Chapter 28: R*E*S*P*E*C*T – ROOKIE: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer
So far I’ve tried to give you the best possible chance of positioning yourself for a successful preseason that will hopefully lead to playing time and acceptance into your team. However, there is still one very large hurdle you have to navigate. To get a spot on the field, you’re going to have to win it. That means you’re going to have to compete and compete hard against your new teammates, including the returners. And that is where a good many rookies lose the plot.
There’s no way around it; preseason is an awkward way to kick off your college career. In its strange dichotomy, preseason demands that you simultaneously cooperate with the same people you are competing against. You are locked into a mutual dependence. You have a responsibility to help one another, even while you are perhaps fighting for the same position. This can be a confusing time for a rookie, especially if you haven’t yet figured out exactly what you want from your first year of college soccer.
Let me simplify this conundrum for you. Before you get to preseason, you’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to decide what’s more important: getting on the field or winning a popularity contest. If your top priority is to not offend your new teammates, plan on spending a lot of time watching college soccer games.
Yes, you will spend a large chunk of preseason trying to make your teammates look good, and you will enjoy doing that well. However, there will also be moments when you have to compete against the returners head-to-head, and that’s going to have a massive impact on whether or not you get on the field when that first game rolls around.
Some rookies are so scared of upsetting the returners that they never get around to showcasing their best selves. The real shame of it happens weeks or months later when they realize that they are actually better than the players who are playing in front of them. When the duels begin, you need to have a clear conscience about doing your best to conquer your teammate/opponent, even if she’s got some seniority on you. Remember what brought you to that program in the first place. I assure you it wasn’t some odd fascination with watching your friends play college soccer.
The bottom line is that when it comes to playing time, your teammates are also your competitors. Now you can accept that and adjust to it, or you can leave yourself at the mercy of the returning players who have already learned that lesson. Seniority doesn’t equal playing time, despite the wishes of the returning players. The best players play. Period.
If you want to play, there’s only one person you need to please, and that is your coach. If you want his approval, I guarantee that you won’t get it by continually deferring to the upperclassmen. You’ll only get it by stepping onto the field and proving that you are the best player for the job. Accept the fact that you are going to have to fight for that position and that may mean ruffling some feathers in the process. But if you want the respect of your coaches and your teammates, you’re going to have to go out there and earn it.
Soccer is a massive conglomeration of individual battles. You win respect by winning those battles as often as you can by as much as you can. Your teammates should not enjoy training against you. If your teammates enjoy training against you, you’re doing something very wrong. On the other hand, if your teammates hate training against you, I’d be willing to wager that you’re making a favorable impression upon your coach.
Now you don’t have to take my advice. You are perfectly welcome to take the more submissive approach; just remember what you’ll be giving up if you do.
There is one other really interesting tidbit that will turn this whole dy- namic on its ear. It has been my experience that the rookies who come in and compete the hardest actually end up winning the popularity contest anyway. Why’s that? Because they add value. You see, there’s a core group of returning players that sit high up in the pecking order of your new team. When it comes to team chemistry, they steer the ship. Those core players have high ambitions for their team. They are secure in their roles as players and leaders, and because they wield so much power, they shape the team dynamic. And those players are thrilled when they see a rookie who is going to add value to their team. As for the rookies who show up timid, well, they are quickly dismissed as competitive assets. The leaders may genuinely like them as people, but they won’t value them as players.
I once saw a television show where a law enforcement officer was teaching children how to react if someone attempts to kidnap them. His most memorable piece of advice was to put up your best fight before the kidnapper gets you into the car. He told the children that once the kidnapper gets you into the car, he takes control and your chances of survival are greatly reduced.
You need to think of the first day of classes as the car, because that’s the day preseason ends. Once preseason ends, the shuffling of players naturally decreases as coaches make firmer decisions about their line-ups. Use preseason to put up your best fight and make your strongest case. You can make giant leaps in preseason; after that, it gets significantly more difficult to make up big chunks of ground.
Preseason is the hardest you will have to compete against your teammates because it is such a lengthy ordeal. You’re basically cramming three weeks of training sessions into ten very tense days. Once preseason ends and classes begin, everything starts to shake out and everyone will calm down and settle into their roles. Once again, my point is, make your case in preseason. Put up your best fight when it will do you the most good. The social fallout you think you’ll experience is far less than what you’ll actually experience. Go out and earn their respect as someone who will help the team win. Do your very best from the very beginning or, believe me, you’ll end up wishing you had.