Many of you would know that I have recently had a kind of falling out with my sport of indoor soccer. Like many of my past relationships, it had reached the point of taking more than giving. Well, to be fair, she treated me rather well tonight.
We had reached the Grand Final. That in itself was a bit of a surprise. We finished 3rd during the regular season and ended up playing 2nd in the semi-final last week. We beat them 9-6. That may seem like high scoring, but for futsal it is pretty regular. The other final I think finished 9-5 or something.
Tonight we played the Grand Final. We played the team that had finished top of the ladder and gone undefeated all season. No-one had beaten them. They were unbeatable. They were too skilled and too fast and just, I don’t know, too good at getting the job done. No-one expected us to stay with them. Not even us.
I was playing as goalkeeper as always. (That was basically just information for those unaware of my soccer endeavors.) I felt pretty good pre-game. As usual, I caught the train and walked the 20 minutes from the station to the stadium. It’s a good warm-up. Gets the legs moving and gives myself a chance to go over a few things in my head. I give myself a pep-talk, consider strategy, remind myself of things I need to keep in mind that I may have been struggling with recently (typically positioning and stance, and this will depend on who their shooters are), and spend the last leg of the walk visualizing doing the right things.
I also make sure I turn up early. If there is a game on before ours, even better. I’ll watch and try to put myself in there mentally. Get myself ready. Then talk shop with the boys, provide some moral support, particularly if we’re the underdogs like in this case, and then slap on a healthy serving of Deep Heat or equivalent to loosen up the back muscles.
And then I am ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Which is unfortunate because we’re there to play soccer.
Tonight the stars aligned. At half time we lead 3-2. I was pretty stoked I had only conceded two goals by that point. These other guys have a tendency of beating teams by double figures. But we knew there was a long way yet to go. If you know me, you know I never let myself get comfortable with a lead.
Nor would I allow the other guys to get comfortable. I yelled more than usual. They didn’t seem to mind. They know that is what a keeper is expected to do. It’s not angry yelling, anyway. It’s just directions, or positive reinforcements when they follow the directions or favourable things happen. The important thing is to just keep shouting. If you’re saying something, even of no apparent use, they know there’s nothing you’re not telling them. And it assists with keeping yourself motivated, too. If I need to keep myself eager, I’ll yell at anything and everything, just to rile myself up and keep the blood pumping. That isn’t always easy to maintain for a whole game. I found that tonight particularly when I started tiring with 5 minutes left.
At the 5-to-go mark I hit the energy wall. Luckily the head was still working. Oftentimes you tire and the mind does the same. The legs slow and your will soon follows. You think “Maybe I don’t need to move off my line for this next one.” You con your feet into believing it. You don’t move. Then the ball whizzes high just inside the back post, and you realize if you were two steps forward you’d probably have had the angle covered.
But my mind stayed with me tonight. I knew I’d planned it that way. It was part of the pre-game walk and talk to self. ‘You can’t play a blocking game tonight. You’re a reflex keeper. You have no feet, you’re all hands. You know it, embrace it. Use it. Don’t play crouched on the move tonight. Play two steps off the line, knees collapsed, right on the deck. Take the thought of legs and body movement out of it. Follow the ball only with hands. That way if it’s shot low on deck, it’s still a hands save. You’re already there. Only one thing to concentrate on. Follow with hands. Then too, when you (not ‘if’, you know you will) tire, the legs coming out of the equation won’t matter. You won’t need to change your state of play. You’ll already be playing on deck. Your reflexes don’t slow, it’s just the body that tires, legs mainly. You know your hands and reflexes will keep up. That’s been tested.’
Yeah, I say a lot to myself, in long, rambling forms. That isn’t even a joke. That’s an abridged version of what ran through my head over one minute of the 20-or-so walk. My self-talks are pretty intensive.
So tonight, when I tired in the last 5 minutes, I could assure my head that hitting the wall did not mean I was suddenly exposed for movement. That I had planned it that way and I would be able to keep doing the same things. Focus on the hands. Follow with hands, the body will follow them automatically.
My teammates tired, too. So I suddenly had a lot to do. Great.
I think I must have used up all the magical fairy dust (sorry, ZooBoo) and the last of my 20s, because somehow I kept diving like a demon and making clinching save after save. The crowd was going mental. That’s another thing that keeps me motivated. When I hit the wall and I could no longer physically yell, or really even talk much, I turned to the roaring crowd for energy.
Hearing the crowd’s noise level erupt when you make a full-length vertical fingertip-saving dive towards the far post after a cross-pass completely opened up that side of the net, keeps you motivated, every time. Hearing “How the f**k?!” from either on or off the court when you leap into the top right corner to reflex-save a rocket of a shot onto the crossbar, keeps you completely charged. Seeing the ref shake his head and smile because catching the ball against the left post with a full length dive and one finger seems incredibly unlikely if not near impossible, keeps your self-belief and will to work hard at just the right level.
And I did all those things, and more. It was the best game I have had in a long time. Personally and as part of a team. My teammates performed at least equally as well. While I had plenty to do, the defense, particularly considering the opposition, was fantastic. And they managed to get more offense going than you would expect against such a team as well.
We won 7-2.
For those playing at home, that means we did not concede a goal in the second half. That hadn’t happened against this opposition once all season. They had not spent a single half scoreless.
Needless to say, and you can probably tell, I am extremely happy. Very pleased and elated and honestly, proud of myself and the rest of the team. I am also absolutely knackered now. The walk back to station was difficult, but I didn’t care. I was walking on clouds. I haven’t felt (or played) that good in a game for quite some time. But now I need sleep. So, goodnight all. And thank you for sticking with me through that unnecessarily long and self-indulgent post. I’ll bring some music to you tomorrow to make up for it. 😉
Take care folks!