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Bird Brown: Body be damned, it’s tough to let go of playing

One of the things about coaching high school club players is when you have practice, they don’t have to bother their parents for rides as most of them are driving on their own or would prefer hitching a ride with a teammate.

It also allows you to have practice later at night, as most of the younger players have had their practices and are preparing for the bedtime activities.

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I was running a little late this week, so I rolled up on Carroll Indoor Sports Center just before our scheduled practice time. As I walked through the doors, our team was congregating inside the door instead of by the field where we normally practice. It didn’t take me long to figure out they were watching the over-40 co-ed league game that was on one of the bigger fields.

They were certainly not being rude nor did they even make fun of the players on the field, but rather were entertained by what they were watching.

As my playing “career” has long since come and gone, and my body is paying the price, the fondest memories of my sports experience always are surrounded by music.

As I began to watch the game along with them, I realized many of the players that were playing in front of me were the same people I played with and against in my younger days, before my body started having a mind of its own. I’m not sure if jealous was the right word, but as I watched them still playing the game we all love so much, I was envious of their time on the field.

It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve been able to play in these leagues, and it made me miss hanging with my Wolves brothers and our opponents every Monday night for as far back as I could remember.

The first time my body let me down was during my second freshman year, this one at Coker College. Having transferred after my disastrous first year at Western Maryland College, I had to sit out the fall regular soccer season. My new coach and teammates made me part of the team and I practiced and did all team activities, but on game days I had to sit on the bench and take stats as the team scorekeeper.

When we hosted the Cobra Indoor Soccer Tournament in March, I couldn’t wait to be able to play in actual competitions with my “new” teammates and show them what I was capable of. I had a good first couple of games in the round-robin format, but at the end of the last game before we advanced to the playoff round, I went in hard on a tackle and immediately felt a stinging on the outside of my knee.

I had twisted my ankles and jammed my fingers but never felt anything like that before.

Our athletic trainer ran me through all of the fun tests and informed me that he was shutting me down for the rest of the tournament. I was devastated. I fought against him but in the end, he convinced me that it was the best thing for me.

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I think he said something like, “You can either play today, or you can play next fall, but you won’t be able to do both.” Pretty convincing.

Fast forward many years later and, other than a few arthroscopies on either knee to clean out the mess I made from running up and down the carpet-covered concrete for 20 years, the next time I had restrictions placed on what I could do was after my hip replacement when my doctor said I could resume full activities, well except for long-distance running and yoga.

And I was just thinking about running across town to do my downward dog.

Now after another full replacement of yet another body part, I’ve been told that I’m pretty much done with participation in any of my favorite athletic activities from here on out. It’s a harsh reality to hit you in the face when your life has been filled with frequent activity.

I still have coaching but even then, I am limited with what I can do.

When I first came in to coaching high school, I would sometimes play in scrimmages with the girls. Now the best I can do is teach the boys the game, share my passion and take pride when they perform to their abilities.

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Amazing what we’ll go through to support our teams.

This doesn’t mean the end of activity for me as I can’t imagine a life where I’m not involved in some kind of physical activity. Thank God I took that Lifetime Sports class back in college and prepared myself for the day I thought would never come. So, instead of playing soccer or basketball or softball, I’ll have to occupy my time with hiking, biking, bowling and, golf, all sports you can play well in to retirement.

Although I’d love nothing more than to strap on those boots and get on that field just one more time, I think it’s time for me to move in to my Life Fitness stage.

One of my favorite quotes from the great basketball coaching legend John Wooden was, “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

Guess I better tell my wife about the golf clubs I just ordered on Amazon.

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