How were you raised? were you whooped for doing wrong or did you act as the parent? how did you grow? were you told what you can and cannot do or were you given a wide range for self discovery. I find that the way we operate, as adults, and the way we relate to others is based mostly on how we grew up.
A few days ago, I very briefly glanced at a TV show, a mix between research and game show. It was about the different styles with which people parent. They’d monitor a set of parents for a few days, interview their kids, other parents would then “judge” the parenting style.
The set of parents for that episode were the “do whatever you want, it’s your lead, we’ll guide you” style of parents. The parents added a swing in their living room because a kid wants to swing. They are yes parents. They empower their children by not limiting them. Before I tuned away, I thought what happens when these kids grow up as adults? what happens when they enter a structured work place?
When I think structured, I think order. I think, you do this, you don’t do that. I think you do things this way, not your way. Discipline. You do things how a parent has told you to do it, not how you want to do it. There is no jumping on the couch.
When I think of unstructured, I think of an open field, do what you want within a loose parameter. Don’t jump off the roof but you can jump on the couch.
Is the opposite true? does growing up unstructured makes you seek structure? does growing up structured make you seek the unstructured?
Or, does growing up structured make you appreciate structure?
I’ve dragged you on a story bus without sharing what we’re looking for. I’m trying to answer a question. I laid there pondering a dissatisfaction I’ve been nurturing and suddenly this thought hits me and I started writing.
I play soccer, I’m Nigerian so I’ll call it football. I play football. In a league, where I pay money for a structured game, you know referees, goal keepers, offside and substitutes. Alright, I also play “pick up”, where people sign up or sometimes show up to play for fun. I don’t just play pick up, I actually organize, that is set a time date and field for others to come play.
I decided on Wednesday after my league game that I was not going back for the rest of the season to play with my assigned group because it wasn’t fun for me anymore. Life is hard enough as it is, I don’t want to have a good day, then go play with the group and be sad the rest of my evening. I’d rather skip the group. Reason being because it’s not choreographed. I’ll explain.
Early last year, I finally made my way to the Highly Effective book and in that book I was introduced to the concept of interdependence and how that is the ultimate aspiration when in a team — either professional or a relationship. You want to transcend being an independent person to a person who can depend on someone dependable.
This was new for me so obviously I had to examine my life and think of ways to begin learning interdependency because prior to reading it, I did not know about it and did not practice it. The world talks about being independent so much its almost a sin if you’re an adult and not independent.
And where can you practice depending on others more than in sports. The first few weeks after coming to this interdependence discovery, I remember thinking sports, football, was not the avenue to practice depending on others because a striker could run so fast, dribble so nice then pass the ball only for the other player to lose it, miss it or refuse to pass back. And all that work the striker’s put in is wasted. Back to square zero.
I held on to that thinking, I played pick up three times, four times a week and I was unsatisfied, unhappy when I played. Because people were either not as skilled playing with skilled players, or people were too many, there’s practically a body everywhere you turn or because people played what I call “buddy ball” where you only pass to the person you know, the person you came with — a friend or family member, or people just did not pass in general — one person wants to take the ball from the back and dribble their way to the other post while everyone else stands and watch — a single person’s show. I was not satisfied, so I joined a league, looking for structure.
The league is structured but in a different way, it is organized in terms of officiating and administrative but it wasn’t structured like choreographed. I signed up with two teams. One lost horribly and I received an email to basically help them out as life would have it they didn’t lose another game after I joined. We went to the finals then lost. Initially it felt like buddy ball but after a while the players were getting used to me and gradually began to pass more. The second team were more giving, they would pass but weren’t much team players, I’ll explain. You see, in football, there’s the defenders, those who prevent goals, then midfielders, then strikers, those who score goals. You’d sometimes be on teams where defenders want to score goals and if the defender is holding on to the ball guess whose not with the ball? the striker whose position it is to score goals. Team unbalanced. Sometimes you’d have midfielders who want to score goals, this isn’t too bad and can be advantageous but if midfielders always hold on to the ball instead of pass, it again takes away from the striker. Team unbalanced. The second team somehow made it to final, then most players for different reasons weren’t going to “be available”, no one showed up. We forfeit the game. Who forfeits final?
