We’ve been playing a lot of pick up out here in CT. Playing gym floor pick up is probably one of my favourite things. Not only has it helped my technical game immensely, but some of my fondest college memories were spent on the 5th floor gym at Yale, playing pick up through the winter with the guy’s team. I think the best part was that we didn’t have to be there, but we’d put aside school for hours, running up and down the court, trying new tricks, and then head back to the library dripping in sweat…(ok, I think most of us showered before starting to study again, but what’s a story without some dramatics).
We went down to Fairfield University the other night, to play with a bunch of guys on the Fairfield team, along with some of these skilled Latino guys, and a couple of really talented high school players.
Which brings me to my story about schoolyard “captain picks the team” games. You guys know what I’m talking about. Two people pick from a group, and whittle it down to the last couple of people that are awkwardly standing there, trying to play it cool, but praying to God that they are not picked last. After playing for a while as an 8 v 8 at Fairfield the other night, we decided that we would split the group into 3, and the group’s would be chosen via the above mentioned “captain picks the team” method.
I can’t talk about this subject, without being reminded of one of the things I did in my soccer career that gave me the best feeling on the inside. It didn’t have to do with winning a championship, or a game saving tackle, nothing of the sort actually.
I had a coach on one of the teams I played on, that did this “captain picks the team” method every time we scrimmaged at the end of practice. There was a player on our team, that was by far and away the worst player on the team. We’ll call her Tamara. She gave a great effort, and I’m not sure it was for the purpose of a deeper roster or what, but she was clearly a step or two below everyone else. And every. single. time. we played, she got picked last.
I would notice her every time we’d line up the two “pickers”. Her head would drop and it was just like I’d imagine someone who was about to be executed. Just standing there, feeling exposed, wanting to get it over with. I would seethe in anger at my coach for not picking up on this and making us go through this routine almost every single practice. It was one thing to have a player on the team that was obviously at a lower level, but I thought to subject her to being the last (wo)man standing, on a daily basis, was just outright cruel.
After many practices of watching this, one day, I was designated as a “picker”. And as per the normal routine, I stood at the front of the group, with my compatriot picker. As I scanned the team for my first pick, I couldn’t help but notice Tamara’s head drop. Being a competitive person as much as a compassionate one, a voice in my head said “pick Tamara” the other side said, “what the hell Ciara, we want to win, are you crazy, who cares, don’t pick her”. Before I could do anything else, I blurted out as my first pick “Tamara”. I don’t know what I noticed more, the shocked looks on my teammates faces, or the pure and utter gratefulness on her face, that to this day, ten years later, I can still see so clearly. She came to my side and whispered “thank you.”
I can’t remember if we won or lost, and to be honest, the feeling that I had beat any amount of goals we could have scored that day. Sometimes there are bigger victories to be had than how many goals get put in either goals.
Which brings me back to Fairfield University on Monday night. We had already played for a while, so it was obvious already, the pecking order of player skills on the field, and let’s just say, the girls were definitely holding their own. But yet,when we went to divide the teams, I found myself in the position with a WPS player, as the last picks. And even though I was comforted in the fact that it seemed to be as much a popularity contest as picking based on purely who was the most skilled, I was reminded of what a truly crappy feeling it is, to be standing there, in front of the whole group, praying not to be picked last.
So this is a little heads up to all the coaches out there. Count the players off, divide the groups up, be creative in handing out the pinnies and making the teams. Leave the schoolyard picking method to the 8 year olds on the playground.
But then again, there’s nothing like being one of the last picks, to turn a fun game of pick up, into a mission to prove that they made a big mistake, huge! (to all you “pretty woman” fans, out there, I hope you get the reference)