A Championship that Taught me Life’s Greatest Lessons
Sitting on a slightly, raised, grassy hill only a few feet away from the bright, green turf field, I stared intently at the small, orange ball as it traveled from one side of the field, to the the other. From the place where I was sitting, I could hear the familiar pounding of the Asics turf shoes hammering the rubber pellets into the turf. Twenty-two pairs of cleats stomped the ground, to compete for the possession of the small, round ball. The smacking of the composite sticks hitting the ball, and the blow of the high pitch whistles rang all too familiar songs in my ears.
The place where I was sitting contained a scattered group of fans ranging from students to parents, bundled in East Stroudsburg University colors. The fall air contained a cold, crisp, breeze that blew ever so slightly against my face, sending a familiar chill through out my entire body. The afternoon sun peeked through the towering trees that were planted behind the field. The sun’s rays slightly kissing my body with warmth. Sitting in the fan section, I watched my old field hockey teammates compete on their home field. Man, I miss it, I thought to myself, remembering how it felt to step foot onto the very field I was looking at. Suddenly, a feeling of nostalgia and emptiness washed over me, as a memory from the last time I played flooded my mind.
I took a slow and steady inhale that allowed the cold, crisp air to travel down my chest and into my lungs. I could feel my lungs slowly expanding like a balloon stretches and expands when one places air in it. The crisp air filled every crevice of my lungs causing a burning sensation deep within my chest. I held my breath for a moment causing the burning sensation to become more prominent. I then let out my breath in a big puff ,watching the cold air swarm around my face. I felt the release of my nerves as I quickly exhaled. It was in that moment I felt more alive then I ever have before. I took a look around at the large, empty, green field that was set before me and thought this is it, my last game ever – a championship game. I could feel the sun beating on my face despite the cold, fall day. I could feel the wind brush his hand over my entire body causing a chill to make my arm hairs stand on edge. Deep with in my soul I could feel this game was going to be life changing.
Standing on the edge of the field in that moment of time was a metaphor for my final game as an athlete. The edge of that black cement meeting up with the bright green, plastic turf represented the seventy minutes that kept me from either becoming a national champion or a regular college student. It was a defining moment that made me realize all that the sport has provided me with: friendships, a passion for something I love to do, and life’s most prominent messages. In that moment I realized how much love I had for the game, and decided that I was going to exert all the energy I had for the next seventy minutes of my life. Win or lose, I’ll look back and know I put my heart and soul out on that field.
I looked to the right of me at my fellow senior, and captain who displayed a nervous, yet determined facial expression. She looked back at me and slyly stated, “Let’s do this.” I held out my hand and smiled, as she grabbed it I stated back, “Let’s.” I narrowed my eyes, and marched out onto the battle field. I lifted my one foot off of the black cement, and onto the cushy, soft turf. Hand in hand, and side by side, my teammates and I journeyed across the field to place our belongings on the bench that was assigned to us.
Experts say that mental pictures and videos are moments in our lives that stand out the most to us. They are moments where we feel the utmost joy and happiness, or the most pain and sorrow. As human beings we capture these good and bad experiences as pictures in our brains. We store the most prominent memories so we can look back on them as we grow older and smile at the good, or weep at the bad. We, humans, were created this way to draw upon these stored memories to feel the way we were feeling in the exact moment they happened. The purpose of this design was so that we as individuals can understand that we truly are living this overall great experience of life.
I produced a mental picture of that day that will forever be burned into my memory. With the rap music blaring, my teammates singing at the top of their lungs, some dancing, some banging on lockers, I managed to quiet my mind and take in every little detail that was going on around me. I closed my eyes for a split second and felt the bass of the music rattle my ear drums to the beat of each lyric. My teammate’s voices echoed throughout the entirety of the small, square room, bouncing off of the red lockers and cement walls. Their loud singing, that was more or less like yelling the lyric to each song filled the air with excitement. I inhaled the sweet aroma of shin guards and turf shoes, and with an exhale I opened my eyes. I looked around at the cluster of rambunctious girls that were scattered throughout the small space. Each one had an enthusiastic smile plastered across their face. The theme amongst all of us was evident – this moment would be it- we would either win it all, or lose, but we all, as a team came this far. As I took in the wild scene before me, my lips curled into a blissful smile. The thought, I made it came across my mind.