I’ve tried league, I was not satisfied, so I started my own. Not my own sport, I started hosting, I started organizing my own “structured” pick up football game.
It was new, we have a thousand players in the group, most games get 20–30 people show up. My new game, the first time we played only two other people showed up, then a passersby asked if he could join, we then played 2 on 2.
As months went on, we’d have 10 people show up, one time we had 18 maybe 20 showed up, I was once again unsatisfied. Then we went back to a comfortable number of 12 people and once again I enjoy playing football.
I stopped playing other pick ups. I somehow only enjoyed playing my “structured” pick up. I realized I only enjoy the game when not too many people show up, its as though we form a group chemistry when its just 12, 14 of us and get unorganized when its 20 of us at which point I do more officiating and rule enforcement than playing and thats no fun for anyone.
I had my first scuffle. Then the next week I had my second scuffle. Young boys, 20 year olds who wants to do what they want. And I learned from that.
It’s important to have peoples buy in before an engagement, it is easier to have people’s buy in before an engagement than it is after the activity begins. It’s easier to have people’s buy in when you approach them one on one, not in a group setting. They almost go deaf to what you’re saying in a group setting, they nod their head but don’t understand. And soon enough show they don’t understand. Once the game starts they’d want to play how they’ve played the previous minutes, if what you’re saying was important you would have, should have said it before the game started. Once I realized that, so far the scuffles stopped.
Reading this, one could easily conclude, you’re a control freak. You’re just a control freak, case solved, case closed, good night. Maybe they’re right, when the game isn’t controlled, like structured, I freak out. It doesn’t have to be my leadership, the players don’t have to pass to me, it should however be inclusive and they should pass to someone.
I’ve been to games, unstructured games where certain players would touch the ball maybe once or twice the entire 90 minutes. I’m a striker, in my group I’m popular — friendly would be the better term, I pass to people so I get the ball a lot, when playing with those I’m familiar with, it’s easier for me to get the ball. I’ve had to dribble my way to a player who hasn’t touched the ball at all, pass to them and they pass to me and I move on. Just so their feet touch the ball. That’s not football. That’s not inclusive. Now that I have my pick up, no player comes to my game without their feet touching the ball, because its structured for everyone to be involved.
I feel like I’m justifying creating a pick up game but really I’m trying to uncover why certain people sway towards the unstructured and others towards structure. Is it upbringing, is it the recognition, familiarity, or just people with a particular wave length sway in one direction.
I’ve received long emails about how I push for structure during my pick up games and how it can be “unpleasant”. I’ve also received many acknowledgments on how the pick up game is better than any other pick up some players have been to. Don’t try to win them all. The unstructured rebel against structure. The structured breathe down within structure.
To me, the best team is choreographed. If you watch enough football games you’d soon find out the losing team during the match isn’t much of a team, breakdown in communication, no passing, multiple people doing their own thing, chaos. The winning team though? choreographed.
My team is Arsenal. I studied Arteta’s structure and how the players train. In training, he expects them to be so in sync — you know where the next player is without having to look. And it comes to life during the game. Defenders know where the other defenders are, defenders know where the closest midfielder stands so they can pass to them with ease. Midfielders pass to strikers. Choreographed.
Let’s go back to upbringing, parenting, structure and unstructured.
What if the players who come to my games where not allowed to jump on couches growing up? In my household growing up, my parents won’t tell me not to jump on couches, it just would look silly to jump on couches. So in a sense they didn’t have to tell me. One look from my mother and you’d rethink your entire life choices as a 10yr old. I don’t have to tell my daughter not to jump on couches, she’d rather jump on the bed and I’d jump with her.
