What Sports has Taught Me
It’s early August, and a hopeful freshman soccer player is lacing up his cleats as he prepares to head to summer soccer camp. This will be his future coach’s first opportunity to see him play, and he doesn’t want to disappoint. Despite being only 5’1” and weighing barely 100lbs he is confident the coaches will see the hard work he has put into his game. The first tryout approaches faster than he had hoped, it is his first battle with the dreaded two-mile fitness test. Varsity players are required to break 13 minutes and it is strongly suggested that everyone else break 14 minutes. Underprepared, he runs only 7 laps and finishes in over 15 minutes, one of the last of his group. For the remainder of the tryout he tries to prove to the coaches that he is capable of far more than his time suggests. Unfortunately, they do not agree and place him on the freshman B team. Slightly disappointed by the placement, but still he is optimistic after all it is only his freshman year he has plenty of room to grow. Sitting at the first code meeting, where the varsity team is introduced, the head coach motions to the freshman B team sitting in the stands and reminds them that it’s still possible for them to be standing on that stage one day. This served as a bit of a wake up call for him, as he hadn’t even contemplated the fact that being placed on freshman B could be a setback towards his goal of eventually playing varsity. That season, he had plenty of opportunity to play, and as a result grow as a player. The next season he comes to tryouts even more confident than last. He feels he has prepared himself for the two-mile better than he did last year and is ready to show the coaches that he can step up a level and put himself back on track to play varsity. His two-mile time is just over 14 minutes, but he’s not too worried because the varsity team is the only one with a strict time limit. As tryouts move forward he tries to do what he can to stand out, despite not being one of the most physically able bodied kids on the field. He ends up being placed on the JV B team. This was incredibly discouraging for him, as hardly any players that play on that team ever make it to the varsity level. The next summer he works even harder, he attends a skill building camp through the soccer club he played for in the spring. He runs even harder to try to get himself to that two-mile time because he intends on trying out for varsity this year. It’s his junior year and despite the fact that the past 2 tryouts didn’t go his way, he’s still optimistic it will change this year. He’s better than he’s ever been and he’s ready to show them that. This time his two-mile is just barely north of 13 minutes, which isn’t good enough to make the varsity cut. Despite this, he still attends the varsity tryout in the hopes he can make an impression on the coach. Prior to the last day of tryouts they made the second to last round of cuts for the varsity team. His name is included on the list. As he walks off the field and mentally prepares himself to go to a different tryout tomorrow and try to impress a completely new coach, he is approached by one of the players who would eventually be named to the varsity roster that year. He had struggled coming up through the system and was stuck on Junior Varsity for his junior year so he understood the spot he was at. He told him that the varsity coach was making a mistake by sending him to the other tryout. He told him, “I’ve seen your skills, seen you running around out there and you’re good enough to be up here with us. He’s making a mistake man, keep your head up.” He didn’t necessarily agree that he belonged up there still, his confidence had been shaken by the news but he still thanked the kid and wished him luck in the tryout tomorrow. That night he went to bed, not knowing that the next morning would change everything. When he woke up, he was nervous but he didn’t think there was any way that he would be denied a roster spot from the team he played on the year before. He was wrong. By the end of the day he learned he had been cut from the program entirely. He wasn’t sure exactly what to do with himself at that point. He didn’t want to talk to anyone, this was something he had put so much work into just to be cut the last thing he wanted to do was talk about it. As he drove home, and allowed his head to level, he realized that his attitude towards it could change the whole situation. Either he could walk away and quit, just like everybody else. Or he could look at it as an opportunity. How many kids get cut from the program junior year and make varsity the next season? Immediately, a new goal was born. There was an entire staff of soccer coaches at his high school that he had to prove wrong. That kid at the tryout was right, he was good enough to play with them, but the coaches didn’t see it. All that meant was next year he had to make sure they didn’t miss it. A few days later, the phone rang. It was the varsity head coach. At first he was reluctant to answer, but he picked up the phone. The conversation that followed, in sum, was that he was shocked to see his name left off all the rosters but at that point there was nothing he could do. He offered him the team manager position for the varsity team and told him that if there are situations in practice where they have an odd number he would throw him in as an extra guy but other than that he would be managing. He took the night to sleep on it and called him back in the morning. When he called him back he asked if as a team manager