The day my teammate’s and I won the Division II National Championship was a day that I will never forget. I can still feel the thrill of emotions as the ball smacked the back of the cage. I can hear the high pitch whistle blow a long and steady noise signaling the game has come to a end. I remember filling with excitement as my teammate’s and I sprinted onto the field to tackle one another. Cameras flashed in all of our faces as we collectively lifted the heavy, National Championship trophy high over our heads.
For me, I think what made this day so memorable was the fact that this was how I ended my athletic career. Years of hard work and perseverance led up to this moment- a reward for the countless hours I, as well as my teammate’s put into the sport.
The sport of field hockey, or any team sport for that matter is a sport of camaraderie, diligence, teamwork, perseverance and so much more. The lessons an individual learns by joining a team sport is far beyond what any professor or teacher can teach a person in a classroom. Field hockey has taught me the essence of friendship with my fellow teammates. I learned how to respect individuals for who they are even if they are different from me.The game taught me to always have my fellow mans back in good times and bad. I learned how to show respect for my coaches, or any individuals in a position of authority. Field hockey taught me that my body will be fatigued and may fail itself, yet my mind can push farther than I ever thought I could go. The sport taught me to push through what ever adversary that is thrown my way because I am much stronger than any problem that I face. I became educated in how to properly fuel my body and love it for all that it does and is. Finally, the sport taught me to have faith- faith in a God who listens, faith in my teammate’s, coaches, and finally faith in myself.
So to the individuals who still play the game,
There is a feeling of emptiness that washes over an athlete as he or she lays down their uniform for the very last time. Thoughts of now what? and what’s next? flood to the front of a newly retired athlete’s mind. At first it may feel relieving to be finished with the busy schedules, and constant “go go, go” motions. The newfound freedom to do what you want, when you want to may seem enticing, BUT once the realization of being officially done kicks in, you’ll face emotions of heartbreak, loss, and nostalgia.
An old teammate once told me, finishing a sport a person competes in for a majority of their life is a lot like a really bad break up. I never understood this comparison until I was placed in her shoes. I tried to avoid the pain by joining different clubs and organizations that would distract me while I was still at school. I stayed far away from a field hockey stick or the sport itself to keep me from reminiscing on all the memories I made over the years. This distracted my mind temporarily until I was faced with emotions of incompleteness. The sport made me who I was, and will continue to be a large part of who I am.
So to anyone who is stepping away from the game, prepare yourself for these emotions. Embrace them and know that it is natural to feel the way you feel for something that was apart of you for so long. Reminisce on all the memories you made with your teammates and coaches, for these memories will be near and dear to your heart.
FINALLY, to the individuals who still play,
1. Don’t take the small moments for granted.
It is easy to take the bus rides, breakfasts with the team, and pre-game talks for granted. These moments may seem small but they are going to be the big moments you will remember in the long run after you are finished playing. Take in the way it feels to sit on the long bus rides to the far away games. You may hate sitting in a cramped space for hours on end, but think about the memories you made on the bus trips -the songs you sang with the team, the talks, the chants, the funny moments-you’ll miss them all. Remember the atmosphere of the locker room and the excitement you feel leading up to stepping onto the field.
2. Respect and value your teammate’s and the relationships you formed with them
I think this is the biggest lesson I have learned by taking a step away from the sport. The individuals that surround you on your team are ones that mold and shape you into the person you will become. Enjoy the memories you form with each member on your team, young and old. These are the people you spend the most time with during your season, and they understand the competitive nature within you. Have fun with each of them, respect their differences, and value the times and memories you will make with them while playing a sport you all love.
3. Respect your coaches
Understand that your coaches are doing the best they can to help you to develop into a strong, confident player. Listen to the advice and criticism they may give, they are only trying to help you succeed. Be thankful that they have pushed you to be the athlete, and person you are.
4. Just Play
If I could go back in time this is something I would tell myself over and over again. Just Play. Enjoy the sport for exactly what it is – a game that you enjoy to partake in. Do not let the pressure of winning or losing, get to your head. Have confidence in yourself, and in your teammate’s abilities. Enjoy every second of being able to play the sport you love because one day, you will not be able to. Have fun with every moment, and stay positive. When you are finished competing, you’ll remember the moments on the field that shaped you, and the joy you felt by just playing.
-advice from a washed up athlete