Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Rain Washed It All Away

I haven't written in a few weeks because I have been in the midst of something I've been referring to as TSH ... aka, Travel Soccer Hell. It's safe to say that the last few weeks have ranked among the most stressful of my entire life. Between feeling like I had been thrown into an ocean without knowing how to swim, feeling totally insecure and completely lacking in self-confidence, and tearing my hair out at least three times, I still managed to somehow, by the grace of God and everything that's holy, keep the girls on last year's team together. I still don't know how I did it, but I did, and despite everything that happened and the numerous parents I probably pissed off, I made it happen.

However, with that joy, came the frustration and disappointment in having to make the phone calls to the girls who didn't make it. The parents were much more understanding than I thought they would be, but I still felt sick every time a new number came up on my phone, or I sat down to make a call.

It was so, so hard.

The weekend all of this was happening, I was on assignment for work. Luckily, it required hiking through the woods for hours, and I spent a lot of that quiet time tearing myself into pieces. Was I doing the right thing? Did I have the right intentions? Was I trying too hard to make it work when it never would?

People have this perception that I am a strong, self-confident, happy person, and for the most part, I am. But sometimes, I am so doubtful of myself that I feel like I'm drowning. Sometimes, I make myself feel so guilty over things that I am clearly innocent, and most of the time, I'm willing to shoulder the blame even when it isn't mine to carry. That weekend in the woods, in the peace that came from being surrounded by nothing but trees, earth and sky, I literally broke myself down from the inside out and built myself back together again. It didn't feel good, it sucked, but I had to do it. I had to make sure that I was in the right frame of mind when those phone calls started coming.

When the dust finally settled, I had a roster of 13 incredibly talented soccer players. I couldn't be happier with the team I built, and I'm so excited to get started. We had a parents meeting last night, and I really think I made an impact with my training philosophy and plan of action. I know I will make mistakes and I know that some of my ideas may not work, but I also know I'm on the right track.

Watching the USA win their World Cup group yesterday made me incredibly hopeful that the United States will one day become a powerhouse soccer nation. The spirit and determination is there, and the fan support is growing every day. If I can be a small part of creating the next generation of soccer fanatics, then I've made a great contribution to the sport that has given me so much joy in my life already.

It's funny how life turns around so quickly. A year ago, I was riding every day and planning horse shows. Today, I haven't ridden in months because all my free time has been taken up by soccer. The funny thing is, for the first time, I'm okay with that. I'm in love with soccer again, and it makes me ridiculously happy every time I step on the field, whether I am playing or coaching.

During one of the worst weeks of TSH, I had one of my last spring season co-ed games. It was a typical muggy early-summer day, and as we began the game, the skies suddenly opened. The rain began falling so hard and heavy that none of us could see. In the roar and pounding water, I couldn't help the swell of joy that burst upward in my chest. It seemed like with that torrential downpour, with the incredibly outpouring from the heavens, I found some sort of peace within myself at last. I lifted my arms, looked to the sky and laughed, because I realized that all of this mess was temporary, and that the most beautiful days come after the worst of storms.

I've always loved playing soccer in the rain, and that day, the rain helped me remember why.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

There's No Crying In Soccer

Sometimes I think we, as a nation, put way too much pressure on being the best. Somehow we decided that winning is the only thing that matters, and anything less is worthless. I want to change that perception, because honestly, the best lessons I have ever learned have come from losing. Winning is great, it makes you feel good, makes you feel like you did what you were supposed to do and makes you feel special, but what does it teach you?

Now, don't get me wrong, there have certainly been games that winning taught me many things about myself, like perseverance and never giving up, but how many professional athletes do you see talking about a great win defining their career? I think it's interesting that most great athletes will tell you that a defeat is what changed them and pushed them to new heights.

I'm not saying we should all go out and try to lose games, because that's not the point. What I'm saying is that yes, it's great to win games and tournaments and trophies and accolades, but it's okay to lose, too. It's okay to fail, it's okay to make mistakes. The world is not going to blow up because you missed a shot or let someone get past you on defense or gave up a goal.

I promise.


I swear.

