On Your Last Game

 

On your last game,

You started playing soccer when you were 8 years old. I remember the very first team you played for. It was a blue team with a horribly outdated style of standard issued uniforms- which were made out of a silky 1990s type of material. I remember the first time you ever put your shinguards on—your mom had to call the coach, who gave you wrong instructions on how to wear them. So you put your socks on first and placed your shinguards over the top of the sock and folded the sock back down over the shinguards. You’ll laugh every time you see those pictures for the rest of your life.

You played the position of: soccer… Because in U8 there aren’t positions because everyone runs around in a huddled mess around the ball- poking and stabbing and trying, with no avail, to get a piece of it. I remember the girl who usually played goalkeeper for your team wasn’t there that night, so your coach asked for volunteers for keeper. You, naturally, were the first to volunteer. But your coach looked right past you… or over you rather, because you were too short to play goalkeeper. Even at age 8 it was clear that you were one of the smallest on the team- the smallest on either team… okay, the smallest in the entire league. But, after much protest you finally convinced him to put you in- you always were pretty adamant in getting your way. The game ended, and I don’t remember the result of that game, I don’t even remember you playing in goal or making any saves to be honest. But I do remember after the game your coach- a dad who never touched a soccer ball before he started coaching this team- told you that you actually played great in goal and he wanted you to play there more often. I remember you being so proud of yourself. I remember that moment, and I know that it was a defining moment that would stick with you, even throughout college.

I wish I knew way back then that this sport would shape your life and shape you into who you are now. I had no idea that this sport- a sport you only started because two of your church friends played, would turn you into the woman that you are now. I had no idea that of all 20 girls you played soccer with from age 8 to age 18 that you would be only one of two girls who played in college. In fact, I wouldn’t have ever guessed that you would even be good enough to play in college.

I’m not the only one who didn’t think that you were good enough. You had plenty of adversity in your career as a young goalkeeper. Your club coach for the 94’ Comets had little faith that a 5’ nothing, 95lb, 13 year old goalkeeper could tend a 8’ x 24’goal. In fact, the exact words he used when he told you that you couldn’t go in during that Joplin Tournament were, “You’re too small… You will get your teeth knocked out.” And that hurt you. It hurt you a lot more than you let on. His words destroyed your confidence, it killed your spirit, it made you doubt who you were as an athlete and as a soccer player… and at age 13- that was your entire identity.

In the very next game, at the same Joplin tournament, you went in at goal. We were losing by at least 7 at half time, so coach pulled the other keeper out and put you in. In the rest of that game they didn’t score any more goals. You saved all of the shots that came at you. You came off the field after the game, and everyone expected you to come off with arrogance and an “I told you so” attitude—but you didn’t. You weren’t arrogant because you didn’t realize how well you had done. You just did your job as best as you knew how- just like you would do for the rest of your soccer career. After the game, parents, referees, teammates, opponents, the other team’s coach even- came up to you and said that you made some incredible saves and that they were amazed at how good you were. You played the rest of your games that season as the starting goalkeeper.

You made it to high school (by the grace of God) and you were so excited to start high school soccer and play for the infamous coach Bowen. A coach notorious for being a stereotypically angry, hot-headed guy who yelled and threw people out of practice on a regular basis. I remember your first ever high school practice was in the summer. You ran on the track- more fitness than you had ever done in your entire life. Coach Bowen made it evidently clear that you would never bend over and put your hands on your knees and that you would run through every single line. You stopped short of a line in one of the first fitness drills that first day. Everyone redid the fitness- because of you. But you learned your lesson. In the next four years of high school soccer- you never, not one single time, stopped short of a line. And that shaped who you are now.

Your freshmen year you were split between the varsity and junior varsity teams. Your first priority was JV because you played goalkeeper for them. Your second priority was varsity because you were a substitute for playing in the field. You were named the captain for the JV team. It was just JV, but you the fact that you stepped up and were voted a captain by your coaches, as a freshman, says a great deal about your character.

Your first ever high school soccer game did not go well. You will remember that game, even after you graduate high school. The score was 11-0. After that brutal loss, Coach Coke put his arm around you, knowing that you were angry and upset at the result of your first-ever high school game. And he told you, “That score in no way reflects you as a goalkeeper. You played really, really, really well.” And that was the first moment that you felt a bond with that coach. When high school was all said and done, Coach Coke would become the reason that you became such a great team-player and such a great goalkeeper. Three years later, on his last game coaching you at Siloam, Coach Coke would hug you and tell you through his tears, “If I ever have a daughter—I hope that she is just like you.” Words that still ring in your ears to this day and probably will for the rest of your life.

