The Athletics of Art

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Charlie Carroll. Charlie is the lead pastor at theNorthGate in Dayton, Ohio. You can connect with him online at or on Twitter @charliecarroll.

With the Olympics having just finished, it’s an exciting time to be a soccer fan. But it’s a lot different watching a sport as a fan after you’ve competed professionally. It’s even more surreal having played for one of the world-class coaches you see on TV.

Soccer Player
Photo credit: Sally (Creative Commons)

I remember anticipating our first practice: When would we meet? What would we do?

This guy had worked with some of the best players in the world. Where would we begin: film study, formations, finishing techniques? Maybe, I thought, he’ll reveal some of the tactical secrets that helped him win the World Cup. 

When training camp finally arrived, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. I was stunned, almost insulted. What happened was the last thing I expected but the first thing I needed.

Going back to the basics

Looking back, the experience not only changed my game; it changed my life. And now, it’s changed my approach to writing.

Here’s what I learned from a world-class coach about athletics, art, or any craft: You never get past the fundamentals.

“I want you guys to pass and receive, pass and receive,” our coach shouted at us that first practice.”Make that ball roll!”

Was this a joke? Two cones ten feet apart — it looked like something set up for the little girls playing lollypop soccer. What was going on here?

I was training with a world-class coach, and we were working on this? I didn’t get it.

The school of repetition

Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, and weeks became months. An hour a day, every day. Just passing and receiving. We had been admitted to the school of repetition.

Albert Einstein once rightly said,

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Truth be told, no one can make us better at something. That’s our job. A coach, mentor, or teacher’s primary responsibility is to open our eyes, to show us what it takes.

Then, and only then, the decision is ours. Repetition is the key to understanding.

Revelations from repetition

The more we passed that ball back and forth, the more frustrated I became — until one day when it finally clicked.

I realized something: I was getting better at my craft than ever before. All because of repeating the same fundamentals I learned when I first kicked a soccer ball.

Einstein was right. The best teachers awaken an awareness of what it takes. Through repetition they help us realize the repetitive requirment for creating great art.

Here’s why, I learned, we need repetition:

  1. Repetition tries our intentions. The thought of creating art is appealing to almost everyone. But the commitment and discipline required to make it is another story. People pay big money to set up a blog or get private lessons, but those same people quit quickly when nothing happens overnight. Why? Because maybe they confused a desire to create with a need for affirmation.
  2. Repetition eliminates misconception. Have you ever watched someone playing golf and thought, “I could do that!” We all do this with something. But one trip to the driving range quickly brings us back to reality. I appreciate great writing; however, writing it is another story.
  3. Repetition deepens our understanding. I never knew there was so much to passing a soccer ball. When you commit to mastering the fundamentals of your craft, you begin to understand what you’re dealing with. You start seeing all the moving parts. In my life, this has proven to be true with writing, leading, parenting, and so much more.
  4. Repetition saves time. Doesn’t sound right, does it? How can doing something over and over save you time? Repetition might take time initially, but it increases efficiency. With soccer, becoming a better passer meant learning how to keep the ball on the ground, which helps it move faster and makes it easier to handle. All of this eventually saves you time.

Coaching my son’s soccer team for the time this past spring, there seemed to be an unannounced expectation for the “former pro” to show the seven-year-olds a few secrets.

To their surprise, and my satisfaction, they learned the world-class secret to success: repetition.

What have you learned about art from repetition? Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Sally (Creative Commons)