The 6 a.m. practices, the "you're gonna run until you puke" drills after a lack of communication, the tears after a loss, the frustration with yourself and your teammates, and the moments that make you question why you even play — these are the worst parts of high school sports.
Believe it or not, you miss even these moments once you walk off the field, dripping in sweat and covered in bruises, for the last time.
The blisters from the cleats you refuse to replace (because they're good luck), the extremely outdated jersey with the iron-on numbers barely holding on (hoping each year that it will be your team's turn for new uniforms), and the winner's mindset that refuses to become overwhelmed with negativity — these are the humbling aspects about high school sports that stick with you after you graduate.
After taking time away from a sport that once took over my entire life, I realize how much it shaped me into the person I am today. Even in the worst moments that I previously mentioned, I grew, humbly, and not only as a player. Because I was a captain of my team, I had to overcome adversity and set a good example by doing and not just saying.
Scotty McCreery hit the hammer to the nail when he said, "Next time to get in here, I'll have to buy a ticket" in his song "Five More Minutes." This was for me, as Michael Scott from "The Office" would describe, as feeling like:
"Somebody took my heart and dropped it into a bucket of boiling tears. And, at the same time, somebody else is hitting my soul in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer. And then, a third guy walks in and starts punching me in the grief bone. And I'm crying, and nobody can hear me. Because I am terribly, terribly, terribly alone."
After playing for the same team for eight years, in the rain and shine, in front of a huge crowd or just a handful of parents, and in the peak or slump of the season, you inhabit a sense of family with your teammates and a sense of peace with the sport. You realize that you miss the bus rides home, even when your goalie is throwing her smelly gloves in your face. You begin to miss the pregame routine, shouting the school's fight song at the top of your lungs. You miss hearing the anything-but-accurate cheers from your mom — and the maybe not-so-loving instructions yelled to you by your coach. You miss feeling like you got hit by a truck when you wake up the next morning and realizing that the only thing that will fit your cramped body is the sweatpants you've already worn twice that week.
Most of all, you miss the times that call for celebration with your teammates: when your goalie gets to shoot a PK, when your defender steps in and saves the whole team's butt (because no one else had their man), when your midfielder sends a perfect cross, when your forward gets her first hat trick, and when your team finally gets the championship title back.
All good things come to an end, so they tell me. My biggest regret is feeling like I was burnt out on the game that I truly loved. Now that my cleats are tucked away in my same, disgusting soccer bag, all I have are the memories that I will forever cherish. Although we were not the most talented or the most recognized, I am thankful that I had the ability to play for a team that grew together and established character throughout the years.
Most of all, I value the friendships that I made along the way because these were the people that fell in love with the game with me at such a young age, the people I carpooled with to and from practices, games, and tournaments, the people who cheered me on the most and critiqued me the most, and the people who experienced the celebrations and heartaches with me.