I have a son who, from the time he was little, has had a passion for two things: art and athletics. This boy, for nearly every Christmas or birthday, has asked for something related to each of those things. One year, it was a keyboard and a basketball hoop. Another, it was a guitar and a soccer ball. This year, he wanted a new art set, complete with watercolors, charcoal and pastels, and of course some new running shoes.
When he comes home from school, he is just as excited to show me his new papier-mache creation as he is to tell me about how his ultimate frisbee team is doing. At home, he sings along with his favorite singer, James Arthur, while riding around the house on his little brother’s wiggly car or kicking a soccer ball against the wall.
To many, it may seem like these two mediums — art and athletics — are very different. However, I see them work together beautifully when my son gets out on the soccer field, which is his venue of choice.
The artist in him is what allows him to be creative. He sees the field in ways that many players don’t. He’ll find a space and fill it with a spin move or a pass through and over players. He dribbles and juggles the ball in a way that is quite rhythmic in nature. He visualizes a play in his mind, and then quickly and beautifully executes it thanks to his athleticism that includes speed, agility and strength.
My son has a style of play that is hard not to notice, and when he is in his element, and is allowed to be creative on the field, it’s much like watching an artistic performance. And as one who has been in the soccer world for a long time, I‘ve seen countless athletes who share these similar creative skills with their own unique styles to contribute to what is a very artistic game.
Unfortunately, I have found that in competitive team sports, starting at a very young age like my son is, that artistic and creative side of athletes is often stifled. I’ve seen it happen a lot in teams my kids have played with and against. Utilizing unique and artistic skill sets of players to create a team with variety is often replaced with making a well oiled machine with meticulously crafted players. If parts of that machine take a different step from what it is programmed to do, then it must be broken and replaced until it works perfectly in sync with all the other parts of that machine.
Sure, there are rules to follow, and a certain level of cohesiveness that must be achieved, especially as players get older. But what I wish many coaches of team sports would understand is that the arts and athletics are not opposites, but they need to be allowed to work together. You need creative minds who are not afraid to color outside the lines. You need players who dance to the beat of their own drum. And you need coaches who aren’t afraid to see how that creativity plays out, so players can reach their own potential within the team, while enjoying the game to its fullest.
As a supportive spectator, it's also nice to enjoy watching a little art in action out there on the field, and the smiles that always follow.