Monday, May 29, 2006

Championship Mentality

My oldest daughter played travel-league soccer for the first time this past year. Before that she played recreational (rec) soccer, a very different animal:

Rec: no scoring, no standings
Travel: scoring and standings (which are likely most important to the parents :)

Rec: play local teams
Travel: play teams all over the region, half at home, half away

Rec: t-shirts
Travel: cool uniforms

She also faced going from eight on a field to eleven. From having "offense" and "defense" to positions like forward, sweeper, stopper. Lots of big changes.

The team had to adjust, too. Most of the girls had played together for a few years, but they had to accommodate some new players. In the fall, we did fairly well, landing in the middle of the pack at the end of the season.

This spring, we didn't do so well. We have had a solid defense, and a good offense that can move the ball but just...couldn't...score. We played with the ball. Tapped it toward the goal. Failed to show any aggression or hunger. You can't score if you don't shoot, and you can't win games if you don't score. So we didn't.

Not that the girls seemed to care. They still came off the field singing at the top of their lungs, "Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them, we are the Thundercats, the mighty mighty Thundercats." They played hard because they love to play, and the end result didn't matter much.

So this weekend we played in a tournament. We had played all spring with a short team, most of the time with no subs, even a couple of games down a player. This weekend we had all our players plus a new player. So we had subs. We had our normal rotating offense. We could rest, and everyone could settle in to their positions.

But we also had Rachel.

Our players are tough. We don't give up on the ball, and are never afraid to get into the mix. We trust each other. The girls trust their teammates will be in position, and get the ball to them. We pass well, and we back each other up without fail. We're full of hustle. We can easily and consistently move the ball downfield. But then we always seemed to not know what to do with it.

Rachel is one of those players who's been blessed. She has extraordinary speed, and huge confidence. She's not afraid to take a shot, even if her positioning isn't quite right. And she, too, trusts her teammates, and knows how to use them.

The fabulous thing is not that Rachel is a better player so she won the games for us. The fabulous thing is that she elevated the play of the entire field. Our offense suddenly had that confidence, that aggression, that we'd been dying for them to develop. They fed Rachel the ball, accepted the ball from her, knew where to be when, and weren't afraid to rush the goalie for a rebound or a dribbler.

We had that championship mentality.

We scored. So we were suddenly ravenous to score again, and did everything we could to do it. We tied our first game, 2-2, and won the second, which put us in second place coming into our game this morning.

It was gonna be a tough one. They'd already lost to this team twice in the spring season, and they were undefeated both in the season and in the tournament. They had every reason to win again. But they didn't. We won 1-0 on the strength of our very solid defense (did I mention we have a good defense? {g}). That put us in the championship game.

Aside: Dakota is usually one of the last players off the field, but today of all days, she was one of the first. So we went home, and came back at 12:00 to prepare for the 12:30 game.

That they had moved up half an hour. They were already playing when we got there. I was mortified. They had told the parents that remained at the field, and told the parents who were in the parking lot, and thought they'd gotten everyone. We and one other family had already left. What a horrible start!

Didn't matter. The other team triple-teamed Rachel, and poured on all of their energy and drive and determination. And we won, 3-1. It was a sweet victory, and exactly what we needed. They will be different players come fall.

I can't wait.

Bragging Parent Edit: All the players had tremendous moments, whether it was stopping a goal, making perfect passes or steals, or assisting on a goal. But there was one moment I am particularly proud of. One of our defenders and the goalie were tangled up in front of the goal with an opposing player. It was the kind of situation where you just know the ball is going to squirt out and roll into the goal. But out of NOWHERE flew a defender, who came soaring in and punched the ball out to the sideline, where a teammate corraled it and passed it upfield. Of course, that player out of nowhere was Dakota, who often respects her teammates and stands back to let them do their job, but in this case recognized a need for an assist and did it. It was a beautiful sight.

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