By Lyndse Hokanson
Colgate University Head Women’s Soccer Coach
I want to start by saying that I by no means – or by many means even – have it all figured out. I would simply like to offer my reflection on what the past few months have looked like and meant to a new head coach in hopes that it will resonate with the experience of many of you. An experience I’d argue that we will not soon forget.
To put it into context, let me set the scene. I was hired in my new role 5 days before Christmas, and met my team for the first time one month later. We started our 8-hour training weeks on the 27th of January, my staff was in place one month after that, and we were all sent home (like many of you) on the 13th of March. After just two short weeks together as a whole, we were just as quickly spread across the country and on our own.
Despite our staff’s disappointment and frustration at losing this time with my team on the field, I believe, above all else, we have been fortunate in these unique circumstances to be granted an opportunity to be reminded what this whole thing is about. Let me explain.
We all come into a spring season, or a new job, or a new team, with the greatest of intentions and the grandest of plans. I know that was the case for me. A blank slate, a new adventure.
But maybe you, like me, find that after a while those mighty ambitions can perhaps be swept into the fast-moving current of daily life and the unforeseen challenges of a season. Then, those fundamental ideas that were once top priority suddenly find themselves on the second page of our to-do list collecting dust. Culture and values make way for technical and tactical scheming, attention to individual player well-being and progress falls to the shadows of team dynamics, injuries, poor trainings, and group growth. Maybe I am just speaking for myself, or maybe some of you will agree that when the water is streaming through a fire hose, sometimes the aims and intentions we had for harmony and collective development off the pitch fall victim to our most immediate and pressing “needs” happening in front of our eyes in 90-minute spells.
What a whirlwind it has been being grounded in the wonderful reminder that our teams are constructed of complex individuals, each with unique needs, circumstances, strengths and shortcomings. And while the trainings on the field have come to a screeching halt, in the settled dust we have found a new and amazing opportunity to discover (re-discover) the beauty of seeing, hearing, and appreciating those unique individuals as the colors on our palette for painting the masterpiece that is our team.
The world granted us a pause to remember to not take this experience, this soccer journey, time with one another learning and growing, for granted. And now, as our country looks itself hard in the mirror, once again we find our typical shield of busy-ness removed and the opportunity (perhaps responsibility) to take the time to have deep and meaningful conversations with our players that do not have anything to do with soccer. And I would argue, thanks in large part to taking the time to build the foundation (or for some of us revisit and refortify), the door is open for these conversations to take place in a safer, more vulnerable setting made possible by the absence of trainings and games. These are essential conversations, and look different for each of our teams, but this time apart has introduced a togetherness unlike ever before, and the space to engage, listen, and turn thought into action.
When we look back on this time, I think we will thank it for being the moment that reminded us to pause, to breathe, and to remember that life is bigger and broader than that 2-0 loss, or that disappointing pressing session (we’ve all been there!). And may we never forget in the best of times and worst of times to continue to tend to the foundation – our players. May we learn, may we grow, may we heal in this time, and may we forge a new path forward better than before: not just returning to “normal,” but redefining it and taking pride in course correction and improvement.
I’ll be grateful, like many of us I’m sure, to be able to hug and high five my girls again, and see them bigger than an inch by an inch on a screen. And I will be sure to continue to remind them about how we can practice gratitude and joy for what we have learned through this whole experience.