It’s been a running theme in my column over the years to advise today’s high school athletes to be more appreciative of the journey they’re on while they’re actually on it. Now I know it’s hard. Athletes put a lot of pressure on themselves and, often, it can seem like the goal—winning—is the only thing that matters.
But as the years go by, I find my memories of each game, each win, each loss, get progressively hazier, while the other stuff, like the team bonding and the inside jokes, are the stuff that remains as clear as day.
A few months ago, I got together with a few buddies from high school for a mini-reunion of sorts. At some point in the night, one of my friends popped in our old football highlight video from senior year. Now, once upon a time, probably right after we got our hands on the videos that were deftly scored with the “classic” nu-metal hits from the early-aughts, I had each play on this video—and each score of each game—committed to memory. I probably could have given you the down and distance of each five-yard run that made its way onto our highlight reel.
Our offense wasn’t very good, so a video of real highlights would have been pretty short.
But now, some 12 years after we graduated, these plays, these games, seemed almost foreign to me.
Of course I was waiting for my leaping touchdown catch against Mamaroneck to flash across the screen. But my memory of that catch was a little bit different than what I saw on the tape. In my mind, I had soared gracefully through the air over defenders to haul in the pass with one hand. The video served as a painful reminder that my vertical, if you can call it that, was just barely enough to get me over the grass.
And I wasn’t the only one. Some of the plays, sequences and even games, seemed unfamiliar to us, even though we swore over a decade ago these memories would be lasting ones.
But the video got us to talking about the old days and, to our surprise, it wasn’t our on-field endeavors that we remembered most vividly.
It was the other stuff.
It was flinging meatballs at each other during Friday night team dinners, it was the practices in the pouring rain in which our coaches let us cut loose and see who could slide the furthest in the mud on our practice field. It was the session of hill runs we brought upon ourselves because we wouldn’t stop screwing around during a video session—a workout that didn’t end until even the best conditioned among us were on our backs panting—that somehow left the indelible memories that we still talk about today.
It was those experiences–good and bad—that turned us into friends and teammates that took the deepest root in all of us.
So, to this year’s crop of student athletes, especially the seniors preparing for their last seasons, I wish you all the best. Give it your all, leave it all on the field and remember to enjoy every second you spend perfecting your craft.
You’re about to make memories that will last you the rest of your lives.
They just might not be the memories you expect.
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