I usually try to keep 2 important parts of my life — writing and soccer — separate. “06880” readers don’t need to hear the details of every high school game I coach (though they’re available at www.StaplesSoccer.com!), and when I’m out on the field, it’s the one time I don’t worry about which “06880” reader is going postal in the comments section.
But occasionally my soccer and writing worlds intersect. Today’s post is about the 2011 Staples boys soccer team.
Our season ended Monday, with a 1-0 state tournament loss to Farmington.
If you’re any good at all, you end the season with a loss. Only 1 team wins the championship; in Connecticut, 31 lose in the tournament.
That doesn’t make losing any easier to take. For the 25 or so players on our squad — teenagers who have dedicated themselves, several hours a day since last August (and really, years ago) to the goal of winning the last game of the season — the end comes with stunning finality.
One day — day after day after day — you’re battling opponents, the weather, rival fans, even the referees, for every edge. Then the whistle blows, and suddenly there’s no tomorrow. Just a long bus ride home.
One player said, “Dan, this is so hard. I have to do it once. How do you do it year after year?”
Every team is special. But the 2011 Staples boys soccer team was especially special.
Of our 21 matches, 16 were decided by 1-goal margins, or were ties. That takes an incredible toll, emotionally as well as physically.
Early in the season, we gave up a couple of late goals. We tied games we could have won. Players could have pointed fingers at teammates, or doubted themselves.
They didn’t. Instead, they resolved to do better. By the end of the year — en route to the FCIAC (league) championship, in the league final, and throughout the state tournament — they battled right to the end. They fought for themselves and their teammates, they gutted every game out, and they exited with their heads held high.
They were bound together by pasta dinners, singing on bus rides, weekends together. And all along, they found time for others beyond their team. They performed community service. They served as role models for younger players. They did themselves proud.
In a note to the parents of our players Monday night I said:
You may not always realize it – because you bear the brunt of their teenage-ness – but they are remarkable young men. In addition to being talented, tough athletes, they are passionate, compassionate, hard-working, intelligent, lively, and very funny people. As coaches, we get to see a side of them that you don’t always see. I consider myself fortunate, and lucky, to have spent this season with them.
So, to the 2011 team, I say: “I respect you and admire you. Thanks for the privilege of sharing the 2011 year with you.”
And, to the 2012 team — whose members have not yet been chosen — I say: “Let’s get to work. The season is just 9 months away.”