I already knew Lesson #2, but this weekend confirmed what I’ve felt for years. I didn’t sit exactly in the center between the fields, but I was under a tent slightly north of midfield (away from traffic as much as possible). I wished I could “minimize” myself with a single click, so I was as quiet and low-key as possible.

The coaches handled each game differently, but the teams near me were always on their own for halftime. The strip between the fields wasn’t too wide, and I think the coaches were watching at this time too. Some of the kids already know Lesson #2, and some had the chance to demonstrate that they didn’t understand.

One group went four straight minutes without speaking a word, a haunting Quaker quiet to me. Each guy drank the water or Gatorade available (or his own drink), and most of them looked out onto the field. One guy started a semblance of conversation with another player, and then a second pair started to chat quietly as the whistle blew to return to the field.

None of the groups were overly chatty, and the quality of the communication varied as much as it did on the field. Some guys addressed the whole group with questions and ideas for a better second half. The motivational cheering was minimal and sincere as players made suggestions.

On the field, some players were church-mouse quiet and others were quite vocal. As much as people praise being vocal, it includes a wide range of noise and wisdom. Some guys echoed rhetorical coach platitudes, and others urged abstractly. But the good players provided information and direction when needed.

My Lesson #2 is to avoid communication without a purpose. Limit it to eye contact, body language, and information that a teammate needs through the ear because it’s evident he doesn’t know better at the moment.

I have two examples of phrases I’ve heard from teammates over the years.

As a stopper for Chivas de Denver in the 1990s, if I had to chase a guy down the wing or defend out of the ordinary, my sweeper would simply say “sin falta” when he got into position. This said three things to me (maybe more, I’m still learning). It told me where he was, simply by virtue of uttering the sound. It literally told me not to drop the guy because he had it covered, and it said “he’s not worth worrying about, really.” This was like the long phrase for a nutmeg that translates to, “wear a long dress next time.”

This, by the way, is an example of efficient, excellent communication. These two words silenced a lot of attacks.

My second example was a pickup game at Green Lake in Seattle. A group of guys with English accents (I can’t confirm that they were actually English, and I don’t want to offend an entire country) made up the bulk of our team. Instead of the random UN mashups you get in most pickup games, we had the All White theme going.

I had the ball on the wing and turned with plenty of space and even more options.

“Give us the ball, son,” wafted from the midfield.

These five words said three things to me. First of all, “son” gets under my skin like the Ebola virus, literally a patronizing term. Second, most people define “us” and “them” according to the two teams, not a royal “we” that is simply abstract. Third, loose lips sink ships.

I dribbled down the wing, cut inside, and scored. Actually, I don’t remember if we scored or not, but I definitely didn’t pass the ball to that clown.

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