Your first game to play on varsity was at Greenbrier high school. You subbed in during the first few minutes of the game at outside, right mid- a position you had never played before. With about 5 minutes remaining in the half, Coach Bowen subbed you out. You walked up to him, eager for advice on how to be better. He waved you over and said, “Hannah Poor. We have a huge problem.” Great. “We needed you to play JV goalkeeper… but you’re the best player we have for outside mid.” And you started every game after that for the rest of your freshman season. You were the only freshman who started. And you handled it with grace and class- there wasn’t a single teammate who resented you or didn’t respect you.

Your freshman year came and went just about as fast as the upper classmen said it would. In a summer practice before your sophomore year, Coach Bowen approached you with a question. A question whose answer would shape your next seven years. He said, “Well, the starting goalkeeper spot is there if you want it. But so is the starting right midfield spot. Which one do you want?” You had no idea that the answer to this question was such a defining moment—but then again, most of your life-defining moments have usually been little decisions like this. You talked to your dad that night, and he said- “realistically, if you want to play in college, you should play in the field. Not a whole lot of college coaches are going to want a 5’2 goalkeeper.” At this point you didn’t even know if you were going to play in college yet. You wanted to, but you still doubted your ability. You short-changed yourself a lot, and people still tell you that, but you’ll never believe them- not even in college. You told Coach Bowen that you would play goalkeeper. This decision you would come to question many times, especially throughout college. It’s hard to know whether or not you made the right decision- but you’ll never get to see the alternative so why even dwell on it? And considering where you are right now, it’s a pretty safe bet that you did in fact make the right decision.

High school soccer treated you well. You continued as captain for your varsity team sophomore, junior, and senior year. You collected more accolades and plaques than you will care to remember and your name became a familiar one around the school and around the community. But you still didn’t let it go to your head and you never took on the stereotypical cocky athlete agenda. It never appealed to you and it never lined up with what you believed in. You knew that as a successful high school athlete you had a platform, and you were determined to use it to in a way that glorified God. You weren’t perfect and you didn’t always succeed at this, but your heart was in the right place and you were headed in the right direction.

At the beginning of your senior season you were invited to a practice with John Brown University. The coach had sent you an email asking you to come out. You were so nervous. This was your tryout. You got one day, one practice, one shot. If you did well, maybe, just maybe you could play college soccer after all. Apparently you impressed someone somehow because you ended up receiving an offer to play for John Brown. It was a pretty easy decision at that point. You were so excited. Your dream of playing college soccer- the dream that you were sure was too big for you. You never thought you were good enough to go to the next level. You were too small- you would get your teeth knocked out… But here you were- proving them wrong- proving yourself wrong. What an accomplishment. One that didn’t come through luck or coincidence. It came through hard work and discipline and doing what you love and what the Lord gave you talents to do.

College soccer. You sat on the charter bus, heading to your first game in Iowa. You sat in the window seat and looked out, nothing but cornfields in view. And I remember how in awe you were. You were surrounded by college athletes—no, you were a college athlete. You were honored to be in the same bus heading to the same game as your new teammates. You were humbled and excited and in a state of disbelief of how you got here or how you even deserved to be on this team. That feeling you had heading to Iowa- yeah it never left. You had that same feeling every single bus ride for the entirety of your college career. You never once took it for granted. You were always thankful, always eager, always excited, always in awe.

College soccer came and went faster than the upperclassmen had promised. In your four years you collected some accolades and eventually became a captain your senior year. You were respected by your teammates- not for how well you played on the field, but because of the same discipline and work ethic that got you to college soccer in the first place. Do yourself a favor and remember the very last time you put your shinguards on. You will slide them underneath your sock and you’ll pull your sock up as high as it can stretch. Then you will fold it over twice so that it sits directly under your knee. Don’t forget that moment. It’s significant.

You started playing soccer at age 8. Now you’re 22. You would have never guessed that at age 8 you would be writing to yourself 14 years later, explaining how you got to where you are right now.

So to you on your very last game: Remember what built you. Remember where you came from. Never forget the first time you put your shinguards on. Never forget being told that you couldn’t. Never forget your discipline. Never forget Coach’s words. Never take what you’ve been given in a certain season of life for granted. Time comes and time goes and it won’t wait up. Yesterday you pulled on your tacky, silky 1990s #4 soccer jersey. Today you take off your striped, Adidas #00 jersey. And this time you’ll never put it back on. This season of life is over. But it’s okay because more seasons will come—not for soccer, but for other things… good things. Remember how you got to where you did in soccer, because those are the same things that will get you to where you’re going next- and let me tell you, that is a very, very good place.

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