Monday, May 28, 2007

On girls soccer

Dean Conway, a life-long soccer fanatic and my mentor in soccer coaching, once said that if he could only watch one more soccer game in his life, it would be an under-12 girls game. Having just officiated as a referee for several such games, I again find myself agreeing. There is something really special about that age, but truthfully, I'd watch almost any age group!

Here's a letter I wrote in July 2002 to a friend, Grant Balkema, after he sent me his team's yearbook summarizing one of those miraculous and a wonderful seasons he had as a coach with his high-school aged girls soccer team. He was also a fellow referee, and we had spent many, many hours on the fields together as coaches, referees, and spectators. He died suddenly and inexplicably in November 2004.

I often say that the girls who play soccer with us are the luckiest kids in the world. They get to go out and play a beautiful game with their friends in a safe environment with terrific coaches and parents who support them. But you recognized an additional bit of magic this past season, and it was reflected in one of the sentences in the yearbook. When the girls are on the field of play, they unconsciously adapt to one another’s strengths and weaknesses during the game, creating a seamless web of teamwork. As a coach, you see this happen, and all you can do is smile. You know you had something to do with it, but you also know that something has happened among the girls themselves. It is a beautiful and very special thing. They will remember it all their lives, but they will not know what they are remembering. They will think their fond memories of this season had something to do with their friendships or other social relationships or how much their coaches taught them or how exceptional the team record was. But it is not that. It is an elemental statement about the human condition: We are born to work and play together in teams, but we have to give enough of ourselves to let the filaments connect. Many people do not get to experience that sense of ensemble. You have, and your girls have, and it is very, very special. They are, indeed, the luckiest kids in the world, and we are likewise blessed in being able to share this time with them.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

PRICELESS!

Anonymous said...

Are you really a soccer referee???

Anonymous said...

WHAT BEAUTIFUL WORDS...

Paul Levy said...

Really, since 1994. Grade 7, for as long as I can pass the physical exam . . . .

Margaret Szerlip said...

Thanks Paul, you certainly helped inspire my daughter.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the U12. Sounds like poetry

Jeff Brenner said...

Thanks Paul - having 'been there, done that, I don't see how anyone could have put it better. Grant was a special one.

parent & coach said...

And aren't we fortunate to witness those moments!

Liverpool FC Supporter in Boston said...

I just returned from Athens, Greece, where the Champions League final was played last week. Football truly is the beautiful game. Seeing people play at such a high level gives you a heightened appreciation for "creating a seamless web of teamwork" and a better understanding of how difficult it is to maintain such a seamless effort over an entire match (much to me and the team I support's disappointment last week)! It is wonderful to know that the game can instill in our youth such important qualities as collective problem solving yet not stifle individual excellence. I often drive by a youth field and find myself wanting to pull over to watch the kids on the pitch play. Your note has inspired me to not pass these opportunities by, as I may be witnessing the next generation of leaders as they learn how to cooperate, problem solve and effectively manage others via their experience on a rectangular patch of grass that brings such joy to so many around the globe.

em said...

Well done; we are all on teams, playing games. Some of the games are more important than others.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely stated. I have to ask (my daughter does not play soccer), do the parents yell at you like everyone says?

Newton Mom said...

Hi Paul, Thanks for the wonderful glimpse of the best of kids' sports. A question: My daughter has participated in NGS since 1st grade. It seems to me that the collaborative spirit of the game is what appeals to her. My understanding (not yet tested) is that the high school teams emphasize highly competitive play (with limited opportunities for less serious players). Where do older girls find recreational soccer teams?

Anonymous said...

Paul Levy was my daughter's coach many years ago. What she will never forget, nor will I, was how he taught the team how to build community. This is a lifelong lesson, whether on the soccer field or at a job. Thanks for the reflections, Paul. Memorial day is a time for many memories; for me it will always include the excitement of the tournaments and the spirit of each player to do their very best for their coach, each other and the team.

david said...

Very nice. You captured the feelings I had watching my daughter’s team play this past weekend.

ab said...

You are right, there is something special about U12 Girls soccer games!!

Anonymous said...

My daughter just finished her senior year in high school with a second place finish in the state high school champioships. Her and four of her friends have played together since first grade on the same teams (including club teams and high school) and this was a great way for them to go out. Three of the five are going to play in college so that state championship game was the last time they will have played together. There were a lot of tears after the game but not because they lost, it was because it was the end of an era. The parents (the five sets of parents watched a lot of games together over the past fifteen years) were as nostalgic as the kids. I coached them when they were younger and would not trade the memories of their younger days, and what they achieved as they grew, for anything in the world. Soccer is a great game and if you are fortunate enough to have a group come together as a team it is truly something special.

coach mary said...

I really love this stuff. Can't imagine what my life would have been like without athletics! I completely agree that U12 is the bomb!