Back in 5th grade, I made a decision that changed the next 8 years of my life. I walked onto the soccer field. The coach asked what position I played. I thought about. I looked at everyone running all over the field and thought, goalie.

This decision set me on a path to 7 years of failure. I was a horrible goalie. I had never played the position. I didn’t know what I was doing. All I knew was I’d rather be standing in that goalie box than running all over the field.

Here is the thing about being a goalie. Your successes and mistakes are on display for everyone to see. You cannot hide, ever. As the years went on I practiced, I played and I failed. It didn’t seem like I would ever get better, but I kept at it.

Now remember, soccer is to St Louis as football is to Texas. In High School everyone wants to be on the soccer team. Come freshman year, it seemed like the whole class was trying out. Somehow I made the team.

My freshman year confirmed one thing. I was still a horrible goalie. While the practices were more intense I felt like I needed more. So I signed up for a goalie camp. In practice, I failed for a few hours. At goalie camp I got to fail all day long.

I’ll never forget one exercise. The tip drill. It was pouring rain. The fields were a muddy mess. We would line up in the middle of the goalie box. The instructor would throw the ball over our heads and we needed to run back and tip it over the bar at the last second.

I did this drill over and over. With miss after miss, I was muddy, wet and frustrated. And then it happened. I tipped the ball over the post. I was in shock. At the time I thought, how did I do that?

Failure takes my shapes and sizes

Sitting on the bench – my usual spot.

Fast forward to junior year. Our Varsity team is one of the top 5 in the nation. One reason was Casey Klipfel, a world-class goalkeeper. Needless to say, I didn’t play a single game that year. But, I got more practice. Every day we would all train with Casey.

We did drills I had never seen. One was the tennis ball drill. Instead of trying to catch or stop soccer balls. We used tennis balls. The thinking was simple. If you can stop a tennis ball, a soccer ball will be a breeze.

It’s now senior year. The season starts as it usually does. We warm up and start taking shots. Someone drills one a few feet away, right on the ground. I hated those shots. I could never stop them. But a weird thing happened. I’m lying on the ground and realize I saved it. How did that happen?

A few weeks into the season I come to grips with the fact that I was getting better. The coaches noticed too and started to put me into games. My success in practice showed through in games. We were winning and I was a part of it.

At the end of the year, we had our annual awards banquet. For the first time in my soccer career I got an award (outside of a participation trophy). Most Improved Player. An award that recognizes your shortcomings and successes, all at once. I loved it. In my mind, there was no better award out there.

It only took 7 years to become a successful goalie. By focusing on the work and drills, success took care of itself. And in case, you think this had something to do with talent, remember I had none. What I had was a desire to get up after each humiliation. I made the choice to learn from my failures and focus on the path ahead, not the trail of mistakes.

Success takes time. It’s a process. Along the way you will fail. Failing does not make you a failure. You can only be a failure if you stop trying.

This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.