Survive, Advance, and Move On

Doing the Wrong Thing for the Right Reasons


At the end of this past summer, I wrote a piece about bribing my daughter to play soccer.

It's not as awful as it sounds.

Let me break it down real quick.

See, at the end of last spring season, she had just barely aged out of her bracket, born less than three weeks after the cutoff and gifted with my height and growth cycle, my 11-year-old mighty mite found herself placed on a u15 team in a different league.

Now, that's not so bad. I'm all for a challenge. But it turns out, the team she got placed on had been together for a couple seasons with a coach who was super (but not overtly) competitive. These kids were playing to win. They all knew each other already. They were good. They were winners. And they wanted nothing to do with this pipsqueak new girl.

The first practice was an unmitigated disaster. They wouldn't talk to her, let alone pass to her in drills or tell her what she was doing right or wrong. And when compared to her former, all-girl, 10 & 11-year-old team, these dudes were twice as big, ran three times faster and longer, and fought five times as hard.

To put the final nail in the coffin, the only other girl on the team (a 13-year-old) quit before the second practice.

I got all of this news on my way home from work the night of that first practice, and was further told that she was absolutely, positively not going to play on this team, which meant she would not be going to the next practice after school the following day.

I had 20 hours to fix this. With bedtime and school, I had 45 minutes.

Look, I'm not that dad. I could be. In some ways I am. But if my baby girl is miserable, I'm miserable. The situation sounded untenable. I've quit things like that for exactly those reasons.

So it really, really sucked when I realized I couldn't let her quit.

See, soccer is a big part of her identity. All my kids have one or two things that separate them from one another, things they are great at (or at least pretty good at). This one is hers.

Now, soccer isn't the only thing she's good at, but she's attached herself to it. She wears soccer related clothing. She loves the USWNT and knows all their names. She loves the Azzurri and cheered for them in the World Cup a couple years back. Her brother and her sister don't have this in them. She does.

Furthermore, this spring will be her first chance to make the middle school soccer team. Soccer is huge at their school (and in our town). Those kids are all very good. She wasn't going to skate by coming off a lightly-competitive season and a 9-month break.

So this was one of those lines in the sand. She'd been there before, but not with so much at stake, and not with so nightmarish a proposal in front of her.

I ran through every negotiation tactic I've ever picked up in business, startup, athletics, parenting, whatever. I compromised. I cajoled. I offered to talk to the coach. I offered to take her to every practice and game and just be there if she needed me. I used every clever trick in my book. All of it failed, with tears.


So I pulled out the last scorched-earth thing I could think of and I straight-up bribed her. She had been wanting a Nintendo 3DS for months. She had been saving her money but realizing it was going to be a while, and it would probably end-up knocking a couple things off her Christmas list to get one.

There was my opening. You give this team and this season your best shot. You finish. You get the Nintendo 3DS.

A couple things I knew.

I knew what I was doing was the wrong thing for the right reasons.

I knew that even though I gave this option due consideration before throwing it out there, something I missed would come back to bite me, philosophically speaking.

I knew that I was actually committed to three Nintendo 3DSs and I would have to create appropriately difficult but reachable goals to prevent some kind of cosmic disaster with the other two kids.

One thing I didn't know.

The freaking devices cost $200 before you even get to chargers and cases and games.

I paid for them this past weekend, and it was worth every penny. Almost. Here's why:

The second practice was better. The coach took some time to focus on the new players (her and one other boy) and assess where they were and what they needed - like any good coach would. The pace was a bit more relaxed. But still, no inclusion, no conversation. Just less nightmare.

That DS was going to have to be the motivator for practice #3.

But she started at wing the first game. And she played nearly the whole game. And they won. And then they had more games and she kept starting and she kept eating minutes. She'd be wrecked at the end of games, but a good wrecked.

Then the kids started talking to her, started passing to her, started including her in the kickarounds they had on the sidelines when she wasn't in the game.

The team didn't dominate, and my daughter never scored. That started to wear on her, going from the top of the team to the bottom. She made some great plays every once in a while. She came close. She turned 12 near the end of the season, and I reminded her she was still the baby on that team. She'd still have to work twice as hard as everyone else.

And at the end of the season, she was part of the team. She made it. She survived. And was the bribe worth it for me?

She told me as we walked off the field at the end of the last game that if she didn't make the school team she wanted to play on this team again.

Almost worth it.

The night I bought the 3DSs, I pulled my daughter aside and leveled with her.

“You know,” I said. “When I made this deal with you I didn't realize that these devices cost as much as they do.”

A little smile, and then a, “Yeah. I figured.”

“So here's what we're going to do. I'm cool with it, but I want you to promise me that the next time you run into a situation like this, where you absolutely think you can't do something and it seems hard and terrible, that you won't think about the 3DS, but you'll remember how you feel right now and give everything at least one solid chance to get a little better until you feel like this again.”

She thought about it for a second.

“Yeah. I'll do that. I promise.”

That moment. That's when it became worth it.