Friday, May 21, 2010

Words To Live By

"You should never deny yourself the opportunity to grow and learn."

Thanks, Erin.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Making Choices

I was one of those kids that did everything in high school. And by everything, I literally mean everything. Varsity soccer, varsity dance team, varsity cheerleading (yes, to my complete and utter embarrassment, I was a cheerleader my senior year), drama, jazz choir, film making, honor society, ASB, student leadership, 4-H ...

I was a busy girl.

Even when I went to college I tried to do everything. Soccer, dressage team, council for student athletes, resident assistant, first year leader.

I really don't know that I slept during my school years.

But I've always loved being busy. Still love it. There's something about a day full to the brim, and falling into bed exhausted that makes me feel like I've accomplished something.

But then again, I'm starting to realize that I just can't do it all. Believe me, I tried.

Last year, I focused on riding. I rode as often as I could, as much as I could, whenever I could, and tossed a few soccer games in just to keep me in shape. I was so excited to start competing again, so excited to get better and move up and face new challenges. But when my horse went lame, I was so disappointed. When my focus changed to soccer this spring, and when I discovered how much I loved coaching, I realized how much I wanted to pursue it.

But pursuing it means more than just committing to a team. Pursuing coaching means sacrificing another part of my life to fit it all in. But what is there to sacrifice? I certainly won't sacrifice my job, or my relationship for it, and that means there's only one thing left: horses.

To say that I love horses is a serious understatement. They've been my passion and inspiration for my entire life, and I would not be where I am right now, in this moment, without the gifts they have bestowed on me. So when I think about having to give up my dreams of competition, and the goals I have set for myself in the saddle, my heart breaks a little.

It's funny how life twists and turns around itself. I used to swear that horses would always come before soccer, and many times in my life, they have. But maybe it's time for soccer to take the top spot in my life.

But maybe, I'm not willing to choose between one or the other, and I'm just going to have to figure out a way to satisfy my two greatest passions. I've always done it before, perhaps I just need to think a little more creatively this time around.

Maybe life is telling me it's time to slow down, but then again, since when have I listened to that advice?

Stu reminded me that we shouldn't worry about things we have no control over. I have no control over the upcoming decisions that will be made in the next few days regarding my future in soccer coaching. That is in the hands of others right now. But, if the opportunity comes, I know I will make the right choice, because either way, I will be choosing something I love.

And frankly, choosing something you love isn't all that hard to do.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Sometimes it's pretty damn hard to look in the mirror. It takes a lot of courage to face yourself, to look your flaws, fears, and insecurities straight in the face. There's no masks when you look in the mirror, nothing to cover up what you don't want the world to see. It's hard to maintain your daily facade when there's no one but yourself making the judgment. We are our own harshest critics, are we not?

It took me a long time to love the girl in the mirror. To embrace my own flaws, and learn where my weaknesses lie, and that I am stronger than I think I am. It took other people holding the mirror in my face, so I couldn't deny myself any longer. It took many, many failures, losses, and mistakes, to become the girl in the mirror whom I love.

One of the things I tried to teach these girls, was to look in the mirror at the end of every day. I told them:

"If you can look in the mirror and tell yourself, not your teammates or your coach, but yourself, that you did everything you could, and gave everything you had, then you will never regret a soccer game. And if you apply it to your life, you will never regret a single moment of that, either."

I don't know if it made sense to any of them, but after losing their state play-off game, ending their season, I think they might have finally understood.

Sometimes, in soccer, the final score doesn't indicate the actual flow of the game. The girls this season have had plenty of high-goal games against lesser teams, but in some of them, they played like garbage. The girls also had a few games that ended in ties, and clearly they were the better team that day. Soccer is a funny game, in that way. Sometimes, you just can't put the ball in the net.

Tuesday's game went like that. We were playing a better opponent, but no one told those girls that. No one told them they were supposed to lose, and even when the goals fell in the other team's favor, no one told them it was time to quit. Those girls played the last 25 minutes of their last game of the season like they were possessed. The other team, despite winning, walked off the field with their heads down, but our team? We celebrated a personal victory.

The loss was bittersweet for the three seniors who wouldn't get another shot at the state title, but the rest of the team was already looking forward to next season. I'm looking forward to next season.

In our last huddle, Stu, in a traditions started at the beginning of the season, asked our two captains the question.

