Monday, October 17, 2011

Zen For Losers

First of all, I had my first day of work today and It was really good. It's a nice, laid-back environment and the people I met were very friendly and easy to talk to. Also, going to see David Sedaris live was a really wonderful experience. Positive experiences aren't all that interesting, so I'll leave it at that.

The other thing that happened yesterday was that my co-ed team lost our soccer game. We were up 2-0 at the half and all was looking good but somehow things just went wrong. Now, this is just a rec league and it's nothing to get too worked up about in the first place, but my serene response to the loss prompted me to think back on some of my earlier experiences with competition and coping with losing.

I have always been athletically gifted for whatever reason (strong quads, a low center of gravity, and a complete disregard for my own safety would be my best guess).  That paired with the relatively shallow talent pool at the youth level in Vermont lead me  to believe at an early age that I was not only capable of success, but entitled to it. In this case I'll discuss soccer exclusively because I just don't have the energy to get into the details of alpine ski racing. It doesn't have much of a presence in the American cultural conscience and therefor writing about it is really a lot of work. Soccer, on the other hand, is fairly ubiquitous and doesn't have any complicated point systems to explain.

When I was 11 I tried out for, and made, one of the elite soccer teams in Vermont. No one else in the region of Vermont I lived in was on the team. It is also true that  no one else from my region of Vermont had tried out, but I chose to ignore this fact and go ahead and assume a superior attitude. I don't mean to undermine my 11 year old self here- I was really was an extremely fast runner and very good at soccer. I was even a good keeper until it became obvious that 5'2 was as tall as I was ever going to be. Still, though, I think I might have been a just a little too impressed with myself for my own good.

The truth was that as a Vermont team we didn't do very well at the regional level. The best soccer players in Vermont just can't compete against the best soccer players in Maryland or New Jersey. We always prayed for a bracket with Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Our talent pool is small, our weather is inclement, and we tend to play more than one sport due to the seasonal changes. In other, larger, warmer states with less interesting scenery (sorry Massachusetts), soccer might be the only thing the girls do. Year round. 5 days a week. Sometimes a particularly feisty Vermont team might advance at the regional championships, but it would take a really miraculous combination of circumstances for one to actually win. These are all things that I understand and accept NOW. At the ages of 11 through 15, however, all I could feel was the singing embarrassment of losing to a bunch of long-legged, short shorted, high-ponytailed twats.

Despite our record, we had some really good games against some really good teams and I personally had some superhero moments. One of these involved a full 90 minutes of me and the leagues leading scorer (this being the "Super Youth League", mind you) pulling each others hair and gauging each other in the eyes in all out battles for every ball. The opposing coach came up to me after the game and said to me in a scottish accent "Where I come from we have a saying for people like you: you're all full of piss and vinegar"." He then went on to nominate me for the regional squad (I didn't end up getting it, but still). We ended up losing the game 2-1 but I felt like there was no opponent that I couldn't destroy.

This was the summer before my Junior year  at Green Mountain Valley School. It is a private (read: expensive) alpine ski racing academy so everyone had at least a touch of my elitist predilections either on a physical or in many cases, a purely socioeconomic plane. Our soccer team was physically talented, but only a handful of us played outside of the high school season and at any given time as much as half the team might be off in Europe at a training camp. As a result our seasons were short, our practices more focused on conditioning than skill, and we often lost. I didn't like the losing, but I did like being the only one on the team to make the allstate selection each year.  By the time I was a Junior I had begun to feel like I could control the success of my team because of my experiences the previous summer. I played sweeper, and as the last line of defense I often felt like a lone Samurai waiting for the hoards to close in. Sometimes I could stop them. Sometimes, though, I just couldn't.

When I was a Senior we really didn't do very well. The other Senior defenders were mad at me for not respecting them enough, I was having a harder time putting my body in harms way so frequently, and our offense was unwaveringly useless. At some point in one of our final games something inside of me popped. Like carbonation rising from my gut I felt a bubble of irreverence. Who. Fucking. CARES. It wasn't anger, but a sort of giddy relief.  We could win, we could lose, we could all lie down and take a nap for all I cared. I just wanted to be done with it.

Through some glitch(this according to my coach) I didn't get named to the Allstate team that year. I did, however, get named to the Lion State team which was comprised of the best high school seniors in Vermont. We played a game against the best of New Hampshire the following spring. Not only did we lose, but the coach was from a school that never played my high school team, so she didn't know me, and therefor she refused to play me in favor of one of THE FUCKING ALTERNATES for my position from her own school.  I had been named one of the best 11 in the state by Varsity Magazine that year, but whatever. Coachy McBitchface had to have it her way. I guess it still bothers me a little .... Anyway. Bad experience.

 Other than a few small field coed games here and there I didn't play soccer in college. I had classes and friends and other interests to pursue. I considered joining the club team but A) They practiced really early and I spent my whole childhood waking up early and I was feeling pretty done with that. and B) I was having a very nice time NOT living in a black pit of competitive rage. It wasn't until this year, now two summers out of college that I joined a Women's team, and then a co-ed team, and started playing again. I have no rage issues whatsoever. I like to play. I like to win and have good personal moments but mostly I just like to play. Maybe I've simply matured, or maybe having to work through so much competitive drama in my youth and as a teenager really did "build character" and its just now kicking in.

I thought I had a point when I started all of this, apparently not so much, but to be more cogent I would have had to lie. That's something I do all the time in my writing, but it's not really what I want this blog to be like. It doesn't help me.  So, if you're feeling a little mad at me for making you read all of that, here's a nice picture to look at.

1 comment:

  1. Well, to ME thats all powerful stuff on very level. I think GMVS soccer "cured " more than one of us of some stuff.
    And I think I took that picture.