided. What has not been decided is the outcome of this game. You have a decision to make. No one on my team plays dirty. You can stay on the field and play the game properly, or you can quit and sit on the sideline next to me.”
I decided to play. In fact, it was probably the best game of my soccer career. We were able to rally as a team. I scored four goals and we ended up winning. Nowadays it seems like athletes talk a lot of trash. It has become “part of the game”. Watch sports – it is commonplace for the players to constantly chirp at the refs. I do not espouse this type behavior. Instead, I try to talk with my feet. It seems to produce better results – which is really what matters.
“At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you, and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you, that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all.”
– Sir Alex Ferguson during 1999 European Cup final against Bayern Munich