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Example we can follow

With COVID and the issues surrounding it, the 2020 high school soccer season was in question last summer. Coaches had a new set of rules dealing with COVID to work under. Everyone’s temperature needed to be taken before practice including coaches. Players needed to wear a mask during warmup and when on the bench. They could remove their masks during drills and games. Coaches had to wear masks at all times. The balls had to all be sanitized following practice. After 25 years as a high school soccer coach, I considered calling it quits. Was coaching worth the risk with the virus and all the additional hassles?

Although a hassle, the protocols helped to protect everyone. We were out doors and could stay socially distant. The risk of spread was low. The WVSSAC decided we could finally start to practice on Aug. 17, two weeks later than usual.

For our players and team to be successful this season, a mental toughness like nothing they had ever experienced would be required. I thought maybe I could help and decided to continue as assistant boys’ soccer coach. But it was the boys who set an example by their actions we can all learn from.

We were able play a scrimmage with Beckley HS. The following week our county went to orange. We could practice and do fitness but we couldn’t have games. Two weeks later our county went to level red and all practices ended. After two weeks the county moved back to orange and could practice again. The boys kept a great attitude and work ethic knowing they might never get to play a single game. Fortunately, our county moved to level gold and we were able to have a six-game season to prepare for the playoffs.

This year has been anything but normal for our boys with lockdowns, remote learning and spring sports canceled. They needed something normal in their lives. They needed the exercise, the opportunity to see their classmates and have some socialization soccer offered. When they were on the field it felt normal. They could forget the virus for two hours and just be kids again. They were grateful for the opportunity to be outside with their friends where they could visit face to face even though they had masks on and were socially distant. I’m not a psychologist but just being able to practice seemed to help their mental attitude.

During the pandemic, how many things did you begin to appreciate that you previously took for granted? I began to appreciate things like toilet paper, eating out in a restaurant, going to church or visiting friends and family. That appreciation started when I was injured last fall and confined to a hospital bed and later a wheelchair.

Our team appreciated how important it is to have an opponent to play. When we were under code orange no one could come to play us. We also appreciated how important it is to have officials. Our boys rarely complained about officiating. The officials also had to wear masks and deal with COVID restrictions. Wins and losses became secondary to just being able to play. We still played to win but our entire team learned to put the wins and losses in perspective.

The boys developed mental toughness. They learned to control what they could, like their personal fitness and not allow the things they couldn’t control, like our county’s color code get them down. They won their section and region championships earning a return to the State Tournament in Beckley. We had not been to the State Championship Game since 2015 losing in the State Semifinals every year since. The seniors’ goal was to make it to the State Championship game and play for the championship.

In the semi-final we fell behind a strong Point Pleasant team 0-1. Our boys thought “here we go again”. The seniors kept everyone focused on the dream and we came back to tie 1-1. After 20 minutes of overtime we moved to penalty kicks. Penalty kicks were part of every practice. Our goalkeepers practiced diving saves daily. The practice paid off when our goalkeeper made a fantastic diving save and our final shooter fired his shot into the back of the net for the win.

While our team celebrated, our captain went to the Point goalkeeper who was still sitting on the ground in dejection. The captain reached out his hand and congratulated him for a great game. Then helped him to his feet. It brought tears to my eyes. In this crazy year, our captain understood what was really important, people.

Our young men lost to an excellent Fairmont Senior team 2-3 the next day. It was a hard-fought game. Our backup goalkeeper unexpectedly needed to replace our starting goalkeeper for a few minutes and made a huge save. He knew to always be prepared. You never know when your opportunity will be come. Our players left everything on the field. It hurt to lose, strangely not like it usually does. We were happy to be playing. Some things you and your team may find helpful in these challenging times are:

* Have a high dream

* Keep a positive attitude even in adversity

* Be grateful for what you have

* Prepare for opportunity (It may come disguised as a setback)

* Don’t quit. In adversity refocus on the dream

* Build a strong team

* Remember what is really important, people.

Our team, especially the captains, embodied great life lessons hopefully encouraging others. They reminded me of another lesson I teach. Focus on others first and give with a loving heart. By focusing on the needs of my players and the team instead of my problems and fears, good things happened. Coaching and the practices also helped me as a diversion and relaxation. Our young men demonstrated the power of a dream. A thought for all of us to ponder.

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Greg Kozera, gkozera@shalecrescentusa.com is the Director of Marketing and Sales for Shale Crescent USA. He is a professional engineer with a Masters in Environmental Engineering who has over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. Greg is a leadership expert and the author of four books and numerous published articles.

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