"Are you satisfied?"

Normally, the answer would be no. We weren't satisfied until we had the state title in our hands. But, through her tears, our captain held her head up and proudly said:


Our other captain later told her teammates, "I've never had more fun playing soccer than this season."

As a coach, those are the moments you want to see. The wins don't matter, the scoreboard doesn't matter, the state titles and the championships don't matter. It's learning how to find joy in what you do, and discovering who you are and what your made of in a group of people who are fighting for the same thing, will pick you up if you're falling, and will stand beside you to celebrate.

You learn together, you sweat together, you bleed together, and nothing but sports can teach you the value of teamwork, dedication and hard work.

This season might be over, but these memories and this experience, and these lessons will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

So at the end of it all, what did I learn? It would take me days to list everything. All of the technicalities and nuances and little things that a coach must do to create a cohesive unit are starting to make so much sense. For me, a foundation has been laid, and I am looking forward to continuing to build it.

But there is one, very important thing I learned this season, something, I think, takes some coaches years to understand.

I learned that you can have the best coaches, and be the fittest player on the field, and have the best foot skills and the most talent, but if you don't want to win, if you don't desire it and dream about it and have the heart to keep fighting even when things aren't going your way, everything else doesn't matter at all.

I learned that if a player doesn't have heart, there is absolutely nothing you can do, as a coach, to make them play.

But believe me, these 22 girls I just coached? They have heart. They proved that on Tuesday. I hope that they can look in the mirror and be proud of what they accomplished.

It was an absolute joy and privilege to coach them these past few months, and I hope that I will be honored with the chance to do it again.

When I look in the mirror now, I see a strong, independent woman who dreams big and jumps in with both feet. It just so happens that there's a soccer ball right beside me.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So, About This Coaching Thing

I've been writing a lot about my coaching experience, but since the original point of this blog was for Introduction to Multimedia Journalism, which I am taking through, I figured I better take a post to explain how one might become a coach.

Now, while my route to a coaching job was slightly unconventional, I started the right way.

1. Play. Simple as that. Whatever sport you want to coach, try and play it. As much as you can, whenever you can, as often as you can. Now, just because you've never played a sport doesn't necessarily mean you can't coach it, but understanding how the game works from a player's perspective is knowledge that simply cannot be learned. If you cannot play the game, then watch as much as you can.

2. Become a student of the game. In addition to playing, watch the game. Watch the flow, the patterns, the rhythm. Watch the transition. Watch the good players, watch the bad players. While you watch, take note if how you could improve those players, take note of how those players can improve you. Watch the coaches, listen to what they say. Does it work? Is it positive or negative? How to the players react to the coaching? Do they understand? Do the coaches lose their temper or do they approach the game with class? What are the coaches teaching their players about life?

3. Educate yourself. Know the laws of the game. Invest in a rulebook. Watch referees, good and bad, learn how they control the flow, and how they don't. Learn what constitutes a yellow card and learn how to properly call fouls, offsides, direct and indirect kicks. Take a coaching class. Invest in your coaching education like you would your college education. Courses from US Soccer and the National Soccer Coaches' Association of America offer many different paths to coaching credentials.

4. Do it. There is simply no better way to learn than to do it on the job. Volunteer! Coaching jobs don't always pay, but the experience you will gain is priceless. Put in your time now, and worry about the paycheck later.

My last bit of advice, is be passionate. In everything you do. Even if you don't know a lick about whatever sport you'd like to coach, be as enthusiastic, open, and willing to learn as possible. You are about to embark on an incredible journey.

Just jump in.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Shootout

I don't think I ever got this stressed out playing. Well, maybe I did, but it's so different when you're on the sidelines. You can yell and coach and scream all day long, but in the end, it's the players on the field who have to make the decision to win.

And oh boy, did they decide to win today.

The other team scored first, but our girls weren't about to let the score stay lopsided. Not two minutes later, our captain but a beautifully placed, left-footed shot into the back of the net.

Then, nothing. Four 5-minute scoreless overtime periods led us to a PK shootout.

Now, when I was a player, I lived for these things. I was good at them. But my keeper? She's never been in one. I knew she was capable of making at least one save, but I wasn't sure if she had the confidence in herself to do it.

