Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One Last Huddle

The team gathered in silence in a setting that belied the one just 20 minutes before - one of rolling waves of sound...from fans cheering, coaches yelling instructions from the sideline, players directing one another from the soccer pitch. 

One team's excitement ramping up in thoughts of its next playoff opponent...the other preparing for the inevitable end of its season.

It was noisy then...but noiseless now. 

Parents with whom we'd shared the sideline - and our summer and autumn lives - for one season...two seasons...three or four...speaking in hushed tones, their dejected expressions conveying sadness for their daughters, the disappointment of a playoff run that ended far too soon. 

My wife and I were among them, our two daughters - one a senior captain, the other a freshman defender - 100 feet away, with their teammates, seemingly in a different world.

Every parent of every child who has ever played a youth sport experiences this sense of loss at some point, the abrupt end of a season...of a high school career. 

And the appropriate response - as with all things parenting-related - is one you cobble together on the fly with a blend of strong hugs, reassuring words, dried tears and ample amounts of silence for listening...or just because any words at that particular time sound hollow and flat.

Our daughters, or sons, don't care to hear that they "gave it all they had" or exhibited "great effort." All they know is that they lost - whether by a small margin or a large one - and that loss, of anything meaningful, is hard, emotionally painful and often messy. 

Such loss also, in due time, provides room for introspection...a deeper level of thinking that isn't possible in the height of emotion. It provides a broader perspective, one encompassing the totality of a season - or a high school career - rather than the singularity of a challenging 4-1 playoff loss. 

If offers the opportunity to appreciate everything that was gained rather than focusing on what was lost. 

And so, for my senior who played her last high school soccer game yesterday afternoon, I hope she will treasure the countless experiences that led up to the final moments of yesterday's game. 

Practices and games in the sweltering heat and bitter cold, in the long days of summer and the dwindling October light. 

Coaches who dedicated countless hours to teaching her and her teammates how to become better players...and people.

The wonderful young ladies - and their families - who traveled the same path...those older, who provided mentoring and friendship in her transition to high school; her peers, who have become "soccer sisters" for life; and the younger ones she has helped mentor.

I hope she will remember long road trips and preseason weekend tournaments in Aroostook County and Mt. Abram High School...and four years of bus ride conversations...and enjoyable team dinners, where the abundance of food was surpassed only by the abundance of laughter.

Most of all, I hope she will always remember and treasure her team huddles - before, during and after games - where the nature of the conversations are known only to the players and coaches locked in that special ring.

The final huddle occurred late yesterday afternoon on the opposite sideline of a noiseless field in Monmouth. I don't know what was said, nor do I need to. 

What I do know, as I watched my senior and freshman from 100 feet away - their arms around the shoulders of their teammates and coaches in solidarity and support - is that it was important and meaningful. 

That's what I'll remember most...and I hope they will too.