I’ve coached a lot of winning teams in my years as a youth sports coach. I have taken teams to 1st and 2nd place, to district tournaments and even undefeated seasons (in multiple sports). But there is one team in particular that stands out above all the others I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. This was a 9-11 year old recreational soccer team. We were not winners that season, at least not according to the scoreboard. But this is my favorite sports memory and I will never forget those kids or the impact they had on me and the community.
This was a tough season, by a long shot. We played game after game where the other teams were nasty to us and just nasty in general. I had coached soccer for years but never experienced a season where people pushed the rules and coaches taught their teams to play against the rules like that. We had a particularly bad game after a losing streak where we should have won if not for the bullying of the other team. It’s easy to get down on yourself after repeated losses. Our kids could have been angry; they could have pouted or cried or said discouraging things. But they didn’t.
No matter what happened to them on that field, they continued to do the right thing. But our kids continued to hold their heads high and play a fair game. They can walk off that field with integrity and I don’t care what the score says- THAT makes them winners.
I told their parents, “While the scoreboard may not show us as winning games, this is the best team I have ever had the pleasure of coaching. I told them tonight that I have never had so many compliments on the team as I have with this group.”
This was complete truth. Fellow coaches came up to me after games as well as friends, members of the community and even members of the Parks and Recreation facility that ran our league came up to me after games, called me and even emailed me to tell me how impressed they were with this team.
Time after time, I heard, “I saw that game; your team was amazing” or, “I played soccer competitively all through high school and college and you have a great team there. They play their positions and they work well as a team. They are learning skills they will take with them for as long as they continue to play.” The compliments are rolling in for these kids and that is something to be proud of.
Even when they were treated nasty, they did not stoop to the level of other players. Even when losing games, they set smaller, more attainable goals for themselves such as “we’re going to beat our record of most points scored in a game”. Even when things are looking bad, they are high-fiving each other, encouraging and supporting one another and being respectful of themselves and others.
This soccer team is my favorite sports memory because I will never forget the smiles on their faces, the determination in their eyes and how hard they worked each and every time they walked onto the field, no matter what the score said. I wanted to give up coaching soccer. I felt defeated and like a failure. But they pulled me out of defeat and depression and showed me what it’s really all about.
Their hugs and “thank you’s” at the end of the season warmed my heart. Seeing that they had a good time despite losing games and that they learned about soccer, improved their game and held together as a team is more inspirational than anything I have ever seen in sports. I will never forget that team and how they helped me grow as a coach, as a mother and as a person. Each and every one of them will always hold a special place in my heart and my memories.