A few years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. In it, he talks about how most of the elite hockey players in Canada are born in the first half of the year, a huge amount in the first three months. When kids are little and join sports teams that are chosen based on birth year, the ones born earlier in the year are bigger and faster and more mature (some by almost 12 months). Over time, the younger ones don't make the good teams, and end up training at a lower level with inferior coaches, thereby exacerbating the gap between them and the older kids. Eventually they are weeded out of the game. I saw this phenomenon first hand, though I didn't realize it at the time. I was born in early November and was almost always the youngest person on my regional ODP team. I distinctly remember one year that there was only one girl younger than me, born at the end of December. This did nothing to help my "cool" quotient, not to mention the height differential between me and the other goalkeepers.
What I did have, however, was parents who continued to pay for me to play until I caught up. Even more importantly, they (and many others) believed that I could and would catch up if I tried hard enough.
Simply put, they kept me in the game.
What I've come to appreciate more than ever recently is that we all have people who keep us in the game.
I don't like to admit this. I take personal responsibility very seriously. In the end, we are the ones who have to live with the choices we make, regardless of how awesome or crappy the people around us are. Sometimes someone is there the moment you need them, telling you how great you are, other times they’re late cause they stopped to pick up a double mocha-ccino on the way (probably cause you’re exhausting and they can’t make it through another one of your meltdowns without chemical assistance).
But no one does it alone.
Me very much included.
When I first arrived in Washington, I had a bad habit of trying to contour catch the ball even when it was too low.
(If you are a goalkeeper, you know that there is this awkward space around your belly button where you have to decide whether to catch the ball underhand in a “basket catch” or over hand in a “contour catch.” It’s one of those things that everyone learns to deal with a little bit differently.)
During one of my first sessions in Washington, Lloyd Yaxley (our GK coach) tried repeatedly to change this bad habit of mine.
Naturally, I fixated on fixing it. It seemed like such a simple thing to fix. So I asked Lloyd to stay after the session (in the freezing cold) to hit balls to that exact area. Over and over and over, until I did it right a few times. And then right a few more times.
Later that week, I asked him to stay and take extra crosses on me so I could practice holding a second longer and exploding into the ball, angling my body so when I got hit full on by a forward, I will have momentum on my side.
He continued to correct my technique all season, even though he must have known that would mean extra work for him after the session, that he would need to watch me get frustrated and angry and do it wrong a hundred more times.
Fast forward to this fall.
I’d already decided that I couldn’t play the same role again this summer in Washington - that I would sign with a team in Sweden.
After last summer, I knew that I needed to become more explosive, cover more of the goal quicker. Part of that was in the gym (Jump Attack and all that). But part of it was also being able to functionally use that explosiveness.
So during one session, I attached myself to one of the posts using a bungee cord and Lloyd hit essentially the same extension dive ball at me at least a hundred times.
He never stopped, never suggested we try something else, never commented as I cursed at myself.
It was hot on that turf. He’d already trained kids that morning, sat in traffic, worked his ass off all week. But he was still out there helping me, even though it wasn’t his job to.
When you “grow up” you realize that it’s no longer anyone’s “job” to care about you. People get wrapped up in their own lives (again me very much included), and if you are not on their critical path you can get lost in the shuffle - especially if you appear self-sufficient. It sounds like a terrible thing but really it's just life and how we all cope with the stress - we triage.
I got lucky this past season. Lloyd helped me when it was not glamorous or exciting. He went out of his way be at my games, warm me up if he could. He would call to check in if I seemed to be having a particularly bad day. He worked all day everyday and still showed up in the morning genuinely happy to be at training. He didn’t have to do any of it. With a newborn at home, I'm not even sure he slept.
I know how lucky that made me.
I think we all want people to tell us we're worth something. We want to be loved. We want to be told we've done a good job. We want someone eloquent to come along and make us feel shiny and perfect and brand new.
But talk is cheap.
Life is really hard sometimes (no people excepted), and there is nothing more valuable than your time. There are no words that can ever replace taking the time to help someone get where they want to go.
MANY people in Washington lent me pieces of themselves last year. And looking back on it now, I realize that I’ve been blessed many times with great people at the moment I needed them most. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve it.
But right now, I just want to say a special thank you Lloyd for keeping me in the game when I might not have been able to do it alone.