he would be allowed to run sprints with the team. The coach told him he would be allowed to if he wanted, and that’s exactly what he did. He showed up every day for practice and outworked everyone on that field. He ran sprints whether his team lost the drill or not, because he had ground to make up that the others didn’t. He asked the varsity head coach what he needed to work on to make his goal of being on the team next season a reality. He was very upfront with him and told him that there wasn’t a single part of his game that was at the level it needs to be in order to play on that team. That made him work that much harder. When the season ended he began training for the two-mile and remained even more focused than he ever was. With a month left before tryouts, he had his two-mile time down to just over 12 minutes. It was exactly where he needed to be, so he continued to work on his game. He participated in the summer league program through the school, which allowed him to be coached by the varsity head coach and scrimmage other varsity teams from the area. One of the games he was scheduled for was an away game on a Friday night. He made the drive out to the stadium and when the whistle blew to start the game, he found himself as a starter on the field. He needed to impress his coach, especially with the close proximity to playoffs. He played hard and did what he could to limit his mistakes. With less than 5 minutes left in the game he was right in front of the goal going after a bouncing ball when the goalie swept his legs out from under him. He landed hard on the back of his shoulder and felt it pop. He stayed down for a minute before getting himself back up to his feet. He looked back to the bench and gave his coach a thumbs-up and finished the game. Immediately when he got home, his mother took one look at his shoulder and brought him in to the emergency room. He learned he had separated his shoulder and would have to wear a sling for 3 weeks. This meant no physical activity for the next 3 weeks and he had only a month left before tryouts. During these 3 weeks he kept a soccer ball at his feet around the house because it was the only way for him to get touches. The day he took his sling off he went for a 2-mile run to see where he was at, 14 minutes. A whole minute over the time with only a week to shave it off, he ran every single day before tryouts. The last day he ran a 13:20. This was not good enough to make the time, so he was understandably nervous heading to tryouts. When the test started he stayed with the pack. He ran his fastest mile ever, around 5 minutes and 40 seconds, for his first mile. This was a good start but he could feel how tired his legs were and had to keep pushing through. As he rounded the last bend on the last lap, one of the injured varsity players from last year was standing there with a timer to let them know where they were at. “12:30” he heard as he rounded the turn. He broke into a full sprint to finish the lap and finished at 12 minutes 53 seconds, just good enough to make the time. In the 2-hour tryout that followed, he played lockdown defense in one-on-one drills and scored multiple goals on last year’s varsity goalie. He did everything he could to show the coach that he was an entirely different player. On the last day, he had to face another fitness test. He had already passed the two-mile and completed 3 days worth of tryouts, 4-hours each day. The last fitness test was a sprint test, 300s. The goal was to sprint 300 yards worth of 20-yard sprints there and back in under 60 seconds. He had to do it 4 times and he had to make it all 4 times in order to pass. His last 2 trials he ended at 60 seconds, but still passed the test. Then, it was time for him to learn his fate. He had done everything he could in order to earn his spot, now it was up to the coaches. The list was read off and as he went down the list of names, he got more and more disappointed as he didn’t hear his name. Finally, the last name on the roster was his. He had done it, he set out to accomplish a goal and he had achieved it. His work wasn’t over, now that he was there he had more goals to set and more things to accomplish, but finally his hard work had paid off.
It would have been the easy thing, my junior year, to walk away from the game. I wasn’t good enough to make any team in the program, let alone varsity. I knew it would take a ton of work for me to get to where I needed to be and that task seemed impossible at times. There were times when I was training to prove everyone wrong and it seemed like all my work would be for nothing. When it got tough I thought back to that 5’1” freshman lacing up his cleats looking up at the lights over the varsity field, dreaming of playing under them one day. Since that day, I had experienced a lot of failure and I had a choice to make. I could either let that failure define me, or allow it to be the fuel I used on the road to success. In life, there are winners and there are losers. Every winner at some point has been a loser, but not all losers have been winners. One of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL, who was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame this year, Brett Favre, holds the record for the most interceptions in a career. The people that find success are those who don’t let failure and adversity define who they are, rather they take that failure and use it as a tool for their success. Sports have taught me that no dream is too big if you’re willing to put your faith in yourself, instead of other people.