Chapter 32: DON’T DISQUALIFY YOURSELF – ROOKIE: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer
When you’re fighting for playing time, whether it’s in preseason or beyond, the first thing you must take care of is ensuring that you don’t disqualify yourself. The difference between you and the teammate you’re competing against might be almost invisible. When it’s time for the coach to decide who gets the spot, it might not be about the player who pulled ahead in the race; it might be about the player who fell out of it. Don’t break the tie by getting careless.
Your job is to make the coach’s decision difficult. When you break team rules or negatively affect team chemistry, you make his decision very easy. He’s not going to reward you for failing to live up to the team’s standards. I’ve said it over and over and I’ll continue to do so: You’ve got to control the things you have the power to control.
Make sure you’re taking care of the little things. Get to team functions on time. Obey the curfews and whatever other policies are in place. Don’t lie or backstab your teammates. Don’t doze off during a video session. And don’t commit social media suicide. To win the race, you first have to finish the race.
There’s no way for me to adequately stress the importance of not disqualifying yourself. I’ve seen talented players take themselves out of the equation year after year after year. It’s happened on my teams, and it will also happen on yours. The good news is that you’re now aware of it, so you can use it to your advantage. Responsible behavior will help you somewhere down the road. You’ll read more about that later.
When it comes to staying in the race, don’t underestimate the value of discipline. It’s not just rule-breaking that can lead to your disqualification; a lapse in physical performance will have that same effect. You need to maintain your highest level of performance each and every day to stay on course to finish the race. Not all of your teammates will be able to deliver their very best on a daily basis. When their level of play drops, they fall off of the lead pack and a separation grows between them and the front-runners.
Let me put it to you another way. Think of every player on your team as a helium balloon. When you’re all playing at your best, you’re all bumping up against the ceiling. As a few of those balloons begin to lose some air, they begin to drop. They might not sink all the way to the floor, but they won’t stay up at the same high level as the other balloons. The balloons that are up against the ceiling didn’t get any higher, but because some of the other balloons sank, they look better by comparison. This is a fairly common phenomenon during preseason. It’s not always about being the player that rises higher. Sometimes it’s about not being the player who sinks. And what you do off the field will have a tremendous impact on the amount of helium in your balloon.
College offers you all types of freedoms that high school never did, and those freedoms will begin availing themselves to you immediately. Those freedoms will suck some of your teammates down the drain, and if you’re not careful, you’ll go down with them.
You have a preseason mission, and that mission is to prove to your coach that you belong on the field. Your climb is steep enough already. Don’t make it any steeper by being undisciplined off the field. When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your performance will suffer. When you are dehydrated, your performance will suffer. When you drink alcohol, your performance will suffer. Now I’m pretty sure that you already know all that; so what’s the point in telling you something you already know? Well, despite your best intentions, your need for belonging can quickly lead to some seriously self-destructive behaviors.
It’s important to remember that those 25 helium balloons are not clones of one another. Each one of them is going to be impacted differently, even when existing in the exact same environment. It doesn’t matter if all 25 of you decide to stay up all night partying; the effects will be more damaging to some than to others.
I took up smoking in 11th grade. Why? Because I was an idiot. I thought that there was some void in my life that smoking would fill. I started smoking on a Wednesday, and I didn’t just ease into it either; I went straight for the hard stuff – Marlboro Reds. By Friday night I had finished my first pack.
The next morning I had soccer practice with my club team and I was genuinely astonished to realize the devastating impact of my three-day habit! Remember that void I mentioned? Turns out it was my lungs. For 16 years I could run like a deer, but after one pack of cigarettes, I thought a soccer practice was going to kill me! I was literally starved for air! I remember struggling to run, gasping for air and thinking, ‘Holy cow! All those commercials are right!’ It was horrible! Twenty minutes into that practice I decided to quit smoking. Forever! So you can imagine my surprise when I got to college and discovered that the fittest player on our team was a chain smoker!
My point is this: Just because everyone does it, it doesn’t mean that you’ll all fall equally. And since you don’t know exactly how far you’ll fall, and since it’s in your best interest not to fall at all, I highly recommend that you avoid engaging in any behaviors that will be less than conducive to your very best performance.
Remember the story about Richard Hatch from Survivor? Well, this is another reason why it’s so important to have a plan in place before preseason begins. This is why it’s a great idea to have a contract with yourself. You need to make a ten-day commitment to focusing all of your energies into delivering your best possible performance, and a major part of that is going to mean saying no to some social opportunities.
The social life is going to sink some of your teammates, in preseason and beyond. Believe me, it will. If the person you are targeting wants to self-destruct, just stay out of her way. Let her create the separation for you. All you have to do is maintain your pace while she falls behind.
You have four years of college life. Don’t try to cram it all in to the first ten days! As a matter of fact, you should commit to keeping those social opportunities out of your life for that first week and a half. Two weeks later you won’t regret missing that party; but if you’re sitting on the bench, you may very well regret attending it.
Not everything is under your control, but some things are. When you have the opportunity to control something that affects your performance, you’ve got to own it! Remember why you came to preseason in the first place. Be strong enough to sidestep temptation so you can make your best possible case. If you don’t, you will most certainly regret it.
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