Unlucky as it relates to sports is not something I encountered until I became a soccer mom.  Looking back on my glory days as an athlete in Jr. High or even playing recreationally in college I don’t recall hearing anyone respond to a negative result by saying “unlucky”.  If someone on our volleyball team failed to dig the ball cleanly it was not unlucky, it was a good kill by our opponent.  If I failed to make a shot in racquetball I was not unlucky, rather, my rival played a better shot and earned a point because I could not do the same.  In both of these scenarios luck, or lack thereof, had little to do with it.  One player had what it takes to beat the other. Period.  Can you imagine someone patting Dennis Eckersley on the back and saying, “unlucky”, after Kirk Gibson sent the full count pitch over the right field fence in game 1 of the 1988 World Series?

As my time on the soccer sidelines increased I realized I heard this simple word- unlucky- repeated time and again.  A player makes a pass that doesn’t quite get to a teammate and instead winds up at the feet of their opponent- unlucky.  Player is one v. one with a keeper and he pushes out a shot that goes just wide- unlucky. Was it really unlucky? Or did they not play it properly?  Don’t get me wrong I don’t want coaches and or parents yelling at the kids “Well you really blew that didn’t you?” or something of the sort but to say “unlucky” is to seemingly note that the fates had a hand it in more so than the player who simply didn’t perfectly execute the skill needed to get the result they wanted.

My other issue with this one word expression is that it is, from my perspective as a keeper’s mom, unevenly applied.  The midfielder and striker noted above received comments of “unlucky” which seem to indicate that their thought process may have been spot on but the soccer gods deemed them unworthy so it didn’t go exactly as they had hoped.  Their teammate, the keeper, never gets an “unlucky” proclamation after something in his area of the field goes awry.  Little Johnny either comes up huge and makes a save which people applaud for exactly four seconds before they forget it ever happened or he misses and has the defense screaming at him and the forwards are walking away shaking their heads.  Sadly, no “unlucky” is granted to the keeper whose position at the front post was correct until the defender got “unlucky” and the attacking team launched a quick cross followed by header into the back of the net.

This brings to mind a quote which is attributed to a Roman philosopher Seneca that says:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”

Boys and girls who play the beautiful game, or any sport for that matter, spend hours practicing, preparing, so that when they get on the playing field they can take advantage of opportunities that come their way.  I would be beyond annoyed if my son stretched out to make a diving save to his right and the other sideline responded by yelling “lucky”.  I assure you that performing a save of that nature is not luck. It was work, a lot of it.  We are talking hours of diving in wet, hard, grass time after time during keeper training so that when a shot like that was made in a game he would know how to deal with it. Why don’t we just cheer when things go well and give grace to the little athletes when things don’t go quite as planned rather than give the soccer gods a foothold on the field by stating that luck has anything to do with it?

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