We Won!

mia-hamm-vision-of-a-championPreviously I wrote about my response after a loss. I was coaching my high school soccer team and we lost to a talented opponent. It hurt. We were disappointed. I wanted the outcome to be different. We played the same team again last Friday and. we. won.

We, the underdogs, won! Before the game we talked about sacrifice, perseverance, and not giving up. We talked about fighting for each other and not with each other. I told the girls it would be hard, but the reward of beating the #2 team in the State would be worth it.

The girls fought with every ounce of strength and skill they possessed and it paid off. However, though the game was technically won on the pitch over 90 minutes, the real game was won on the practice field. Each and every day at practice over the past few weeks the girls worked hard. The left practice sore, bruised, and tired. Girls who never saw a minute on the playing field fought hard in practice and in doing so, made our team better.

In life, we will have big moments. Game changers. We will have seasons of all out fighting and battle, but the real game is won day in and day out when there is seemingly little at stake.

The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, to the point of exhaustion, when no one else is looking – Mia Hamm

During practices we worked on the fundamentals of the game – defending, passing, transitioning. When the game came and exhaustion set in, our fundamentals held strong and enabled us to keep fighting beyond what we believed was possible.

What are your fundamentals? What can you work on now, to prepare you for the big game?

Winning against the #2 team in the state required more than we thought we were capable of giving. Even with our preparation in practice, we were tired and weary. Today, we face our next opponent. The grind doesn’t end after victory, but we’re a little stronger, a little wiser, and a little more battle tested for the next round.

Leave No Doubt.

Two players imitating Madei and me as Coaches - sunglasses and all. How could you not want to support those faces?!?!

Two players imitating Madei and me as Coaches – sunglasses and all. How could you not want to support those faces?!?!

We stepped onto the field undefeated. This was our home turf. Our house. Our game. We were playing one of our rivals, a team we barely beat 3-2 the last time we played. Before the game I reminded the girls of our goals for the season, many of which we already accomplished. Still, our task in front of us seemed large and difficult. Our opponent recently took the defending state champions to double overtime. I challenged our girls to leave no doubt. Leave no doubt about the previous win. Leave no doubt that you deserve your playoff spot. Leave no doubt that you are a force to be reckoned with.

The final score was 5-0. Leave no doubt. I can honestly say this was the best I’ve ever seen them play. Each and every girl left everything on the field and she rose to the challenge with determination, poise, and panache. Before the game, I told our leading goal scorer I may need her to fill in at defense because one of our starters was out with a concussion. I thought she would be disappointed, but not only was she OK with it, but she said she wanted to do whatever it took to help the team.

This kind of attitude is typical of the girls on the team. Each of them has put their heart and soul into practice and games. They care for one another and genuinely want the best for each other. I’ve been on many teams in my life and there are few teams that are truly family. This team is one of them, I think.

As a coach, it is great to see the girls fighting for one another instead of at one another. It is exciting to think of possibilities and dream big – yes, I’m already dreaming of a state championship πŸ™‚ We have seniors on the team who don’t start and yet they encourage and are genuinely proud of the underclassmen; not an easy task for an 18 year old to manage.

We have secured our spot in the playoffs and thus fulfilled one of our big goals for the season. Now, it’s time to dream big and challenge ourselves to defy expectations.

I want to get playoff t-shirts for our girls. This is the first year our program has made it this far. In fact, 2 years ago we only won 1 region game all year. We didn’t plan for it in our budget so we need to raise the money. The girls and boys have already fundraised over $5,000 for the program so this on is on me. If you want to be a part of greatness and support GMC Women’s Soccer then let me know and I can get a check from you. If your business wants to donate we can put your logo on the shirts too.

Go Blazers!

On Sacrifice and Reward

A little throw back from my own soccer playing days to go along with some lessons I'm learning as a coach.

A little throw back from my own soccer playing days to go along with some lessons I’m learning as a coach.

Last night, my soccer team (the one I coach) won their first region game this year by a margin of 3-2 against one of our rivals. The game was easily the best team effort I’ve seen in the history of the program; including the game we won 10-1 playing a man down the whole game with no subs. It was a come from behind win with many dramatic moments, pk’s (penalty kicks for you non-soccer fans), and injury, all on the hottest day of the year so far.

