Every year at during the first week of practice our team talks about our goals for the upcoming season. I sit down with each of the players individually to discuss what they hope to accomplish, personally and as a team, during the year, and then at the end of that week we set our goals as a team for the season.
I don't like to reveal what our goals are to the outside, mostly because each of the last two season we've set some pretty lofty standards for ourselves that would either make us appear overconfident or provide bulletin-board material for other teams. Sometimes a player will reveal one or more of the goals during an interview (Rachel!) but I don't think it sounds as presumptuous coming from the players as it would from me.
About two years into my "career" as head coach, I set a goal for myself, which I never revealed to anyone until last week -- win 100 games as a head coach. At the time, I figured it would take at least seven years to reach the mark -- an average of 15 wins a season. My first two seasons we had won 14 and 15 games, and so that seemed a reasonable length of time.
Then we won 17 in 2007, and, with the advent of the AA-A playoffs, 19 in 2008. Suddenly it seemed possible that I might reach the goal in six seasons -- except for the fact that I was toughening our schedule every year as fewer of the AA-A teams we had traditionally played wanted any part of us and I sought more skilled competition to improve and test our team.
After we won 20 games last season, which put my career total at 85, I thought my chances of getting to 100 this season were pretty good. Still, we were scheduled to play all four of last season's AAA semi-finalists in West Virginia, plus last year's Ohio small school champ, plus 10 other West Virginia AAA schools.
Once we went 14-0-1 through our first 15 games, I knew that 100 would be reached, I just wasn't sure when. Our first chance came last Monday night against Parkersburg High School, one of the biggest schools in the state as far as student population goes, and also a successful girls' soccer program, which won the state AAA championship in 2006 and was runner-up in 2007. On paper, we looked to be the better team, but as the cliche goes, they don't play the game on paper.
Fortunately, we scored two goals in the first ten minutes and cruised to a 5-0 win. I enjoyed the achievement, and enjoyed even more my players' genuine excitement in their helping me reach that milestone. For good measure, a Parkersburg television station was there to capture our first two goals, both on lovely passes (one with feet, one with a head) that set them up.
When I got home late that evening, I turned on Monday Night Football only to be told that I was sharing my accomplishment with Tom Brady, who won his 100th game as a starting quarterback that same night against the Dolphins. While admittedly there were a few more cameras around to record Brady's feat than there were mine, given my devotion to Michigan football (which was sorely tested last Saturday I might add) I thought maybe there was a little kismet at work that evening.
Just as Brady owes much of his achievement to the dozens if not hundreds of teammates he's had over his career that helped him reach his goal, so too I was and am mindful of the players, parents, assistant coaches, school administration, and coaching mentors who helped me reach mine. While athletes often say (whether just lip service or not) that they owe their accomplishments to their teammates, there is no doubt that a coach only wins when he is fortunate enough to have players at his or her disposal who are willing to "buy in" to whatever it is you're trying to sell.
And on that count, I have been greatly blessed. It is a milestone that I share with and owe to every one of the young women I have been fortunate enough to coach, something which I will never forget.