All of these thoughts come bubbling up because yesterday I received a message to show up to a pick up game and I chose to go. During second half, one player, it’s always the one person, one player who is guarding the post would take the ball from our post, all the way to the other post, passing his teammates, and would try to score. sometimes he’d lose the ball along the way, other times he’d score, more often he’d miss the entire goal post because he’s out of breathe, while the group would clap for him cheer him on, and I stand there looking like “this is fun for you all? — this isn’t fun, this is ridiculous”
The idea of fun is different. I totally understand if people want to unwine, so much in the world we are told to do this, to do that, I totally get it if people just want to run around for once doing whatever it is they want to do, I get it. I’m not part of those people. Much of my life is how I’ve designed it to be (how God’s designed it to be, but you get my point), I’m not running from anything, I don’t have to be on a pitch to feel a sense of control on my life. I play to compete, bring your best, I bring mine. I play for a challenge — that is my idea of fun. I don’t play just to play, I play to win and if I lose, then to a worthy opponent not because my team mates decide not to show up. You get my point.
Structure is like choreography. And choreography is fun. You don’t just do what you want. You play your position. Have you seen an unorganized choreography? who wants to be a part of that? People everywhere jumping up and down, who am I supposed to be watching? Imagine a movie where everyone speaks their own line without any rhythm, who wants to watch that? even Improv shows have people share lines. So, no, an unstructured choreography is not fun for me.
I don’t understand it. It feels almost like a prank on me. Honestly. Yeah, I’m humble, I’m humble. It’s not all about me but get my point. Are you familiar with the research study where in a multiple choice question, a person (the unsuspecting) is highly more likely to pick a wrong answer (an answer they know deep down is the wrong answer, they choose it as the right answer anyway) because those in the same room (who are part of the research), think a class room, all chose that particular wrong answer, and all said the wrong answer out loud? you know what’s more wild? same unsuspecting person went retested by themselves, alone, would not choose the wrong answer but choose what they believed all along was the right answer. Which means you’re more likely to do what you know is wrong as long as those around you choose it as the right thing to do. Well, I don’t want that. I want to choose an answer I know is right even if those in front of me are falling off a cliff. And where what I want doesn’t exist, I go create it.
In a world where inadequacy isn’t improved but instead rebranded to look normal, it is important for the adequate to remember they are normal.
Many corporations today exist because someone one day decided to put together an idea the way the feel it should be. Be it unstructured and fun for them and those who buy into their logic or be it structured and very fun for those who didn’t jump on couches.
In life, there are those drawn to chaos, there are those drawn to order. There are those drawn to organized, there are those bent on anarchy. There are those drawn to choreography, there are those who want to be the star while others are mere dancers. There are those who go to Libraries to read, there are those who go to Libraries to take a phone call. There are those drawn to synchronized walking, there are those drawn to their own pace. There’s more stress when you’re the odd one out.
Believe me there’s someone just as mental as you, finding them isnt always easy but it is our responsibility to find our tribe rather than attempt to change, convince a solo artiste to be a group singer.
In friendship, business, relationship, family, love — there is endless complain when structured mix with the unstructured. A neat freak will die of high blood pressure if they marry a pig.
There is a tribe for you, find it. There are many states within a country and many countries within a continent and many continents because there is more than one way to do a thing. Each state does it their own way, each country govern their own way, each continent functions its own way. So if one doesn’t work for you, try another. There is that perfect blend, but you have to walk the earth to find it. And where it doesn’t exist, create it. Not create a continent but create your own family and community and ecosystem, be findable and those in your tribe will find you.
I’m not advocating for structured over unstructured, maybe secretly I am, instead I am advocating for not conforming. And believing there’s someone with the same loose screw as you and when you find them, be nice and kind to them and more and more people would be interested to learn about how you see the world and if it makes sense for them.
Lean into that unease you feel, don’t ignore it and choose the wrong answer because everyone else is doing it, you might be the unsuspecting lab rat and everyone else might have been paid off to lure you to pick the wrong answer, just to prove a point, prove they can influence you however they want. Lean into that unease. When its time to walk, walk and don’t look back. When it’s time to move, move, change environment. When it’s time to share how you think a game should be played, share it. Some are called to coach, some are called to be referees, some are called to be admins, we all have a role to play. Defenders should defend but if they want to defend and score goals, and you don’t agree, they can go play on another team or you can go play on another team.
Most importantly, know when your thought process is in the minority, and never ignore that.