Sunday, November 16, 2008

Watching a Soccer Team Deflate

Yesterday my daughter had her penultimate soccer game in our club team's outdoor season. We're in 3rd place in a league of 6 teams, but that doesn't tell the tale. We won almost all of our early games and haven't won a game in the second half of the season. In recent weeks, we've come to root for ties.

Our team has 11 girls in a sport where you need 11 to play. Many weeks we've only had 10 show up and we've had to play 10 vs. 11. For example, last week our goalie was sick. She begged her parents to play, but she had a severe flu and they didn't let her. The team has that kind of spirit. The girl who filled in for the goalie did a valiant job, but it wasn't the same and we lost 2-1 in a game where we should have won 1-0 had our regular goalie been present.

In spite of these setbacks, the team has kept up its energy and enthusiasm. Until the end of yesterday's game.

We had a full team and were playing a team that was mediocre at best. We scored the first goal, but gave up one at the end of the first half to one of their bigger players. The score remained tied for most of the second half and you could feel the energy and enthusiasm in the parents, coach and players. We might just pull this one out. We were playing at their end of the field and were getting some shots on goal.

All of a sudden, they got a breakaway. One of their defenders blasted the ball out to about midfield and one of their forwards took the ball and raced down the right sideline. From 40 yards out, she shot.

40 yards is a ridiculous shot. No one makes those kinds of shots. Unfortunately, our goalie, who is one of the best in the league, had spaced out and was on the far left side of the goal, thinking about something other than soccer. By the time she realized what was going on and raced over to scoop up the gently rolling ball, it had gone in.

It was like watching a balloon deflate. We went from being a modestly competent team who tried hard to a group of girls and fans who were beaten, not just for the game, but the season. In one 5 second segment of time, the world changed completely.

No one blamed the goalie. It wasn't like a pack of dogs turning on each other, it was a black cloud of gloom that settled down upon all of us, coach and parents and players and extinguished everything. The score ended 2-1 and after the game, the players did a half-hearted cheer for the other team and shuffled out to shake hands. Similarly, the parents lined up to high-five the team as they came back with no enthusiasm. There was almost no noise at all.

I've managed 3 baseball and 2 soccer teams. I've coached on a bunch more. I've never seen anything like this in my life. There was an exact moment in an entire season when the team deflated down into a shriveled balloon.

The girls, each and every one of them, deserve much more. Every one of them have played every minute of every game they've been able to attend. They've never given up. Even when injured, they refuse to come out of the game and keep playing while limping and crying. We've played on some scorching days, too, where the heat is withering and the girls have run and played their tails off the whole game. The other teams all have subs and can rest their players, but our girls have managed to beat or tie them many times. We've only been blown out twice.

We've got one more outdoor game and then a full season of indoor soccer. My girl is typically oblivious to the mood of the team. None of this will carry over to the next game for her. Every day the sun rises and the birds sing for my girl. I'm going to work with her just a little more this week and see if she can provide the spark for the next game.

Can a deflated team be reinflated?


Kelly the little black dog said...

A very good question. I suppose this is what separates good coaches from great ones. I know sometimes it just takes time away from the game. Unfortunately that isn't an option mid-season. Let us know what you come up with.

K T Cat said...

I'm not coaching this team. This is the professional leagues for girls' soccer and I'm just a novice.

I'm trying to get my girl to be a bigger part of the game. We'll see how the last game goes.

Apian Apostle said...

All I know is that it is tough being a goalie, they have to be able to take the weight of the world on their shoulders, even when the rest of the team screws up. You have to have the resilience to get back up after being pummeled and save the next shot. And no body takes it harder than a goalie when the goalie messes up.

Personally, I think that if someone wanted to have a one word interview for President... I think it would be what position do you prefer in soccer... the Goalie gets my vote.