The under 14s are a mix of Year 7 and Year 8 girls – thirteen in total. When the season started some had 8 years of soccer under their boots, some had never played. Everyone was enthusiastic and Simon and I set about getting them organised. Who was a natural defender? Who had speed for the wing? Who was an all rounder and should play in midfield.
Soccer is a weak link sport. An odd expression, but one which is the heart of why it is such a great game. Weak link sports are those that rely intensely on the team, that the success of the team is more determined by weakness in play between team mates than having a superstar. The reality of the game is that Lionel Messi can’t win a game by himself and – statistically – the result of a soccer game is far more determined by the way the team works together than a superstar forward. Basketball, on the other hand, is a strong link sport – the whole team can be carried by the unique talent and drive of one player; think LeBron or Jordan.
The point is simple – developing any of the girls was far less important than to develop their ability to play together. To become a team. To learn their role and how to communicate. How to support and encourage. And over the course of the season the girls have truly developed – a task made easier by that unique Mercy spirit. I have seen the girls embrace the College motto, they have strived for better things and were richly rewarded on Sunday with a fantastic win in the driving rain of a cold morning.
Our forwards scored twice, Charlotte opening the card with a goal off her left boot. Bella has been a constant in the forwards and is always there in striking distance and it was fantastic to see her take a shot and the net balloon as the ball hit its target. 2 nil. Phoebe, Olivia and Sienna rounded out our offensive line and worked tirelessly – creating opportunities and always looking for a way forward.
The girls have embraced the team aspect of the game so thoroughly that I’ve actually had to encourage our girls to be a little more selfish – if you’ve got an open goal in front of you, go yourself and score if you can, rather than looking for the pass. Olivia it turns out can run like a freight train and as confidence grows and she takes more shots I think will turn into a scoring machine. Phoebe is the model of a team player – running the right wing she is always there creating play for others and I am confident we will see a cracker of a goal some time this season as she takes the opportunity for herself. Sienna is one of our Year 7s but you’d never know it. I’m not sure that she knows it yet, but she has leadership written all over her personality, but like most of us it takes a little courage to be all that we can be. Sienna is the versatile player who one half is playing forward and the next supporting in defence.
Our midfield constants are Chloe, Ava and Naomi. From the sideline you will hear me yelling “first to the ball” and the player who has most embraced this has been Chloe. Indomitable in centre mid, she is the constant cleaner – feeding the ball back to the forwards and dropping to defence as the opposition plays through the centre of the field. Ava and Naomi have brought incredible speed to our midfield wings. They play with athleticism and intensity and tirelessly can be found working the ball up the wing to find their forward team-mate. Our wings are probably where the best team play is witnessed.
Our defensive line is “managed” by Eliza. A girl so full of strength and natural talent who has made incredible progress this season because of one thing. Belief in herself. We play sports for fun, but also to learn life’s lessons in another domain. Eliza can almost clear the halfway line from a standing goal kick. Physically she is no different from the start of the season, but mentally I see a new confidence – never brash, never arrogant, once again a reflection of the Mercy spirit. Hope has been playing defence more and more and is now one of our most reliable defenders with a turn of speed and a powerful toe punt that sends the ball hurtling up the field. I’ve tried to change Hope’s kick, but sometimes in life it is more important to let someone express themselves how they choose to than make them conform to a norm. I get such delight when I see Hope tearing across the field to bash that ball back out of our defensive quarter.
Michaela ‘Mikey’ A. Now there is a soccer players name if ever I heard one. Mikey plays right defender and is another of our speed-stars. Tenacious is probably the best way to describe Mikey, and I always think “we’ll be ok” when I see Mikey defending. Sofia is the last of our defenders and has a quiet but cheeky personality. At the start of the season I would be hollering for Sofia to get back in position – soccer can be a hard game to read until you get the game play. But, as a result, Sofia is now one of the most reliably “in position” players – anchoring herself around the left defensive goal quarter she is another who has learned to go to the ball rather than hang back and become a fantastic defender.
There’s a girl who comes bouncing onto the field each Sunday with an infectious smile, red jersey and big black gloves. Ashley is perhaps the “most improved” player on the team – our goalkeeper. It is relatively rare in the younger grades to find a player who wants to play goalie, and I must say it makes my job much easier knowing I don’t have to cajole someone into playing. Ashley had the desire, but needed a little help with the “how” of being a goalie. Early in the season I think I spent a total of about 10 minutes telling her what she needed to do – that she needed to learn how to judge when to hang back and when to run out. When to be conservative and when to be brave. Ashley transformed, almost overnight into the best goalie the team could hope for. She has saved countless goals and on Sunday was responsible for limiting the opposition to a single goal.
2-1. Mercy win!
It had been 60 minutes of slog in the pouring rain and I couldn’t be prouder of the girls. Life doesn’t always work the way we think it should, the rewards don’t always come when we expect them. But then there are days when all the hard work, all the effort produces the right result. The girls played as a team and won as a team. And then, in delight and a playfulness that it’s a shame we lose as we become adults, they went and jumped in puddles until they were sodden, muddy, happy teenage girls. Today was a rich reward for the honour of being their coach. The school should be proud of these girls and their families should consider themselves as having done something right to produce fine examples of sportsmanship.