The first time someone really commits to trying something new, it can result in a thousand different outcomes and feelings, from positives like excitement and accomplishment, to negatives like embarrassment or fear. In lacrosse, I have found it much easier to experience the positive stuff if you are part of a close knit team, and for first year programs, or teams filled with first year players, the “team approach” is especially important.
I can think back to a number of my own “firsts”, and when I look at these events through the lens of the team, I can start to see some dramatic differences.
When I think back to the first ever game I played in high school, I remember we had a team filled with athletes, and that many of us were all friends off the field. However, we weren’t exactly a team either, and the trust and camaraderie just wasn’t there. I can only speak for myself here, but I can admit that I have MANY shortcomings, and in high school, these were all much more pronounced.
It is no surprise that after our first game, I didn’t feel too great about myself… And I can’t even remember if we won or lost, although I’m pretty sure we got killed. The point is that I remember the feeling, and now I know why I felt that way. I wish I had known that back then.
I kept up this divisive and selfish attitude throughout high school, especially on the athletic field. I was so worried about playing, and keeping my starting spot on the team, that I forgot to be a good teammate. In the end, it only made me worse as a player.
Fast forward to my freshman year in college and I hadn’t grown much. We lost my first college game, and I was apoplectic after game. I was going to transfer. I didn’t like the guys on the team. They didn’t care. I wanted better. But the truth was, I was just reacting to the loss the same way I did when I was a freshman in high school. I blamed others. I got angry.
The whole time, I should have been focusing on myself.
If I wanted teammates to be better to me (whatever that meant), then I needed to better to them. In high school, instead of dodging on the kid I knew I could beat in practice and coasting, I should have been lining myself up against the best defender we had. Instead of wearing smaller arm pads and complaining when someone hit me, I should have worn bigger arm pads, and toughened up a bit.
These seem like simple lessons, but for me they took time. Thankfully, in college, Coach Raba set me right, and got me thinking in a new way: What could I control? What could I improve? If I focused on that, everything would get better. In the end, Coach was completely right.
Now some may say that high school aged kids should not be expected to come to the above realization… But in my JV’s team first game yesterday, I saw it in action. My players played together, they supported each other, they bonded and took care of what they could take care of.
When attackmen lost the ball, they fought hard to get it back instead of complaining that no one was open. When a midfielder was tired, an attackman sprinted back on D for him without being told to so. When we set a moving pick, there was no complaining, just running to get back in the hole. When our goalie made a save, our team cheered him on loudly, sometimes as they broke out for outlet passes. Our defenders love to hit, but the refs called the game tight, so they dialed it back and played more body position.
The list of positive “taking care of team by taking care of self” moments I saw was staggering. The boys pulled in the same direction, with the same goal, and worried only about what they could control. They did not dog each other at all, and stood unified against their opponent, while playing with class.
As someone who could never muster the maturity to do this in high school himself, I was extremely proud of our players. It proved, at least to me, that maturity knows no age, and that you too can help to make your team great, no matter how old you are. All you have to do is focus on you, and keep working.