Last night I was working out the keepers that were trying out for Stu's U13 age group. (Stu told me after the try-out that I was glowing. I laughed and told him that's because I was doing something I know I'm good at, working with keepers. He said, "I know you're good at it, that's why you're here!" It was awesome. I'm still kind of glowing from it :) ) First of all, I was amazed at the difference one year makes in the keepers for the U12 and the ones for U13. Pretty impressive. I was really happy with what I worked with, but I am sorry to say, that I made one cry.

Now, I don't necessarily think it was anything I was doing, but I could tell this talented little keeper (whom I picked out for an "A" team slot almost immediately) was struggling. So I pulled her aside and asked her what was going on.

"I'm playing so bad!" She said as tears started streaming down her cheeks.

I tried to tell her it was okay, that I thought she was doing fine, and that the world was not ending.

"But I can't handle anything and I'm having a bad day and today is not the day because it's try-outs."

I told her that everyone has bad days, and that's why they always have more than one day of try-outs. I said to take all that emotion and get in there and show me how good she was.

She got back in between the posts and did a much better job, but I think she was still upset. It made me a little sad to think that this girl was so upset about playing soccer. A game. Something we are supposed to do because we love it and enjoy it and want to be on the field, not something that makes us cry because we didn't live up to expectations.

But I've shed my fair share of tears over soccer. I've cried over wins and losses, cried over mistakes, cried over big successes, cried because I didn't feel I was good enough, cried because of coaches yelling at me, cried because of pain, cried because I just cared that much. Maybe that's what makes me a good soccer player, because I do have that passion, and I do care. Even now, after high school and college ball, playing in adult co-ed leagues that really mean nothing, I care.

There's a certain sense of pride in being a soccer player, a certain sense of belonging that's hard to find anywhere else. On the pitch, from whistle to whistle, you don't think about anything else. There's nothing but a ball and 22 players, the turf, the elements, sweat, tension, adrenaline. For 90 minutes, you forget about everything life has thrown at you, forget about work and your problems, and for 90 minutes, you just play. You run until you can't anymore. You fight and you scramble and you grab and shove and claw and pull and kick. You do everything you can to push that spherical object where you want it to go, regardless of the pain, the blood, the emotions. It's a true expression that the soccer pitch really is a battlefield, but it's one I happily step on almost every day because of the joy it gives me, no matter what the final score.

So when this 12-year-old started crying because she didn't feel good enough, it's safe to say I understood. But I wish she didn't feel that way. I wish there were no expectations for these players at 12-years-old. I wish that they could find joy in it, instead of stressing over being "good enough".

Because honestly, to me, they are good enough. Every single one of them is good enough. No, they may never be division 1 soccer players. But for them to be out on the field, doing something they love, and putting themselves on the line, that is good enough.

Life isn't about wins and losses. It's about finding what you love and doing it, regardless of what people have to say and whether you are good enough or not. I know I'll never be a World Cup soccer player, in fact, I know now that I'll never ride in the Olympics like I used to dream about, but just because I am not good enough to do that, does not decrease my value as a human being, and doesn't mean I should quit riding or playing soccer.

You are good enough. We are good enough. Everyone is good enough.

You just have to believe it.

After our co-ed game last night, where I played one of my better games on defense, we were talking about one of our upcoming tournaments where we don't have a keeper yet, and I said that I always could jump in net.

One of my teammates looked me dead in the eye and said:

"No, I'd rather have you in the defense."

I played it off, laughing, and he said again.

"Coree, you're an awesome defender. Really."

It was funny, because all my life I've been an awesome goalkeeper, and always questioned my field abilities. I've always questioned whether I was good enough.

It's amazing how a simple, unexpected compliment can make you confident in something you knew deep down, but might have been too afraid to believe.

I am good enough.

Maybe through coaching I can help these girls know they are good enough, too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Meet Texas

Rule number one about new cleats: Don't put them on and proceed to play an intense soccer game. You will have no skin left on your heel. It only took 15 minutes.

Fortunately I had my old cleats with me, so I was able to pop off my beautiful, beautiful new ones in exchange, and proceeded to play a bang-up game. Of course, I missed two perfect goal scoring opportunities, but then again, I was a goalkeeper, and I do primarily play defense now. We still won 9-3 or something. It was a little ridiculous.

