Wednesday, June 13, 2007
There's an old joke: A tourist in New York City stops a man on the street and asks, ""How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"" The man replies, ""Practice, practice, practice."" If practice were really all it took to succeed, I'd be a concert pianist right now instead of a soccer mom. In life, and in the journey to Regionals, it takes much more than practice.
Nevertheless I have watched clubs go to insane lengths to practice their players into winning US Youth Soccer State Cup or Midwest Regional League, the two main gateways to a Regional slot in Region II. It's not unusual to hear of three or four hour practices four or five days a week. Since I have a son who plays in Illinois and a son who plays in Wisconsin, I get to witness a lot of insanity. Still, practice is the one variable that can be controlled. Everything else is less manageable. So it's no wonder that clubs, coaches, and teams step it up.
My own son discovered this hard fact this past weekend. His team wasn't insane about practice, but they did their fair share. However, through a Series of Unfortunate Events (apologies to Lemony Snicket) practice was not going to be the answer to a state cup win. Soccer (life) is filled with those unpleasant surprises – shots that define physics, a defender slipping to the ground at a key moment, rain delays that change the momentum of a game, wind, heat exhaustion, and, my personal worst, injuries. Suddenly a game becomes a battle for survival, and sometimes the team doesn't survive.
Luckily for Robbie's team, they had earned a slot at Regionals by winning Midwest Regional League. So losing State Cup wasn't quite as painful as it could have been. The really good news is that all the players handled the loss with dignity and maturity. I like to think that all this money I spend, all this time I lose driving, all the rainy games, all the sunstroke days ultimately result in good life lessons. Not every team can win State Cup, but every team can learn to face adversity with humility and patience. Players can learn to respect one another's talents and deficiencies. Coaches can learn to forgive bad play and find the pearls when they reveal themselves. Parents can learn to praise their kids no matter what the outcome and to not expect winning.
I love team sports, and soccer in particular, because they require dependence upon others. No player can claim predominance – every win, every loss involves every team member. We all point fingers, and I'm no exception, in an attempt to lay blame or to award honor. Yet, no team would win State Cup or any match if they only fielded their top scorer!
So how do you get to Regionals? Practice, attitude, opportunity, talent, athleticism, coaching and teamwork. But we can't forget about providence. Sometimes a win comes from that tiny moment when the ball bounces left off the post instead of right. Every bounce can have a huge consequence. If it results in a loss, then the team will return to the pitch and practice, practice, practice. If it results in a win, the team will advance to Regionals…and practice, practice, practice.