Friday, November 23, 2007

A Sad Ending

Dear Anson,

You said I had a unique appreciation for the drama that soccer holds. Well, I guess that’s one of the reasons I felt so bad when the season ended so abruptly for my 18s

There we were, cruising along through the State Cup. First weekend -- eight goals scored, two allowed. Six points, five bonus points, one game to go. All we had to do was tie and we would advance to the Final Four.

That was all my players wanted. This was their last year together. The core of the team had played together since they were 10, and every Fall was like a reunion. They laughed about "the old days," they played hard, and they played with heart. The funny thing about this team is that most of them play other sports, and soccer is the primary sport for only a select few. But when they get together, they can achieve things beyond what should be expected..

"The last time" was a theme throughout the year. "This is the last time we will play a home game ... this is the last time we will practice together." After we switched training fields from a baseball outfield to a real soccer field, they were sad. They had trained on the baseball outfield for years, and they would miss it.

So when the "last time" came for real, it was devastating. There was out-and-out, uncontrollable sobbing. I felt horrible.

You see, it was my job to get them to the Final Four, my job to put them in a position to win, my job to give them a happy ending. And I was proud of the job I did. I managed to find a way for my basketball player to play a position that allowed her to hold the ball, distribute, and score. I was able to clear space for my cross country runner to run and run and run, and for my incredible athlete (basketball and tennis) to create havoc with her unorthodox style. And I was able to put my soccer players in positions where they would get the ball the most.

But I couldn't get that one last win.

One girl cried for two solid hours, partly because we lost but mostly because it was over. She couldn't even lament the "last times" anymore. It all ended so suddenly and so cruely.

I didn't know what to say to them after the game. All I could do was tell them to hold their heads high. Obviously, I couldn't stop thinking about it. How can you not think about devastated girls you have coached for four years. They were 13 and 14 when I first met them. Now they are getting ready for college. They mean a lot to me, they always will.

We had a team party a week later. Getting together helped them, and it helped me. I gave them each a nice gift that will serve as a reminder of their time together. All week I thought long and hard, trying to come up with some deep philosophical wisdom to relay to them. At first I thought they would expect me to give them some meaningful speech to help ease the pain. But then I had a revelation. To them, I wasn't a philosopher. I was the guy who inspired them by making them laugh, the guy who cares about them as people, and the guy who always found something slightly off the wall to say that grabbed their attention and made them think.

So I told them that I was heart-broken when we lost and the tears were devastating to me. "But", I said with a sudden burst of energy and enthusiasm, "I have a quote for you. It's from Dr. Seuss." (No lie, look it up). The quote is ...

"Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.”

When I think of more, I'll write.
You know who.