Anyway, enough about me and my new blister, affectionately dubbed Texas (his counterpart on the right heel is Rhode Island). I couldn't have picked a better week for hurting myself, considering my schedule is packed with soccer.

We had our last round of try-outs for the U12s on Monday, and I was super excited to pick my team that night, but we had to hold off on picking girls because there's still some debate on whether there will three or four teams. I'm really REALLY hoping they do four, as I'd hate to have to make cuts. I offered to do both teams, but, it's not my decision and I just have to go with whatever the powers-that-be tell me to do. Soccer land kind of feels like horse show land right now. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, WAIT!

Even though Texas was bugging me quite a bit, I still played last night in BIPs final spring league game. I ended up playing in goal again because our keeper hurt his hand, which was fine because I'm not entirely sure how Texas would have liked defense. He didn't exactly like having cleats on at all, but evidently my old turfs are acceptable. I didn't really get tested in net, but I did have a solid game. Made a few saves but mostly just controlled the defense and distributed. It was nice to feel confident back there again, and it helped that my defensive line was nearly flawless. I really love playing with those guys and gals, and I look forward to putting yellow on every week.

Today and tomorrow I'm helping out Stu with his try-outs, working out the keepers and essentially helping him split 60 girls into three teams. Stu has done so much for me that I'm happy to help him out whenever I can.

Other than that, there's not much to report. Lots of soccer, lots of work, lots of thinking about where I'm going to go and what I want to do with my life. But, that's nothing new either, really. I've always been guilty of thinking way too far ahead of myself.

For now, I'm just going to play, and hope that Texas doesn't turn into China.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Good News And A Return Between The Posts

Between work trips to California and my crazy schedule, I haven't had a lot of time to even think, let alone think about writing a blog post. I always struggle a little bit with blogs, not because I don't like writing them, but because I often wonder if anyone reads them.

Considering I have no followers, I assume that's the case.

But, it's okay. I really don't mind. Maybe someday I'll develop a following and make millions of dollars, but for now I'm content to have a place to express my thoughts. It helps, in this crazy world.

So, what have I been up to since May 21st?

A lot.

The biggest development, of course, was that I was offered a U12 girls travel team.

Can you say EXCITED?!

We had our first round of try-outs on Tuesday, and it's safe to say I was a little overwhelmed, but I have the benefit of working with the A and B coaches, who are amazing, and the coach of the team I am taking over, who is equally great. I'm confident that these three women will guide me in the right direction, and I couldn't be more thrilled about the opportunity to continue building my coaching resume, and learning to work with a team instead of individual training. I think I got the perfect age group, as well. These girls are talented little players, young enough that they won't hate me if I stumble or screw up, but old enough to understand the game. Plus, I will get to help them transition from 8v8 to 11v11 this spring, so that will be a good test of my own personal soccer philosophies, most of which I have developed from my own playing experience, and the wisdom of one Stu Pierson.

I seriously can't thank that man enough for his guidance, and hopefully one day I'll be a quarter of the coach he is. I'll admit that I was a little put off by him at first, but the more I listened, and the more I learned, the more sense his system and methods made. I wish I would have been able to play under him, but to stand by his side as an assistant coach was an honor, as well.

He actually encouraged me to start playing keeper again. I'd played off and on in the girls' practices, and made some saves out of pure joy that surprised everyone, including me. I didn't know I still had it in me.

"Why don't you play keeper anymore?" He asked me one day.

I had a million different excuses, but none of them seemed good enough, so I just shrugged.

"You should, you're really good."

I really had to stop and think about that statement. Am I a good keeper? I like to think I was at one point in my life, but I'm not sure if I am anymore. I like to think I'm a good soccer player in general. Not great, not brilliant, but good.

Still, the thought of playing keeper, despite my hesitations and doubts, always gets my blood running. There's just something about the position. I don't even know what it is.

Well, I got my chance on Wednesday. I stepped between the posts for the first time in about a year, and I was shocked at how nervous I was.

But you know what? I did well. I had no big mistakes (besides shanking a few drop-kicks) and I made two great saves. We tied 1-1, and I walked off the field feeling like I could do it again if I had to.

So thanks, Stu, for inspiring me to play keep again, and for inspiring me to keep pursuing this coaching thing. It's been a hell of a ride so far, and it's only bound to get better.