Today was the last game of 10 years of my daughter playing for this man. When she started she could outrun anyone on the field, but a gust of wind might blow her over. A gazelle on a top team in the city. She got to travel far away to play in miserable weather. She got to learn that she is deeply competitive, even ruthless, but never dirty or unfair. She got to learn team success. She got to make mistakes that cost the team the tournament. She got to sit on a bench and wait for another chance. She got another chance and failed at that too. She got to endure two frustrating years playing only 1/3 of a game on a struggling no longer top team in the city. She got to learn that if failure is one’s fate, then not complaining and continuing to work hard every day is how you beat it. That character and perseverance is necessary to win in the long run.
She got to learn that she is a Marine by nature: That she’ll take that hill or die trying. Anything less is unthinkable. And that most people are unlike her, so she’ll probably spend much of her time climbing that hill alone. But that the view is worth it.
She got to learn that life is unfair. But that even if one is too small to hold onto the ball, one can always develop a great first touch so as never to be caught with the ball in the first place. Which now makes one a great passer. So weakness overcome at one stage of development becomes an advantage at the next. And that when height and strength finally do arrive, payback is beautiful.
The gazelle is now a panther.
I didn’t always have faith my daughter was going to be a good player. Those failures were painful, and it was my first rodeo. She had athleticism, but lacked skill and received no reward. I didn’t think anyone else had faith in her either, perhaps even her coach. 5 years in, after another disappointing year, I asked if we needed to move on. He was shocked at the question, answering: “Absolutely not. She is about to become very good and I have big plans for her.”
(What he only told us later was that he was alone in that opinion. All the other coaches had recommended he drop her.)
That meeting ended our concern. I trusted the man. That summer she grew, and that fall everything changed for the better.
3 girls who played all 10 years together. 8 who played the last 6. That just doesn’t happen. You have to be incredibly lucky.
Lucky to have a coach powerful enough to win the internal club battles and keep the team together. Who has always done the right thing for the player, as opposed to himself. Who cares about character and chemistry and playing soccer the right way. Who praises a loss played well, and criticizes a win played badly. Who criticizes without belittling. Who believes that fundamentals cannot be taught via shortcuts. Who demands you play it out of the backfield. That you pass to build up an attack instead of just kicking it downfield. Even if it means you lose for a few years. That you need to take that hill the way he tells you to take that hill, and if you die today while trying, today isn’t the most important matter.
Where you are in 10 years is the most important matter.
Thank you, Michael Cleary. Your character matters, and that is why this team always stayed together. My daughter has been incredibly lucky to have you as her coach. May you have many more teams of quality, and may you be respected and rewarded for being the great coach you are.