Friday, November 04, 2011

Dirty Dozen

I guess I'm getting old. At the very least, I'm older. I returned from my 12th straight club championships Monday evening, taking in a full day of overcast skies and mellow pacing in Sarasota before calling the whole thing quits. I arrived a week prior, late in the Tuesday night, because the years' experience have also taught me a thing or two about the ins and outs of the tournament.

I love the time at the beach, and the sand hot or cold either way. It is fine and white and light between my toes, and the beaches tease you with bits of sand dollars but rarely the dollar whole. The walk along the beach south, after a Sunday stumble down the steps of the Daquiri Deck, teammates - or, if you're lucky, a pretty face - in tow, head buzzing from a powerful admixture of satisfaction and Electric Lemonade. The end-of-day chill session by your team tent with a few friends, foot free of cleat, privates finally ventilated after a harrowing day tossled and smothered and in a dank darkness.

I used to be the guy that showed up and asked who to pay and to be pointed to his match-up. I had no idea who rented cars, or put down deposits for houses, or called other adults and negotiated financial transactions. I woke up to a breakfast. I arrived at the fields and was told where and when we'd be playing. I had no idea which way was north, where I-75 was, or how to get to the Publix and back. I rode my share of pine, but every time I was called in to play it was a special event. One of my first points ever on those pristine fields ended with Parinella taking me deep. I remember the way I felt running down the play, too far behind to D it. My second or third point ended with me throwing an I/O backhand break for a goal, also against Parinella, and I certainly remember how that felt. Oh, to be a n00b again!

I remember the distinct feeling I had after each of my playing seasons. From my freshman year of college until our loss in finals against Sockeye with Bravo, I ended each season a better player than I'd started. Then I played Sub Zero '08, one of the greatest team to squander a fortune. We were like Harry Potter's boggart; scary as fuck but ultimately without much punch. It was frustrating being a team with immense talent but unable to find a common groove, and the season's saving grace was that despite our underperformance, we were great friends and loved to hang out.

After Sub's subpar performance, and exacerbated by the departure of good friends Dan Heijmen and Andrew Brown, the tenuous fiber connecting Sub's roster to some of the best of Madison's players snapped, and after several years of playing under a variety of systems, I felt I had enough knowledge to try and captain Madison Club back to the national spotlight. With players no longer commuting away, we built a team that could compete on the national stage and won our first regional crown since 2001. I brought an amalgam of ideas for running practices, offense, and defense that was informed by the systems of my prior teams and the pedagogy from my experiences as a teacher. During those first two seasons with Club, the bulk of my time and energy went toward my captaining duties, so much so that in my second year they encroached on my conditioning time. Coupled with the demands of coaching the Hodags, this meant that I went into the club season in substandard shape. I tweaked my back early, and that injury nagged me in one form or another for the rest of the season. For me, going 3 seasons without feeling I was improving as a player took a toll, and I gave up my captaining duties for this season and went on a long summer road trip to get my head right and to help Alex move to Madison with me.

It was just what I needed. I drove almost 7000 miles this summer, stayed in shape, and cleared my thoughts. When I returned, I had no responsibility on the team other than to play my best. I did. After our victory over GOaT to end our club natties, I felt like I had another 5 games in me. I was able to apply my knowledge of the game to my on-field performance more directly, and this was my best and most consistent season so far. More importantly, realizing that I could play better yet renewed my faith in myself and my love for the game.

I'm feeling good right now, coupling all my experience with the passion of my naive youth. My career, my journey through all the levels of this sport, has been such a rewarding gift. I am thankful for all my teammates and opponents that have pushed me to continue learning and improving. I feel young, I feel grateful, I feel hungry, and Mooney's record 19 consecutive natties appearances is only 7 years away...


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