My dad is a high school soccer coach. I played for him, too, for three years of high school way back when. (He cut me my freshman year, an act I’m not entirely sure my mother has forgiven him for yet.) Playing for him had the usual ups and downs. He would sub me and I’d take it personally. I wouldn’t work hard and he’d take it personally. In the end, it worked out. I’m glad I played for him.
Like many coaches, my dad had a set group of sayings and adages he used throughout his coaching. If someone made a bad pass, he’d never say it was a bad pass, he’d just yell “Unlucky!” and clap them on. (I still do this to this day in any sporting event, and have even tried it in the bedroom. “Ow. Ow. Wait. OW… OK. Pause. OK… OK! Unlucky! Unlucky! Let’s try it again!”)
My favorite saying of my dad’s, however, was “Don’t force it if it’s not on.” He used this when a player would try something outrageous on the soccer field when there was a simpler option. Instead of an easy five yard pass to an open player, a player would hit a 40-yard ball over the head of two defenders, a pass that was supposed to land in a two foot window right past the goalkeeper that would lead to a goal. The problem with those passes is that they very rarely work. Thus the saying: Don’t force it if it’s not on. If the pass isn’t on, if it isn’t going to work, don’t force it in there. Don’t try to make something happen if it isn’t ready to happen, because you’re doomed to fail.
Fast forward six years. I was living in New Orleans, studying to get a master’s degree, and an old high school teammate of mine, Ben, moved down to the city. We immediately picked up on our old joke of saying “Don’t force it if it’s not on” in non-soccer situations, and let me tell you, it was more valuable out in the real world than it ever was on the soccer field.
We’d be at the Gold Mine at 3 a.m., and I’d run up to Ben and breathlessly exclaim, “Hey man. Just met this really cool girl. We’ve got to drive out to Baton Rouge to drop her brother off, but then AFTER THAT we’re going to go over to her aunt’s place because she’s got a pool. AND a hot tub. So I think I’m going to go. OK? OK?” And Ben would grab me by the shoulders, look at me, and say, “Nate. Do not force it…if it’s not on.” I’d take a deep breath and realize he was right.
Another time we were watching TV, and Ben said, “So, I think I’m going to go out with this girl again. We don’t really like each other. In fact, we have absolutely nothing in common. But I think if we go out a few more times I might learn to like her, you know?”
“Ben. Don’t force it if it’s not on.”
So that is my gift to you, readers. The next time your friend is proposing some harebrained scheme that you know is doomed from the start, take a deep breath and tell them not to force it if it’s not on. It’s gotten me out of a lot of scrapes. I think it will do the same for you.
(Actually, screw it. Go for it. I’m sure that aunt’s pool is going to be fantastic.)