The first two shooters scored, then the next four missed. The next two scored, and it was down to one shot from each team.

I called it from the sidelines. We would score, and our keeper would make a save.

I should have bet my life savings, because I'd have been a millionaire.

After 120 minutes of intense, gut-wrenching, shirt pulling, elbow flinging, bloody, sweaty soccer, we had won. I jumped off the bench, spiked my sunglasses into the ground, and gave Stu a huge hug.

"That's my goalkeeper!" I shouted in jubilation.

What a feeling. What a rush. I couldn't even explain the intense feeling of pride and happiness that came over me. I knew, without a doubt, that those girls would remember that game for the rest of their lives.

I certainly can remember the shootouts. I remember my very first shootout in eighth grade. We lost, but I won my first tournament trophy that day. Second place. I remember the shootout against Hoquiam during high school. I believe it was our school's first varsity win. The joy was there. I remember the joy.

I remember the shootout at the tournament in Bend, Ore. on my old club team, Mystique. I remember making the saves, winning the gold.

I remember a high school shootout against Ridgefield, our big rivals. We lost that one, too, but it felt like a win. It felt just as sweet and good as a victory. For us, that little varsity team from La Center High, it was.

I remember the shootout in Australia, where I didn't play in net or shoot. But I was there, and it counted.

I remember last summer, where I took a PK in a shootout for the first time in my life, and scored.

Regardless of what these girls go on to do with their lives, they will remember today. Not because they won, but because for the first time, they understood what 'team' truly means. It's about everyone. From the starters to the subs, to the girls who only get a few minutes in some games.

Right before the shootout started, some of those "bench warmers" gave the keeper a big hug of encouragement.

"I didn't ask you to do that," said Stu to those girls after the game was won. "But this victory is yours just as much as it is hers."

The may not remember the final tally, or who played and who didn't, but I guarantee they'll remember the joy. I know I still do.

The Beginning of the End

Play-offs are always tough. For the seniors, every game could be the last of their high school career, so every second spent on the field is full of nervous anxiety, gritty determination, and self-doubt.

Did I play hard enough? Did I do everything I could? Is there anything I could have done better?

After a tough loss a few weeks ago, I sat the girls down and spoke to them as a teammate, not as a coach. I couldn't help the emotions that sprang into my voice.

"I wish someone would have told me as a freshman, even as a senior, in high school, that you have to play every game like it's your last," I said. "You have to leave everything on the field, because you just don't know. If you can look in the mirror after a game, and be totally honest with yourself, and know that you did everything you could, then you'll never regret a second on the field."

Do I have soccer regrets? Of course. I regret sitting on the bench my last three games of my senior year of college. It sucked. There's no other way to describe that feeling. But did I learn something? You bet I did.

Stu hit the nail on the head after the girls won the CAC championship. He addressed the girls that didn't play, pulling them out and telling them, very clearly, that even though they didn't step foot on the field, they were still champions.

"Do you push these girls every day in practice to be better? Do you live to take the ball away from them, and do you cheer them on every minute of every game? You are all part of this team, no matter how big or small your role in it."

I don't know if he realized what he said affected me as much as it did, but it was like everything suddenly clicked into place.

All at once, I didn't regret those three games anymore, because with those words that he spoke to those girls, I understood. My role on the Centenary College Women's Soccer Team wasn't necessarily as a starting player towards the end of my college career, but as part of the support system. I don't take full credit for my replacement's talent in the net, but I like to think I had something to do with her confidence, her leadership, and her self-esteem.

I also like to think that my leadership helped push my team to be better, and that the hard work I put in for four years influenced at least one person. I definitely know that I influenced myself.

Maybe that's enough.

The girls have another tough game today, and from here on out, a loss will signify the end of their season. And even though the seniors will feel like their world is over, I can speak from experience that it is not.

I remember how I felt after my last college soccer game. I only got to play about 30 minutes of the second half because we were down 5-0. But when that final whistle blew, and the tears came, I suddenly and very clearly understood that the past four years had truly been one of the best experiences of my life. The scores didn't matter, the statistics meant nothing, but the lessons, the joy, the memories and the friendships I made will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I don't imagine that any of these girls will understand that for a long time, but someday, they'll look back and appreciate everything the game gave to them.

For now, though, they've got a game to win and a mirror to look into after the final whistle.