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Fundamental Soccer Blog

The Zipper Phenomena

“It’s stuck, help!”

I watched a parent standing beside her son, struggling to zip his jacket.

At first, she instinctively reached to help him but then caught herself, paused, and put her hands down.

The little boy gave it another attempt.

“Dang It!” he yelled to himself, feeling a sense of failure.

He looked up at his mom for assistance but was met with a smile as she patiently waited.

Receiving no help from his mom, the little boy had no choice but to try again.

Again, the little boy was unsuccessful.

He threw his hands down in defeat.

“I can’t do it,” he proclaimed.

Mom smiled.

Calmly, with the sweet tone every child years to hear from their mother, she says, “We need to go, honey. Try it again.”

“Hrumph!” He gave it another go. After five more seconds of struggle, the frustrated little boy threw up his hands and exclaimed, “I did it!”

“Yes, you did.” Mom smiled at her son. “Are you ready to go?”

“Let’s do it!”

Nothing is more satisfying to me than a smiling baby, an excited child, or a youth victory dance. This whole situation took place in a matter of thirty seconds. It could have been avoided by Mom reaching down and zipping up the jacket, but she paused and let him do it. Had she intervened, the little boy would not have had the joy of triumph after the struggle. But mom, in her great wisdom, allowed her son to do it independently. Though difficult to see her son struggle, the payoff of victory outweighed the difficulty of failure.

Adversity is the tool that sharpens one’s character.

Just like the rock in the stream shaped by the constant water pressure, so are we shaped by the experiences we are allowed to have. Think of the subtle lesson learned by the little boy at that moment. He experienced failure, success, and ownership of the process in just a few seconds.

  • He tried.
  • He failed.
  • He tried again.
  • He failed again.
  • Then, he succeeded.

With a little hard work from the boy (and a few moments of patience from Mom), a young boy has learned a valuable lesson in life about working hard to accomplish a goal. Now, it’s doubtful any child triumphs over adversity and cries out, “Look at my character grow!” but we know that is what is happening.

From now on, look for situations in practice, competition, or life where the child/player struggles. Let them struggle a bit before you intervene (so long as it is safe), and the payoff will outweigh the struggle.

James Leath

He is a mental performance coach, keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and founder of Unleash the Athlete. James leverages interactive activities, team-building exercises, and research-based lectures to audiences of all ages to create memorable experiences that performers can use as anchors as they strive to become their personal best. His work has influenced teams like the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers, as well as corporate employees and innovators at EXOS, IMG Academy, MINDBODY INC, and Under Armour. James holds an M.A. in performance psychology from National University in San Diego and a bachelor’s in communication from Fresno State. He spent three years as the Bulldog mascot, Time Out. Additionally, he is a member of the Applied Science of Sport Psychology and holds multiple fitness certifications. You can find him on most social media platforms using @jamesleath or visit his website,