So these last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. I haven’t really gotten into much of how I got over here, or for those of you that thought I was done playing, how I ended up back playing at such a high level again, but I’ll get to all that over the next little bit.
I’m playing for the Newcastle Jets and if you look at the table in the league we are at the bottom. Like rock bottom. And I’m not going to lie, it hits at the ego a little bit. I’ve never been in this position before, as most of the teams that I have been on have been filled with national team stars, and it’s a cozy affair. You are just one of a group of good players, mixed in with a few superstars and results come pretty easy. You pick up your medal at the end of the year, and move on to the next one.
We lost 3-0 yesterday, our seventh loss in a row, and I thought to myself how immensely proud I was of our team. The crowd gave us a hearty and genuine clap, as we battled for 90 minutes and we had a fair share of possession and chances. In our starting 11, we had 3 players over 20. We had a 15 year old playing her first significant minutes (who balled with an unbelievable confidence), and of our eleven we had 3 players on the field who had any under age national team experience, and myself and our 18 year old keeper as the only players who have been in any kind of a national team set up. Lining up against us we had a front line of 3 players who all were protected players in the NWSL expansion draft (the 2011 FIFA Young Player, the 2013 Australian Player of the Year and a leading scorer in the 2012 Damallsvenskan), backed up with a midfield three who are in the current Australian National Team set up, 2 U20 National team defenders and a U20 National Team keeper.
It was a classic David v Goliath affair as it has been for us all year, and yet we found a way to make it a game.
Some might look at the table and think that it’s been a miserable year for me. Added on to the fact that I had the opportunity to sign with Sydney FC who is the top of the table and chose to come to Newcastle instead, to some it may suggest a really horrible decision. Yet I couldn’t be happier, as in this new experience of getting pummeled I have learned so much. And at this point in my life, the amount I learn in any situation is the success, and knowledge has come in barrels this season.
The funny part is that this season reminds me of the Summer of 2012 and watching my adorable group of U9’s getting absolutely hammered at every tournament we put them in. We played them up a few age groups in tournaments and encouraged possession play, trying to convince a bunch of competitive parents that this was in their daughter’s best interest of development. And we subsequently lost. And we lost big. Yet, we begged the parents to continue to buy into our thinking which they did, because as we told them if the girls can learn to be in adverse situations as youngsters, and find a way to come out in a positive way that they would be far farther ahead than by having an easy ride filled with medals and trophies. Losing sucks but if you can set aside your ego and still give your best effort every day, the wave of knowledge is a tsunami.
So back to being in Newcastle. Quite simply, I’m an insanely competitive person and I hate losing. Yet I have to accept the fact that as we step on the field, we are completely overmatched on paper every game. Budgets and intentions are different on every team, and while other teams are able to stock themselves full with Australian National Team players and utilizing their full international quota, we have 2 15 year olds on our team that are seeing significant playing time, amongst a majority of players who haven’t yet hit 20.
For me, I struggled with an achilles and MCL injury almost back to back, before having the opportunity to get back on the field the last couple of games. Having to watch a situation where you know you could help is frustrating, but again I feel that my path as a player has taught me how to take the much adversity that has been thrown my way and find a way to contribute in a positive way to the big picture in whatever capacity I am able.
Being back on the field now, I know clearly what I bring to help the big picture and that is my communication, confidence and my experience. I also think at this point in my career, there is a certain flatline to my emotions that has allowed me to not ride the highs and lows of what a season brings and just focus on doing the work day in and day out to help everyone as much as I can. It’s the joy of being a part of a team and looking at what you do best to help your group be as successful as possible.
Take that lesson into the broader context of life. Everyone can be happy and in a good mood and putting in a strong effort when everything is falling their way, but the real challenge is finding a way in tough, adverse times to twist them into something positive and constructive. It is quite simply a life skill, and a residual gift that pursuing the game of soccer to the highest level has given me. Resiliency, and learning how to turn negatives into positives to get to where I want to go. It’s a lesson that can help us all live this thing called life to the max and why losing as much as it sucks, is so valuable.