At half-time we were tied 1-1 after a late, gritty, all-effort goal for us. It wasn’t our best half, but we kept ourselves in the game by fighting hard and refusing to give up. Our focus at half-time was less on tactics and more about playing for each other and sacrifice. Our team has the talent to win a lot of games this year, but we are still fairly inexperienced and, like many all-girls teams, there can be underlying drama and tension among ourselves.

I told the girls before the game I didn’t care about the weather and how hot it was – everyone was playing in the heat. I didn’t care about little owwies and boo boos that hurt (but I do care about real injuries, for the record). I cared about who was willing to work hard and push themselves for the sake of their teammates.

During pre-season, in the middle of sprints, I often told ok, yelled to, the girls

1. It pays to be a winner and

2. Your body can go farther than your mind will let it.

Last night, we saw, felt, and enjoyed these truths first hand. Our girls came out of half time fighting and willing to sacrifice for each other. Each person gave more than they thought they were capable and each person executed their role with a mind for their teammates. Tactically, we had to switch positions, players, and formations several times and the girls embraced each new challenge and gave their best effort.

In the last minutes of the game, with the other team pushing all out, we maintained possession and kept playing our style of game. We refused to let down and there were several instances of girls playing beyond their skill or fitness level to make a play for the team. Their bodies pushed harder than their minds thought possible and it paid off.

All in all, I’m thrilled for the first region win of the season, but I’m even more impressed and excited about the sacrifice the girls made for each other. The challenge now is to continue the momentum and fight to remain united against continued obstacles. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the win!

On Coaching

coachOne of the best decisions I ever made was the decision to coach high school soccer. I started as a volunteer, mostly as a way to get to know girls while I was a Young Life leader, but that quickly turned into an official assistant coaching position. Eventually I was lured away by lots of money (not) to start a program at a local charter school.

There are many reasons I love coaching – I love the game of soccer, I love working with high school girls, I love building something from the ground up. Still, my favorite part of coaching is the opportunity to lead young women in a unique season and in a unique context.

As an assistant coach, my responsibilities for the emotional side of the team were clear and easy to fulfill. I was able to be the kinder, softer side of the coaching staff. I could easily focus extra attention on a single girl if she needed encouragement, correction, or advice. As a head coach, however, this balance is a little trickier.

As a head coach, I am responsible to not only the individuals, but also the team. My strict and intense side comes out when I am fighting to forge individuals into a team in a few short weeks; a time when I am admittedly not the most approachable. To be honest, I love introducing difficulty and hardship (aka running) into their lives because I thrive off the energy created by individuals sacrificing for one another and achieving something greater than themselves.

There is immense satisfaction in teaching young women to lead themselves and their peers – especially through challenge. I am elated when a girl is able to push through her mental barriers and realize she possesses a strength she never knew she had.

Still, all of these emotions and goals are secondary to the greater goal of preparing these women for life. As high schoolers, these young women are just beginning to understand who they are; their unique gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. As a coach, I get to bring clarity and encouragement as they figure themselves out. I have the privilege of a natural platform to speak wisdom (I hope), encouragement, and truth.

The opportunity to bring clarity and wisdom(?) is not unique to coaching, but coaching provides more daily, uninterrupted time than almost any other opportunity outside of parenting. The girls on the team are about to enter one of the most tumultuous seasons of life. Someone once told me, your life will change more between 18-28 than any other time in your life. As I have yet to reach age 28 I cannot verify this personally, but it seems to hold true for me so far!

As a coach, my goal is not only to prepare these young women for the soccer field, but also for the onslaught of challenges they will face when they leave home and/or the safety of college for the first time. Lessons like perseverance, building mental strength, and overcoming obstacles will serve them well in life and on the soccer field…That is, if they don’t die from running first!

Running with a Purpose or Running Away?

I took off running without any idea how long I would go for, how far, or how fast. I ran to get out of my own head; because I didn’t know what else to do. The soccer team I help coach had just lost in the 2nd round – the first time we didn’t play in the finals in 6 years. It was a shock to say the least. I still can’t believe it happened.

