It was a moment of poignant redemption; of grace and mercy from one human being to another.
Like many others, I can’t get the image of Gareth Southgate embracing Columbian footballer Mateus Uribe after he missed his penalty against England out of my mind. And I’m not even really into football (sorry for that disclosure, but it is something I am following in order to connect more deeply with my son).
I am old enough to remember the moment when Southgate missed his own penalty, and England was out of the 1996 Euro Cup as a result. Did he allow that moment of failure to define him? Absolutely not – and I’m sure he had some words of wisdom to pass on Mateus when he hugged him.
We need role models like Southgate in the public eye; those not afraid to fail but then continue to run hard after their dreams, and the press has quite rightly picked up on how refreshing his mentoring approach is.
Through them we have learned that he has always had a desire to encourage those younger than himself, spending more than the allocated time with young players and writing personally to young fans too. Twitter has been overrun with tweets using the hashtag #GarethSouthgateWould.
What the Church can learn
I think we can learn from Southgate that our children and young people need mentors to look up to, guys or girls just a few years senior to them right up to those who are the same age as their parents and grandparents too. People who don’t tell them what to do, but show them by walking with integrity themselves.
There is something about community that modern life can erode, but watching the close bond within the England team reminded me of how great it can be within church communities when we all champion one another, from the youngest to the oldest. I think Harry Kane modelled this well too in England’s game against Sweden, as he tirelessly helped set up others to score the goals rather than always trying to get to that position himself.
What parents can learn
Listening to the radio while dropping our son to school, both my husband and I were struck by a comment from the presenter about how Southgate’s approach to coaching is so different from ‘old school’ football coaches.
There used to be a sense of fear instilled in the players by the coach, whereas Southgate has managed to create a team full of confidence and good morale by coming alongside them, being a nurturing figure that they feel able to confide in.
He believes that building a positive rapport with his players brings the best out of them: “As a coach, you always have to be there to support the person – improving them as a player becomes secondary to a degree.
“But if a player feels that you respect them and you want to help them, then they are more likely to listen to you and follow you.”
All this has made me reflect on whether I use fear as a means of getting my kids to do what I want them to. How much better to come alongside, nurturing, teaching them respect by respecting them – and involving the whole family in those things that we have agreed together are a priority for us.
Southgate has made me consider afresh whether I give my kids a sense of ownership too. I believe that we should be on mission together as a family, and that my husband being our pastor is not something he does in isolation.
Southgate said in an interview for The Boot Room: “I think if the players have some ownership of what’s going on then that's going to help them make better decisions on the field and also buy into the way that we are trying to progress.”
Do we take the time to explain to our kids why we do the things we do, why we are involved in the activities we spend our time on in our churches? Do we ensure that we ‘take them with us’ so that they can “buy into the way that we are trying to progress” too?
However far the England team gets in this World Cup, I imagine Southgate will be encouraging them with continued praise about how proud he is of them. That’s another great reminder to me too, especially during days when I face challenging behaviour from my kids. On those days am I still taking the time to call out the good things, to show them I’m super proud of them just for being who they are?