I remember his words to this day.
Coach Karl, the first club soccer coach I ever played for, would gather ‘round my Metro 74 team after a tough loss and tell us to listen closely. He’d light one of his signature stogies, take a deep breath and calmly recite the same phrase we had heard hundreds of times.
“The game could have gone either way. It’s just one of a thousand games you’ll play in your life. There will always be another game.”
Coach Karl was right, of course. Most of the members of my team were only 8 or 9 years old. Our soccer careers were just beginning. There were many more games still to be played.
Coach Karl’s comforting words put things into perspective. Big picture, losses that we thought were debilitating truthfully didn’t mean all that much. I’ve always hated losing more than I’ve enjoyed winning, so it was an especially important lesson for me to learn. Savor the victories, but quickly move on from the losses.
Until now, Coach Karl’s words have held true in my life. I’ve been playing soccer almost year-round since the age of 5. I’ve experienced some exhilarating wins and excruciating losses during my 17-year soccer career. But regardless of the outcome of the last game, there was always another game. Always.
For the first time in my life, another game isn’t guaranteed. The next time I take the field could be the last time I take the field in my competitive soccer career. I can’t believe those words are true. It’s a stark reality every athlete must come to grips with.
When my Webster University men’s soccer team faces Fontbonne University on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. at St. Louis Soccer Park, a loss means our season is over. A loss means the careers of 13 Webster players are over.
We certainly don’t plan on that being the case, though. A win extends our season, our soccer careers. A win means we will play in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship on Saturday, Nov. 3. And a win in that game means we will advance to the NCAA Division III national tournament. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I know deep down, though, that the end is near. Sooner rather than later, I’ll put on my Webster uniform for the final time. I hope I’ll be able to end my career in a win. Yes, that means a national championship. Dream big, friends. Probability says it will be a loss, though.
But my goal right now, and my team’s goal, is to delay the inevitable. The season has to end at some point, but we don’t want it to end this Thursday or Saturday. We don’t want it to end ever, frankly.
And that’s the funny thing about being a collegiate athlete with the end drawing closer and closer. All you really want — all I really want — is the chance to play another game. I’ve been fortunate enough to play hundreds of games during my career, but that hardly feels like enough right now.
Marty Todt, the last soccer coach I will ever play for, has a saying I’ve heard too many times to count: “Today, once gone, is gone forever.” When Thursday’s game is over, I hope soccer won’t be gone forever.
But if it is, I’ll have plenty of great memories to look back on.
It’s been a fun ride.