Knockback to comeback: A personal take

Many have read from my previous articles that I am a grassroots coach for a high school-aged girls football team here in the States.

As a team, we were able to make it to the district tournament at the end of this season.

This is the second time in a row that we have advanced to the district tournament and if we make it past this first round, that would be the first for our program.

I wanted to take this moment and share something that I had learned over the course of this football season.

We hear the phrase winning isn’t everything but when you have such drive in your veins it is hard to turn off that competitive nature.

A month ago, I was reminded of a quote from my favourite footballer Lucy Bronze.

“The pain of defeat shows just how far we have come.”

Lucy Bronze

One Saturday afternoon in October

This was the second time in a row we had made district tournament and due to our points total, we had home advantage.

In the back of my mind, I hoped it would not finish out the same way it did last year. It ended level, heading into extra time, and proceeding to do penalty kicks where we were not able to get the job done.

This was a new team and we would fight regardless of the scoreline. The first half was an uphill climb for my team. We had fallen 2-0 behind, but the juniors and seniors in our squad took the reigns during halftime.

They reminded each other how they felt last year and how we could not end up in that same predicament again. The fight was on as we were able to level the playing field, but time was not on our side.

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With a couple of minutes left, we were heading into extra time. As a coach, there are three things that come to mind when your squad is in this situation: drive, motivation, and the belief that they could win.

Those three characteristics are all a coach can hope for in this time in the game. As the final whistle blew, we were staring down the barrel of déjà vu.

Our captains came back from the coin toss and took control once again. They were rallying the girls to get the goal early so we can stick to our normal game plan in order to secure the win.

No one wanted to go out like this especially the girls on the squad who experienced this last year. We were determined to do anything to avoid the same result.

Once again, time was against us. Extra time concluded and we were still level.

Penalties once again

Stepping onto the pitch as the team lined up on the half-way line, the players knew who would be taking the penalty kicks.

Us, as coaches, did not have to say anything as the players organized everything. As a player walked over to me, she put her arm around me and asked: “Coach Kara, are you nervous?”

Inside I was dying because I could feel their emotions; not to mention, I did not want this team to go out this way. With all the hard work we had put in this season, this loss would not only hurt the team but me personally.

I simply replied: “No Hannah, just hope it is not like last year.” Our top scorer was next. She was looking frustrated, as her two goals prior did not help us out on the big picture.

I told her: “Hey! Stay in the game! Give it all you got just one more time!” She had a glossy stare as she nodded and said, “Yeah I guess so” and walked away to the line.

I stood over next to a few of our younger players, continuing to encourage them during this pivotal time. Our top scorer, Katlin, stepped up to the line and it was saved.

A fantastic save and the ball placement was amazing. Once this happened, you could see that the morale of our team sunk.

Now it was time for our Freshmen goalkeeper, who had only experienced one other penalty shootout prior to this game, to take to the goal. She did well but we were unable to execute our shots.

We lost the penalty shootout 4-2.

Picking ourselves up

The team morale was able to climb ever so slightly with each goal we scored.

Underneath it all, I knew this was going to affect our team and I was unsure if we would still be able to maintain our composure or if the landslide would start.

When you have about twenty players in your squad ranging between the ages of thirteen to eighteen years old, you never know what kind of emotions they will experience.

They surprised me, though. We had some that started to blame others but they were simply disappointed in themselves for the team’s loss.

This was the Seniors’ last game ever with our program. It became more real to several of our players when the Seniors removed their stuff from their lockers and took off their nameplate.

The emotions came to full fruition as all the records we had broken we down in our programs books.

It was time for the coaching staff to turn our attention to naming our player(s) who have made the squad in our district as an All-State player.

The season capped off with us finishing fourth in our district and second within our county.

I am very proud of our team and I keep reflecting on this game, but I think the best way to process is straight from the players’ mouths.

I asked one of our Senior players to share what she felt with our final game and that they learned.

Senior Kaelee said: “I felt like we went in a little bit over-confident. We knew we had won against them before and I think that got to us.

Is a loss really a loss?

This has been haunting me until we had our team’s banquet at the end of October.

Being with the team again brought so much clarity and allowed me to end this season on a high note.

Advancing to the next round would have been an amazing feat for our program. When I came on three seasons ago, the record was very poor.

New coaching staff came and the players started to gain something: belief. The belief was not only in the team but also in themselves.

We can now say we have had nine to ten wins every season since that has been instilled in our team. What does a program like this do moving forward?

Exactly what we have been teaching our players.

Our culture will not change. Yes, the sting of the final game will be there but we still have our personal and team goals that adjust each season.

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The determination and motivation from this game will fuel our flame into next season’s play but we will keep pushing. Every loss hurts but we only fail if we do not fix the errors that were made.

There are positives in every game and it is okay to fail. We have to take that failure and move forward not backwards.

As a coach, it is devastating when your team takes a hard tumble but what means the most is if the team remains who they are during it all.

Losing composure is not something desired but is an outcome that can happen in the game of football. You lose some and you win some.

The style and class had by a team through every moment read more than the final score.

Is a loss really a loss or is it just another benchmark we can use to see how far we have come?