something about sports

Another softball season is in the books.
Year five for me as an assistant coach.
Another group of seniors moving on after I worked with them all four years.

More hot practices.
More dirt-covered cleats.
More sunflower seeds and athletic tape.

A lot more home runs. A lot more.
A lot more losses. A lot more.

We were 9-15 this season. If you don't follow sports, let me break that down for you: It's not too great. We began this season coming off a high that most players and coaches never get to experience-- we were 19-6 last year... and Class 1 State Champions.

State freakin' Champions.

We knew we were losing a few key positions this year, but the majority of our girls had had the experience of playing State Championship quality softball. They wore the rings. They knew what it took.

But if I'm being honest? This year was painful at times. Was it coming off the high that made some of the losses harder? Probably. Is it because it's the first losing record I've ever been a part of? Maybe.

But here is what I know to be true, in spite of, and possibly because of, our record:

These girls will never regret having played softball. These girls, though the would love to have switched those numbers around this year, will be thankful they had softball in high school. It will have given them a sense of purpose. It will have taught them how to win gracefully, and more importantly how to lose gracefully which they will apply more in their adult lives.

These girls will not regret this season because it will have taught them about healthy competition and how to respect talent in others, even when that talent means your defeat. It will have taught them that their character and integrity are not to be compartmentalized, but should be evident on the field, in the dugout, at their school.

These girls will not regret being a part of this team because it will have taught them that most goals are attainable with hard work. It will have taught them that teamwork is foundational to anything they're going to accomplish.

My first year coaching, we were 17-6 and lost with a heartbreaker, 3 extra-inning game at Districts. After that I wrote a post about all that a record encompasses for the members of the team it represents. I think when I wrote that I thought it stood for more because it was a winning season. Now I know that's not true. Now I know that, though those winning seasons are full of hard work and teamwork also, I know that there is a lot more grit and messy and life-forming stuff that happens when those numbers are reversed.

When I wrote that post 5 years ago, I said it is hard to explain to someone who has never played sports or been a part of a team exactly what a record, a season, entails. I thought of this the other day when I was reading an article about the Royals and the writer, a life-time Royals fan, tried to explain that moment of delirious bliss that happens when your team wins. I couldn't finish reading the article without getting teary-eyed because it is so very true. To be a part of that? There is some sort of magic to it.

And that magic underlies the entire season--always bubbling just beneath the surface, ready to burst out in one victorious at bat or double play. This season that magic felt a long ways away at times. It felt like we would have to claw through a lot of dirt to find it, but there were times it still surprised us with its presence. And at those times, while I sat on my bucket in the dugout or stood on the first base line, I had to swallow a lump in my throat because that magic? It is strong.

And so, like I said five years ago, regardless of what the number is on the right vs what the number is on the left, that dash in between the wins and losses is what has made athletes come back to the game since competition was first invented centuries and centuries ago. That dash, not the wins or losses, is what holds the magic that can make grown men cry and dance and act like children; it holds the magic that makes coming back to practice after a tough loss worth it.

And over the last five years I have discovered that that dash, that magic, is the heart of the athlete. Like I previously wrote, it is the practices in the summer, sweat trickling on tanned skin. It is hearing your friends shouting and splashing at the pool across the street while you do one more push up for an overthrown ball. It is weight lifting in a gym with no air conditioning to be half a second faster and capable of throwing the ball harder than your opponent. The dash is staying after school day after day to practice, sometimes wondering what it feels like for your classmates who get to be home before 5:30 or 6 every night. It is setting up the pitching machine, filling up the water jug, and running agilities through the ladder. It is taking a ball to the shin, face, arm, gut, or ankle, and waiting with anticipation for the bruise to show up. It is dirt in your shoes, clothes, hair, fingernails, car and room for four months. It is laughter at practice. It is a joke at the mound to relieve tension. It is 123 bags of sunflower seeds.

The dash is also laughter, frustration and tears with teammates, high fives and pranks. The dash is bus rides and sandwiches and fudge rounds and capri suns and grapes. It is giving up Saturdays for a tournament that requires you to wake up at 6:30. It is scars on your knees when you're in a dress on the homecoming court. It is a prayer before games, hands held in nervous anticipation. It is breaking from a huddle, thundering "ALL HEART!" for the other team to hear. It is lucky underwear and superstitions, and the school song sung off key.

The dash is a community that believes in you and follows your games and cheers you on. It is parents who leave work early, make food, cheer the loudest, and bring you your cleats you left at home. It is a loyal fan who comes to every practice and beats the bus to every game. It is wanting to win a game for your coach who has stuck by your side since t-ball and taught you fundamentals. It is blisters and bruises and smiles and small victories that the crowd doesn't see. It is a crucial steal to second, and a beautiful sacrifice bunt. It is a diving catch, or a routine play at first.

It is the dash that will be remembered well after the wins and losses are forgotten.

Sure, in 10 years these girls may look back on this season and say, "We should have won more games. We could have won more games." 

But there was more to this season than that. 

And soon enough, those should haves and could haves will be drowned out, and all that will be left in their memories will be the magic. That delirious, sweet, sweet, magic. 

 Thanks for making it worth it, ladies. Hold on to that magic. 

And a shout out to Brent and my mom, who spent a lot of time fighting Becks to take a bottle while I was away at games. 
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1 comment:

Kyle said...

Maybe your best yet.