Out of the box

BY TIM MIDDLETON

In a Group D soccer match against Scotland at the Euro 2020 Championships, Patrik Schick of the Czech Republic scored two goals, the second of which was hailed as the goal of the tournament. A long-range shot by a Scotland player ricocheted off a Czech defender back over the halfway line and Schick ran forward and sent a curling shot from 49 metres over the Scotland goalkeeper who was scrambling back desperately to save it. The timing, accuracy, power were all exceptional but something else stood out strongly — its unexpectedness. No-one expected him to shoot from there.

Of course, he is not the only one to score a goal from a long way out. In fact, the record lies with a relatively unknown goalkeeper, Tom King of Newport County, who scored against Cheltenham Town in January 2021 when he scored with a goal kick from his own penalty area, 96 metres away! The opposing goalkeeper was certainly not expecting a shot from that far out!

Statistically, between 80 and 85% of soccer goals are scored within the penalty box. That will come as no surprise as the closer a player is to the goal, the more chance he has of scoring — the goal appears bigger and the time to save the shot is shorter. That would therefore perhaps suggest to most players not to shoot from outside the box. However, it will (and indeed, should) also suggest to other players to do that very thing, to shoot from outside the penalty box, for the very reason that the opposition will not be expecting it.

Greek mythology tells the story of the wooden horse that they used as a ruse to get inside and capture the city of Troy. They left a massive horse as an offering to their god and their captors (a horse was the emblem of the Trojans) as they (supposedly) sailed away in defeat, while the Trojans brought the horse into the city, not knowing that a band of elite soldiers were hidden inside, who would later during the night, come out, open the city gates and let their comrades in who had not sailed away but had returned. The element of surprise, of the totally unexpected, won the day.

Rugby mythology also tells the story of how the game was first, supposedly, introduced, that being when a young boy at a renowned English independent school, Rugby School, decided during a game most like soccer to pick up the ball, instead of kicking it, and ran with it. No-one expected that to happen but from that moment of inspiration (or desecration, depending on your viewpoint) a whole new ball game emerged which has since captivated millions of people around the world, and indeed which has also spurned other similar sports like American Football and Aussie Rules football.

These are all tales of the unexpected which only lead to great interest and intrigue, as do the series of sixteen short stories of that name by Roald Dahl. Indeed the very essence of short stories is that they have an unexpected ending, that there is a sting in the tail. The short story called The Lottery by Shirley Jackson tells the story of a small community undertaking its annual lottery event, whereby all the members of the community gather together in their families with varying degrees of excitement, interest and nonchalance. First the head of each family draws a piece of paper before each member of the family who drew the paper with a black dot on it also pick out a piece of paper to find out who draws the one with the black dot. A spoiler alert prevents this writer from revealing the ending but it is one that does not fail to surprise the reader. The thinking is very much out of the box.

Thinking out of the box, just like scoring goals out of the penalty box, is doing the unexpected and can often bring surprising results. It is a matter of thinking differently, of doing the unusual, of trying things not done before. It is asking the questions, “What if…?” and “Why not…?” It is not confining ourselves to tradition, superstition or habit but looking for opportunities to progress. Sports teams need to do that; Covid has shown us all our need to do that and now our children need to learn to do that. We need to expect the unexpected in others and execute the unexpected ourselves.

The person who asks the question, “But what if everyone thinks out of the box?” is already thinking out of the box. So too is the one who asks, “What’s a box…?” With our children, we need to get them to think out of the box; they need to pick up this ball and run with it. If we do, then it is game over! There is no lottery to it, but we might well be surprised by the consequences. Shoot!

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS].
  • The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw; website:www.atschisz

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