It’s been a while but I’m taking to the interweb once again, this time on the other side of the equation.
4 years ago, I picked up a coaching job with a U-9 club soccer team, and little by little, I was forced into the realization that so many of my friends had known for years: I was destined to be a coach. My junior year, I could fight it no longer and began the pursuit of my career aspirations, college coaching. Fortunately, February of final year in college, I was blessed to be hired as a graduate assistant coach at a Division II school called Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA. I now am blessed with the ability to further pursue two of my passions; school and soccer.
I have been down here for about a week permanently now, and our focus has been on one word. A word that has given me nightmares since I was an itty bitty eighth grader back in Crofton, MD: PRESEASON (duh, duh, duhhh). But this time, it’s all different. Instead of preparing for my fitness test, I’m preparing the fitness test. Instead of getting the gear, I’m separating and distributing it. Instead of preparing to “get on the line!”, I’m painting it. My how things change.
This change in perspective has prompted me to reflect a bit on the notion of preseason, a word that can cause so much distress and sleepless nights. (Trust me, I’ve been there).
But first, as I prepared to write this blog, I found a post that I started and never finished. It’s clear to me that I just couldn’t bring myself to actualize the moment through words because doing so would mean that it was legitimately occurring (that, or I got really busy which is totally likely). I find that sometimes, reading the last pages of a book first make the rest of the book that much more important to read, so here was the start to my last few pages:
Well, against every attempt to avoid doing so, it happened.
And now, I sit with my college senior night less than a hand’s worth of fingers away, staring me in the face.
Every year our school paints the jersey numbers of our senior class on the field at the near sideline of the stadium. It’s a really awesome tribute to the girls who have given so much of their college years to the team and to the program. Every year, I watch respectfully and sentimentally as my elder teammates, my friends, take their obligatory pictures standing by their painted number with respective friends and family. Yet, it’s easy to appreciate the motions when it doesn’t pertain to you isn’t it?
As they drag out the 3 and the 0 stencil this year, I wait, with a host of emotions coursing through me.
Wow, that could have been great if I had had the courage to embrace just what those emotions truly were. Sadness, appreciation, joy, heartbreak, regret, denial…..? The list goes on.
And now, with just four days until my first preseason on the flip side begins, I think, what emotions do I wish I had embraced for all of my preseasons? What do I wish I knew then that I know now? Here are 6 things I hope all high school and college soccer players can come to learn about preseason, so maybe, just maybe, they won’t feel their wisest in hindsight, but perhaps can take a new approach when it comes to the “misery” of preseason.
1. Nervous energy means you care. Embrace it! We don’t lose sleep over things that we don’t care about. When’s the last time you got really nervous over a movie or a party? Everybody’s nervous, but that is because you want to do your best, as you should! Don’t allow the fear to over take you, use it as fuel instead.
2. Fitness test sucks, but the fatality rate is very low (aka you’re not “like, legit going to die”). Which means, for those 15 or so minutes of your life, you may hate every second, but at the end, you’ll be breathing (for the most part) and all the better for it. Fitness test are like taxes, an annoying fact of life. But at the end of the day, the feeling of accomplishment and relief you have when it’s over is one of the greatest feelings in the world. (Trust me, ask any of my old teammates, the fact that I am still here standing after 8 season of preseason, high school and college, is a testament to the fact that anyone can survive, and even pass fitness tests!)
3. Along that same line, MYTHBUSTER: Your career isn’t over if you fail a fitness test. Does it make your life harder? Darn right. But if you want it bad enough, putting in the work to pass the test is enough of a lesson to know that you never want to fail again. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (See #3 again.)
4. Breaking down together to rebuild stronger is a real thing. Why else would the military still be using it as standard operating procedure? Every championship team you’ve ever witnessed had a time when they were at their weakest, but what put them in the place to ultimately be successful is almost definitely the fact that in their most vulnerable moments, they made the decision to rise together and strengthen. Again, the harsh reality that preseason is a necessary evil.
5. Preseason reveals true character, not only of those around you, but of your own character. No better place to find out what you’re really made of then on fitness test rep number 6 of 8. And not just when you are struggling or succeeding. How will you respond when the person next to you threatens throwing in the towel, when they say “I can’t”? This is where camaraderie, loyalty, and true love for each other is discovered and revealed. Amazing (crazy is more like it) things can happen when you’ve got 25 people pining for the same goal.
6. Despite the fact that preseason feels like an eternity when you’re in it, before you know it, they’re all gone and you’d do anything to run just one more 120 if it meant another year of college soccer. Yes, I said it! You’d be hard pressed to find a graduated player who at one point or another hasn’t had that feeling (even if just for a fleeting moment, or in a fit of envy seeing all of the sick gear their old teammates are posting on Instagram).
At the end of the day, or days as it so happens to be, preseason is like illustrating the cover of the book of your season. If you close your eyes and just get through it, the cover is just a reflection of what’s to come, a chronicle of survival. But, if you as an individual, and ultimately as a team, can truly get after it together and make it something special, just imagine what you can do when the fun actually starts. When the first chapter sets the stage right, the rest that follow is sure to be worth reading. And the ending? Well, the best part of course.