For the love of the game

During the 2015 winter season, I started off thinking about the negative aspects of Saturday morning sport.  The cold wintery morning, the rain, the feeling of utter exhaustion after a long busy week at school.  That bleak feeling like when you want something to end even before it has begun.  Having taken Junior Soccer at Ivanhoe for almost 4 years now I knew what to expect of the students.  The beauty of coaching young men at the age of 13 or 14 is that they have no inhibitions about playing the game.  They play with enthusiasm and spirit that I think is not matched at any time throughout their schooling lives.  They play for their mateship and for the love of the game.

The Hebrew word for teach has, among its meanings: to aim or shoot like an arrow, to point like a finger, to flow like water. The word reminds me of what parents do when they teach their child to ride a bike. The first time, you may ride with him to turn the pedals. Next time, you steer while he pedals. Finally, the moment comes when you balance him, aim him down the sidewalk, push him off and let go. Great teachers do that: They start or move the minds of their students along a path, prepare them for the journey and propel them into the future. And they do it consistently and passionately.

When you have taught Middle Years as long as I have, you come across a variety of students from many different personalities and backgrounds.  Some are shy and timid, whilst others lively and never short of a conversation.  The most satisfying aspect of teaching is that you are an important part of that student’s journey.  You become a stepping stone in that young person’s life.  It’s like having red carpet ticket to a premiere movie, only the movie in this case is adolescent life. Watching that progression and witnessing the growth of these students is the greatest satisfaction of my profession.  Like all professions, you have are your ups and downs.  Some days especially around exam time, report writing and deadlines can be negative factors and influences that can cloud your judgement.  Sometimes we can lose track of the important parts of our daily life and too often teachers can fall into an ibis of negative tendances that can make us really loath and lose sight of what is important to us.

This negative thinking was still consuming my days until a few weekends ago at Keilor Park where my year 8A soccer team competed against the previously undefeated Penleign and Essendon Grammar School.  Rolling up to the ground situated near the Tullamarine Airport, it was a brisk, clear morning.  The sun was shining and conveniently the weather had been consistent all mornings for Saturday sport which was a real positive.  The venue was filled with parents and students from a variety of schools competing in their respective competitions. As I waited for my team members to show up, I completed my team sheet and started to watch as the aeroplanes overhead flying deceptively low as the grounds are in direct flight path of the Melbourne Airport runway.  Looking up at the magnificent pieces of machinery flying overhead made my thoughts wonder, what a sensational city we live in and where else in the world would this occur? Probably nowhere.

As the 8A soccer boys made their way over to the ground they greeted me with their usual respect.  All anticipating a solid encounter against our rival school who had defeated us 3-0 in the previous encounter this same time last year.  The most fascinating aspect of coaching is that like teaching the team look to you for guidance and support.  If the coach or manager has the support of his or her players then the rest takes care of itself.  My boys are a mix of students from a variety of skill levels.  Most play club soccer which has been a huge advantage because they have already experienced the work ethic and training that goes into each session to ready themselves for the contest.  I can remember only 12 months ago I had a flat tyre on the way to a game, got there just before kick-off, I thought we would be unprepared.  But in true teamwork and spirit, the boys organised themselves into their respective positions and completed the warm up without any instructions.  That’s the true meaning of a team.  That act of discipline demonstrated that these boys were a special group of individuals that have galvanised themselves into a team that displays passion, skill and maturity beyond their years.  It illustrated their love of the beautiful game.

On this day the mood was different, there was a feeling of anticipation, an eagerness to get involved in the contest and to strive for victory.  Watching my team get ready for a game is like taking yourself back in time.  I remember playing on the same fields, putting my boots on and fitting my shin guards and making sure my socks were covering them.  The banter and laugher as we prepared, you never forget it.  The discussion about who is going to score a goal, who needs to mark their man tightly and what position you were playing in.  Those same discussions happening in a different time.  Some things change yet some things seemingly stay the same. The most revering part of this was that I had seen it before.  The boys have acted in this manner every time they take the pitch, whether it be game day, training or in the school yard, the boys just want to play football.  Seeing this passion makes you want to be a part of the journey.  It’s an infectious element of this team, their love of the game, the passion to succeed and their efforts at achieving their goals.

The game itself was an absolute belter.  A game of two halves, a gale force wind blowing to the left hand side.  Winning the toss and facing the wind was our first priority, the second, was to preserve our goal and to keep the structures we had put into practice at training.  We usually play with a  4-4-2 formation but playing PEGS on their home turf we thought it best that we play a more defensive mindset formation with our holding midfielder sitting just in front of the back four and helping to flood the midfield.  The move proved to be the decisive one, PEGS couldn’t get any flow to their play and their passing game was thwarted mostly by the howling breeze that pushed the ball towards our penalty area which made it easier for our goalkeeper to clear.  Overall, the game was a clear example of a team of individuals playing against a champion team.  The boys completed the task set for them with flying colours.  A 2-0 result fitting their performance.  Walking off and belting out the Ivanhoe Grammar School war cry with the lads really took me back to a time where playing the game was about passion, mateship and satisfaction.  School sport brings out the best in students sometimes and that simple thinking helps put life into perspective.  The euphoria of succeeding together, playing the game we love.

By Daniel Verrocchi


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