Hacking Simple Systems: The Tale of an Incomplete Soccer Uniform

Oakland Learning Community Tatum Omari’s builds on her experience with system redesign to hack her daughter’s soccer gear.

All dressed up but not quite ready to go: Tatum’s daughter showed up for the first day of soccer practice wearing a party dress and sparkly flats. What to do?

When I used to think about systems redesign, and what would inspire a person to redesign something in the first place, images of super smarties standing next to state of the art tech contraptions immediately came to mind. Now that I’ve had a chance to work with Agency by Design as a member of the Oakland Learning Community, I realize that systems are everywhere. There are high tech systems, such as the parts and pieces that go together to make your car start in the morning, and low tech systems, say the parts and pieces that go together to transform your child into a soccer player. This blog post explores the latter: systems redesign as not just a means to innovate but as a means to make due, be resourceful, and get by as a mom.

The context for this redesign is my daughter’s first official day of practice with the new soccer team she joined with friends at school. The first official day of anything is always a little discombobulating for me as a mom. I tend to be a “fly by the seat of my pants” kinda lady and that doesn’t always work in terms of extra-curricular activities going off without a hitch. In these situations I often anticipate something will go wrong. This time, however, was different. It just so happened that my daughter’s father was making a surprise visit to the Bay Area and, of course, totally wanted to go to her first ever soccer practice.

I knew that my daughter’s father would be expecting some sort of underprepared-mom shenanigans to take place. And so I determined that getting my daughter to soccer practice “without a hitch” was now mandatory. I was on a mission to have a shenanigan-free first day of soccer practice.

“Ok,” I thought, “I can do this.” We successfully dug a pair of shin guards out of a sports gear box and whilst digging through that box another box tipped over on me. That box just happened to have our ski gear in it and—voila—ski socks look almost identical to soccer socks! We didn’t have cleats yet, but the soccer team people said not to worry. Regular tennis shoes would work on the indoor field.

With tennis shoes, shin guards, and ski socks in hand, we were ready for practice—and we still had two more hours until we had to be there! I was feeling so proud of myself as a mom that I decided to take my planning to the next level. My daughter had a birthday party to go to after soccer practice so I formulated the bright idea of having her wear her party gear to practice and having her change into her soccer gear once we got there. Fast forward 10 minutes later and my daughter was dressed and ready to go. I felt so proud. First day of soccer practice and we had got this on lock.

When it was time to leave I strutted out of the house towards the car feeling like Super Mom. Super Prepared Mom! This feeling lasted until we were about a block away from the soccer field. Then… it happened. I heard a gasp from the back seat. I glanced back and saw a panic stricken look on my daughter’s little face. Slowly she began to speak, “Mom, I didn’t mean to, but when we left I accidentally set down my tennis shoes for a minute and forgot to pick them back up.”

The offending flats: They’re sparkly and cute, but not quite meant for the soccer field.

My heart sank.

“Ok, ok,” I thought, “super prepared moms don’t freak out, right?” Emergency brainstorm: The kid had no tennis shoes and was dressed for a birthday party. The shoes she was wearing: sparkly flats.

“Hmm—maybe these flats are different from most?” I thought, “Maybe she could run in them just like her tennis shoes?” As soon as we got out of the car I had my daughter do a quick sprint and both shoes flew off before she took her third step. That’s when it started. I had a vision of her dad’s response: the slight eye roll followed by the “I totally expected this” head shake of disappointment. I was in for “the look.”

But then I had a thought—I eyed the shin guards and socks my daughter was carrying and had a revelation. “I’ve got it!” I thought to myself. It was time for a system redesign. There will be no disappointed head shaking today!

I took a careful look at the system of soccer gear my daughter had with her. Normally the shin guards go on first and then the socks go over them. Next would come the stable tennis shoes or cleats—not sparkly flats. We didn’t have the tennis shoes or cleats, so someway, somehow we had to make the sparkly flats work. “To hack this system we are going to need to put things on in a different order,” I said. I realized that the shin guards had that awesome little strap that goes underneath the foot. “If we put your socks on, then the sparkly flats, and then put the shin guards over everything—maybe the shin guards would hold your shoes on,” I said to my daughter.

Soccer gear redesign: Tatum’s daughter was the most sparkly player on the field.

My daughter had a little sparkle in her eye—she thought it was gonna work too! And so we gave it a try and off she went. She looked a little weird—but it worked!

Once soccer practice began, I took a deep breath and realized I needed to revise my title. I may never be Super Prepared Mom but I am Super Resourceful Mom. I used what I had learned about systems to take a serious look at the parts and purposes of my daughter’s soccer gear. Yes, I was missing a pretty integral part of the soccer get-up but by analyzing what I had to work with and doing a little redesign, the kid still got to play soccer—and her dad still got to watch.

The biggest win… my daughter had a direct experience with on the spot problem-solving. She even gave me a high five.

Tatum Omari is a kindergarten and first grade teacher at North Oakland Community Charter School in Oakland, CA. Her approach to project-based learning comes from her experience with Project Zero’s Teaching for Understanding Framework and her participation in the Alameda County Office of Education’s Arts Integrated Learning Specialist Program. Her involvement in the Agency by Design research initiative has rekindled her love of making that was sparked early on for her as the child of a general contractor and avid DIY adult role model of awesomeness.

This blog was published on June 24, 2014.
Authored by
Tatum Omari

Guest author Tatum Omari is a North Oakland Charter School Teacher and Agency by Design Learning Community Member.