Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Growth Spurt

There's a picture in an old scrapbook dating to the '70s showing me and 16 or so soccer teammates standing in a ragged, impatient line, waiting to receive our championship medals. I'm standing at the head of the line, one leg out, hip cocked, hands defiantly on my hips. Several others are frozen forever in similar postures. We look like the cockiest bunch of 11-year-olds you've ever seen.

Which we were.

Before I turned 12, I'd travelled to three countries and two continents because of soccer. Before I'd turned 12, I'd won two California State Championships, a Western Regional Championship, tournaments in Canada and Denmark and had a room full of assorted trophies, medals and baubles. We never expected anything but victory.


Funny thing though, that arrogant bunch of guys soon started losing their fair share of matches. We openly ridiculed our new coach, since we so clearly knew more than him about the game. We spent less time working on our games, more time enjoying the fruits of our relative celebrity, mostly regarding the discovery of blossoming girls.

When the State Championship rolled around in our 13th year, we lost in the first round.


That was bad enough. For me, personally, things were much worse. I was the goalkeeper on that last State Champion squad. By the time we lost in the first round less than two years later, I was splitting the net-minding duties with another guy. Harry had been relegated to 'B' teams throughout his soccer life, a big likable kid with an unfortunate surname and clumsy feet. He wasn't half the 'keeper I was and everyone knew this. He was one thing I was not: Big.

Puberty had started kicking in for some, but not for me. I wasn't yet five feet tall and weighed 80 pounds. So Harry got half my time, both in games and in training.


My freshman year in High School, I was Harry's backup. That's how quickly it turns. He'd improved, for sure. He was a hard worker, good learner and getting a fine handle on the mental/positional aspects of goalkeeping. Me? I think I weighed 90 pounds by now.

I only played one game that year, when Harry was sick. I kept a clean sheet against a bitter rival, making two huge saves. I could still do it. I vowed to continue to fight for my place.

Coach Ludwig--"Ludes" to us--called me into his office about a week later. "You'll never be first choice goalkeeper on a team I coach," he told me. "Houston (the varsity coach) feels the same."


I hated Ludes for a time. I thought he was wrong. I thought a few inches and twenty pounds were all I needed to convince him. I rode the pine the rest of that year, sulking, withdrawing from my teammates.

At the end of the year, Ludes again pulled me aside and ripped me a new asshole. I totally deserved it. When he finished, he went on to say he expected me to contribute to the program. Not as a goalkeeper, but on the field, where I was not without experience. "You're smart," he said. "You know the game. You just have to start looking at it from a different perspective. I'll find a spot for you if you work. And hit the fucking weights."


The final whistle blew and I turned and sprinted toward Harry. Jumping into his arms, I screamed "WE DID IT! WE DID IT!"

And so we had. With him in goal, with me at sweeper, we won our school's second Section Title. Naturally, it was a shutout.


Having early success in any pursuit can be damaging. Especially if you let it affect your perception of your own ability. That mis-conception can lead to complacency, a stubborness to change, to continue learning.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes poor results to hammer this point home. Or the learned observations of another.

Ludes was right. I sat his bench another year, learning a new position, getting used to my body after a growth spurt. It took a lot of patience, a lot of hard work and a lot of learning. That's what made it all the more worthwhile.


Sometimes, you need somebody else to set you straight.

I'd felt a little like that cocky 11-year-old a few months back. Three final tables in six days. Two final tables in WPBT satellites, including a win.

Lately, I'm the other guy, riding the pine, still holding the belief I should be in the game. Stubborn, refusing to see the obvious door, instead banging on the inpenetrable wall. I've got the credentials, dammit. I've got the baubles.

"You're playing different than you used to," the dear and patient wife said on Saturday night.

She's right.


At 12:26 PM, Blogger Drizztdj said...

I think you've just lit up the room for me.

Thanks man.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Huge Junk said...

I was just about to shed a tear, but then I realized that would be gay. And not gay in a happy way, but gay in a "federal, pound me in the ass prison" sort of way.

So instead I just went,



At 4:33 PM, Blogger Chris said...

What a great post Joe, and it couldn't come at a better time as I'm headed to Vegas come 6AM. By the way, I've just got to "borrow" your donkey pic, but rest assured, it's in good hands...


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