Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arte et Labore

So, we've just won our third straight State championship by a score of 3-0, finished a season undefeated, and virtually guaranteed a National ranking at the end of the year. And most of the quotes in a newspaper article about the Final game are me moaning about how we didn't play particularly well.

No mention of the fact that we just went through a season in which we played and beat all four AAA state semi-finalists as well as an Ohio state finalist. No nod to our undefeated season, to the fact that the last time we lost a game was in August 2009, to our 46-game unbeaten streak. No reference to the first "three-peat" in West Virginia soccer in a decade.

I've been wondering the last few days if I can defend my comments based on some argument that aesthetics are important to me and I care not only about whether we win but how we look while we're doing it, or we really didn't play that well and I wanted us to go out on a high note. Or maybe that I wanted to impress on our returning players that there was still unfinished business that needs to be taken care of next season.

Or maybe I'm just a grouch.

I don't think I'm usually an over-demanding coach. Not a lot of yelling. I generally try to be positive, before, during, and after games (although admittedly once this year the whole team was mad at me because of my obvious, and repeatedly expressed, disappointment at their play). So what's up with the Steve Spurrier imitation?

I think I just wanted to be our last game together to be perfect and I was disappointed when it wasn't. We had played so well all season and set such high standards for ourselves that I wanted that final to be a celebration of what we were capable of -- attractive, maybe even beautiful, attacking soccer. But I should have recognized it as a celebration of a different sort. Not of art, but of the value of plain old hard work and determination.

The crest of my favorite professional soccer team, Blackburn Rovers, has the Latin phrase "Arte et Labore" -- by skill and hard work -- on it.

I recognize now (too late for the reporters) that our Finals win was a testament not to the "Arte" of our team but rather to the "Labore" -- the hours of practice, of long distance running and sprints and drills and scrimmaging that 20 players and two coaches endured since the first week of August. It was that work that put us in a position to withstand the elements, as well as overcome the emotions that went with the realization that it was our final weekend as this team, to finish the deal. And that's exactly what we did.

We played in difficult conditions both days -- cold and rain and snow and sleet and sloppy goal boxes and bumpy fields. While it's true that the conditions were the same for both teams, let's face it: weather and field conditions can be an equalizer for the less-skilled team. Add in the fact that we played the second half of the Final with three players sitting on the bench with injuries, including arguably the best player (and in my opinion certainly the best forward) in the state who was sidelined with a hamstring pull, one could certainly believe that we overcame some significant obstacles to win and win convincingly at that.

If I had it to do over again, I would make sure to mention that good teams can win in different ways, that we had discovered all of those different ways in the course of the season, and that "winning ugly" can have its own value. But I'd still probably say that I wouldn't have minded seeing a few more passes to the players with the same colored shirts. Hard work only gets you so far when you're an aesthetic person. Or a grouch.

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