My 17-year-old daughter has been playing soccer since she was 5. One year of club soccer sent her running back into the arms of our local AYSO -- something that had little to do with her skill set and more to do with just wanting to have fun at a sport she loves.
I am happy to report that her Malibu AYSO Girls U19 team just won the area playoffs after an undefeated season. What I love most about that fact is this: They didn't hold a single practice all year. Not a one. In fact, on the roster of 21 girls, there were a couple of games where just enough players showed up to take the field and they played without subs. Still no pleading notes from the coach, no emails begging girls to show up. Nothing.
So how does a team that doesn't practice and doesn't insist that the girls come to games rise to the state level? Easy. To start, the coaches understood and made it clear from the start that this was only about having fun, so there was no pressure. We all like to win, but this wasn't about winning; it was about fun. Against a backdrop of looming college admissions, SAT prep classes and AP studies, plus stacks of homework best measured in miles not feet, the coaches realized that there wasn't room for One. More. Obligation. Not one more. So they wisely didn't create one.
Instead what they created was a breather. It was fun to hang out with whoever showed up for a game. It was fun for the parents too, especially now that most of the girls could drive themselves to the pre-game warmup and parents could just show up later to watch. Not that this team actually ever even really warmed up. Our warmups looked more like a coffee klatch the morning after a sleepover but with more stretching and a few casual practice kicks into the goal. It didn't matter; it was fun.
But there is another reason that the team that did not practice did so well. With a very few exceptions, these girls have been playing soccer together for about a dozen years. They know one another, trust each other as players, and all seem to like everybody else on the team. In more than a decade of watching them, I can't recall a single instance of a player finger-pointing or blaming a teammate for a defensive mistake or missed goal. They know each other so well that they sense where the girl playing left wing will run; they intuit which way the center midfielder will boom the ball; and the balls the mid-line kicks always land squarely at the feet of the forward because everyone knows how she runs and where the ball needs to drop. They pass the ball, they share the glory, and when a goal is scored it's a team goal not a player's goal.
So why am I writing about the team that did not practice in a column that generally discusses the experience of aging? Because there are a few life lessons in here: There are some situations in life that need to be recognized as crazy-making stressors. Practices when most of these girls were carrying rigorous course loads, play school sports and have tons of other obligations demanding their time was one such situation. Mid-lifers are known as the sandwich generation because we attempt to be all things to all people, caring for our elderly relatives and managing our families simultaneously. Maybe we can occasionally just stop practicing?
And then of course there is the real aging lesson from the team that did not practice: What you need to survive is to surround yourself with a bunch of people who actually know you well and on whom you can rely. I believe they're called friends.
Thanks, girls, for the reminder.