Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In the Game

At the beginning of August the roster was just the right size. 17

Since you play soccer with eleven at a time, the difference of six gave us a nice, comfortable substitution margin. And, since my team has rarely had many injuries to worry about, I was optimistic about a really good run ahead.

Right before the season started one player unexpectedly quit. 16

In a casual, non-contact, inconsequential, informal, fun, summertime pick-up game one went down with a season-ending knee injury. 15

In our very first match, our keeper was lost with a season-ending knee injury. 14

But, still, fourteen is an okay number, right? Barring any further injuries or illness…

I shouldn’t have said that.

Two nights before our Columbus Day tournament I got a text message from a parent of one of the fourteen that began, “just wanted to give you a heads up…” I’m not sure in what context something good is coming next, but as a coach trying to get a team ready to play against really tough competition that start is usually a bad sign.

It’s an asthma episode. 13

Oh, and one player had already been sick all week. 12

So, I found two “guest” players from a younger team. 14

We played our first game (of three) and hung in there just fine. 14

We lost another girl to a knee injury at the very end of our second game. 13

And one of our strongest players was limping on a bruised thigh at Saturday dinner, but I didn’t even think about it much because she always, always, always bounces back way more quickly than any. other. athlete. I. know.

She didn’t. 12.

And one of our guest players had a previous commitment so she had to go back home before the third match. 11.

At the start of the last match, the referee says to me, “Coach, when you want to substitute a player just make sure you bring her up to the center line.” I humorously replied, “I would love to do that. Do you have any available?”

He said, “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to rub it in.”

We lost all of our games last weekend. We didn’t score any goals and we gave up too many. We used two players extensively who had never played with us before. We played with keepers who had little experience, but sacrificed their preferred positions to do what their team needed. We had other injuries, and headaches, and exhaustion that I didn’t even mention here.

I searched in vain for ways to defend or attack better, but there simply were no options to choose from.

And if you feel sorry for me or for my team I want you to know that I will never forget those two days because we were in every game. We didn’t have the best skills and we were smallish compared to the other teams, but we were in every game. We were dominated for the most part, but we only lost by one, by two, and by one again. We were in every game. The girls never bickered or complained about their plight, they just fought through it. We were in every game.

Except for maintaining a positive attitude, my coaching didn’t have much to do with our outcome. No, the fact that each of those last eleven could walk away from the match with her head held high comes from only one place. It comes from the heart. And if you could measure heart the championship trophy would belong to the girls in light blue.

We will win again soon and the character the team built in this gritty, determined effort will sustain us through this challenging season. We have six matches left. Some are going to be really hard and some we might have a good chance to win. No matter what, though…

We will be in the game.

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