“The game had been the one thing that brought my family of six together in a peaceful manner. It was the one thing we shared in common besides our love for each other. It was the one thing we collectively could do better than other families. It was life, year-round.”
In my first official game as head soccer coach of a high school in Kansas I found myself hit with a tall glass of failure. Was it justified? Was it just being in the wrong place at the wrong time? In all honesty, it was unexpected.
I had been away from the beautiful game for quite some time due to a half decade love/hate relationship that had me wanting to be anywhere but coaching or playing the game. The game had been the one thing that brought my family of six together in a peaceful manner. It was the one thing we shared in common besides our love for each other. It was the one thing we collectively could do better than other families. It was life, year-round.
As the big brother of three younger sisters, I have been on both sides of success and failure on the soccer pitch. I have traveled the nation winning soccer tournaments and brought home my winnings to proudly share with my sisters. I had witnessed my sisters play for a soccer club that struggled against the heavyweights in their respective age brackets. Though I found myself more passionate about their games than my own. Passion, the best adjective to describe my obsession with soccer. An addiction to win, to develop talent and to do the impossible.
The college years. I had wasted all of my accomplishments and lore I had gained from my youth club tenure at Tulsa Soccer Club. I let my passion become ignorance and turn into a bad attitude. I let the symbolic chip on my shoulder get the best of me. I let my worry about how poor my family was and what car we drove to games drive me to leaving a golden opportunity to excel. I can admit it now, ten years senior of my formidable club years. Those two years after I left TSC got me nowhere fast and literally on the edge of missing out on the big opportunity that my parents nearly lost their house for, a college scholarship for soccer.
However, there was still one school that believed in me and witnessed me play high school soccer in Oklahoma. This school was Independence. It should have been called salvation, a place for renaissance of those once cloaked in soccer lore and praise. It was where my soccer journey was renewed and it was where it would end again. It was loving, harsh when it needed to be, but most of all it was home.
Indy, oh sweet Neeowalloh celebration (Halloween celebration), McDonald’s breakfast at 3 am and soccer at the corn field. Being the first in my family to attend college, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. Add in the expectations of college soccer, I was completely overwhelmed. But my faith in the beautiful game was renewed. A squad full of once greats, small town soccer stars and international unknowns. It was the unorthodox bunch that made up the Independence Pirates.
Pirate pride. We were overachievers who shined in the games where we were heavily over matched, and we played down to our competition in others. Regardless, we competed. At least in my freshman year.
After my freshman season I wanted to jump the proverbial pirate ship and use my one year renaissance to propel myself back to soccer relevance. However, through my 100+ hours of self-marketing myself, I settled. I settled on a scholarship to a little known NCAA division two school in nowhere Mississippi. Though when it came time to perform with my new team I came up empty. Maybe it was being 11 hours from home, maybe it was being my own worst critic or maybe it was a divine power setting my path back to the one that was ultimately correct. So ,I let my passion fade and my excuses flow. I left my Mississippi oasis and returned to the place where I felt at home as an individual and a player, Independence.
The pirate returns. It’s often said that the sequel to a great movie never lives up to expectations or matches the quality of the initial installment. I should of have seen it coming. The team rallied around my return and we found success in the beginning of the season. The injury bug hits me hard and I find myself out for an unexpected length of time in the season. During this time we begin to crumble. Our team goes from competing in every game to being destroyed in every match. We see teams that we once beat handedly, beat us 14-0. It was complete misery. After returning from injury I let my passion for the game and my disgust for losing get the best of me. At my best I would lead the team to a close defeat. At my worst I found myself searching for playing time because of a conflict with the coach.
The end was real. I saw my last collegiate game not even be played due to bad weather. My career would be ended on the previous match where I only played limited minutes. Everything I had worked for was gone in an instance and then reality set in. The aftermath of my passion for the game was a sub par college GPA and a laundry list of missed opportunities to really excel.
Unexpected opportunity meets unexpected failures. From that last game that never was to now, I found myself hating the game for the pain it was associated with in my family’s ultimate demise and the game’s dismissal and disposal of me. I became overweight and unhealthy. I became bitter.
Years passed before I’d touch a soccer ball let alone watch a soccer game, but forgiveness and resurrection was upon me. Through the World Cup I forgave the game and renewed my passion. I got fit, lost 50 pounds and started playing again. I became more active in my sister’s college soccer team and my younger sister’s club team. I began to remember why I loved the game and why it loved me back.
So an unexpected opportunity to become the head soccer coach of a high school not rich in soccer lore or talent unexpectedly arose in a time where I couldn’t of been busier. However, against all reason, I took the job. A tall task was placed upon me. I took the reigns of a struggling program with a lack of both financial resources and talent, only 8 days prior to their match with the number one ranked team in their state. Forecasted failure one could say, when it comes to predicting the outcome of that match. Unfortunately, the forecast came true this time.
Complete domination and humiliation found me in my first official match. Utterly exhausted of viable options to face a clearly elite opponent and defeat awaited me. I have resurrected worse programs before as a coach, but I had time to mold them into my vision. Time to play less than superior opponents to implement my systems. However, here time was not on my side.
However, this defeat does not define me or my new team. It only reminds us that we are still young and in the process of a renewal. I unexpectedly found this opportunity and I unexpectedly found failure from the pitch in front of me. But as I have matured and been molded by the harsh realities of the working world, I have found a new ability to rebound from humiliation.
I will rebound and allow my passion to turn failure into success. And if I find failure again from the pitch, I will use passion to fuel resurrection and not destruction.