I had a need, a compulsion really, to run that I hadn’t had in a long time. As the game replayed through my head, I also wondered if I was (again) holding soccer too tightly in my life. Was it normal to get this upset about a game? Numerous times people have asked me if I am glad soccer is over and truth be told, I don’t really understand the question. I could never be glad that we ended the season with a loss, nothing less than perfection would satisfy me.

You could probably make a case that I am holding soccer too tightly and you might be right. However, as the days have passed though I am upset, I am not devastated – I really never was. I don’t feel incomplete as if part of my identity was taken, I am glad for the opportunity I had to spend time with that group of girls. My need to run that night was a way for me to process, not escape. I had just gone through 80 minutes (or 5 months, depending on how you look at it) of an emotional roller coaster and I just couldn’t sit still. I needed to run, to use the emotional energy that bordered on angst as fuel for something, anything, that would get me out of the race in my mind. Running is and always has been a way to “not think” and that night was no different. Do you want to know the last thought I had before I came inside?

Man, I wish I had started my watch because I was flying! – oh well, such is life.

It’s a Jungle Out There

Do you remember high school? Of course you do. It was either the best time of your life or the worst (I’m guessing probably the latter). Maybe it’s just girls (as a recovering feminist I still grit my teeth when I say type that), but everything in high school is a big deal. Wake up with a zit? Big deal. Don’t have a date for prom 9 months in advance? Your social status is donezo. Get in a fight with your best friend and not talk for a year? (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience) That’s about as accurate apocalyptic predictor as you’re going to get. So what makes high school so difficult? From what I can tell, though it does get easier, we also get better about covering up our emotions – and sins.

Let’s think about it. Tell me you don’t get a little nervous walking in to a party where you don’t know anyone – remind you of high school? Me too. I actually walked into a high school cafeteria (coincidentally where I saw my first fight and arrest) when I was in college and I still felt some of that tension. 700 kids who didn’t know me and probably didn’t notice me still had power to make my stomach turn a little. Why is this? Why, if we are created to be in relationship, do we struggle to be in relationships?

Or my personal favorite: the backhanded compliment, southern Christian style. This one is easy to recognize, it always begins or ends with “Bless her heaaaart” For example, “Her collarbone is showing in that frocked blouse; she must have been raised by Satan-worshipping parents. Bless her heaaaart.” See, easy as that! Take any snide, cruel remark + “Bless her heaaaart” (or “no offense” and “just saying” for younger generations) and voila! You now speak Christianese. Is this really any different than caddy teenage girls or the anxiety, shame, and anger felt by any one over the age of 7 who has been hurt by a cruel comment?

Unfortunately, we get better at hiding our emotions, not letting anyone get to know us, and twisting our jacked-up-ness into positives. Feel free to use phrases such as “guarding my heart,” “being honest,” and “don’t want to be a burden.” Trust me, I’m the master at all of these. By not letting people get to know me emotionally I also prevent people from speaking into my life and calling out sin. (there’s a good Christian phrase – when was the last time you heard a Wiccan say: “I really need someone to speak into my life“?) Do I trust people enough to change, even if I disagree? Is there someone whom I trust more than myself?

I have to thank a special group of girls for revealing this to me. Amidst all of the “It’s not personal’s,” the “I’m only trying to help’s” and my own self-righteous rants I realized that it is personal. We are all walking wounded, trying to survive the jungle that we knew formerly as the school cafeteria.

My top 10 reasons why I love hanging out with athletes:

This post is inspired by the lovely ladies on the soccer team I coach as well as many memories as a former athlete.

10. Dinner time. No one judges you if you take 2nds, or 3rds or 7ths.

9. Who doesn’t want to smell like sweat, BO, and grass?

8. No hair bows.

7. There’s nothing that says bonding like planning to massacre another team, break their spirits and make them cry.

6. Any time is game time. Athletes can turn anything into a competition.

5. You learn valuable survival skills. Any injury can be fixed with pre-wrap and tape.

4. It’s OK to drop a deuce, if ya know what I mean – as long as you’re not the person next in line.

3. It is OK to discuss said deuce on the bus. Was it good? How bad did it smell? How long did you have to evacuate the room until it was safe to re-enter? – All worthwhile discussion topics.

2. You can look like a slob and no one cares. In fact, people notice if you get new sweatpants.

1. Athletes have more fun. Period.

Do you have any other thoughts on why life is great (or not) when you hang out with athletes?