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Bird Brown: Time spent with teammates makes lasting memories

The women’s national soccer team seems to be the talk of the town this week after its exciting 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup in France sealed their fourth world title in women’s soccer.

The excitement and controversy surrounding this team, from the lawsuit for equal pay it filed against U.S. Soccer for what the players see is a discrepancy in pay between their male counterparts and them, to the “Hey, look at me” antics of its captain and World Cup MVP Megan Rapinoe, from “Kneel-gate” to “Flag-gate,” and everything in between, all eyes have been on this great accomplishment and accompanying celebrations.

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One of the things that has struck me -- and believe me, there have been plenty of things that struck me about this team -- is the camaraderie and true friendship and caring relationships these players seem to have toward each other and toward their coaching staff. In interviews with teammates, hugs on the sidelines after goals or wins, and the shared enjoyment of the NYC parade, these ladies have shared a great example of what a team of committed players and coaches can accomplish when they work together toward a common goal.

Long after the confetti has been swept from the streets of Manhattan, well past the time that these ladies will trade in lacing up their boots for new careers, families, and challenges, the one thing they’ll always be able to share is not only what they accomplished together, but the time they spent together in preparation and celebration will last for the rest of their lifetimes.

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Some of the guys that showed me “the ropes” in high school and broke me in were the guys that I spent the most time with both in and out of each season. My college teammates are probably the ones I spent the most concentrated amount of time with but our friendships stay strong 30 years later.

And my Wolves teammates are guys that I spent more time with than anyone outside of my roommates (my brothers and my wife) and guys I miss the most spending Monday nights with at Carroll Indoor each week.

The relationships that you forge while playing competitive sports are ones that can be the deepest of any you’ll experience throughout your life. The hours of blood, sweat, and tears that you go through together is a life experience that you won’t share with anyone else, your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, nobody.

The ups, the downs, the fun and not-so-fun times, the failures, and the accomplishments help to make you the person that you are, and will always be a part of your personal make-up.

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Those times you shared with your teammates are times that will link you forever to them.

We’ve been there through each other’s life’s ups and downs. We’ve been in each other’s wedding parties to share the joy with the newlyweds and been there for each other as a shoulder to cry on when the marriages come to a crashing end. We are there to celebrate the birth of our children and compare notes and words of encouragement when they too hit a bumpy path.

Twenty-two years ago, several of my Wolves teammates and I made a decision to expand our men’s soccer club to include a youth club with many of those same basic principles of friendship and caring that so many of us learned and enjoyed through participation in sport. We understood how important it was to each of us to share our time together on and off the field and we set out to try and recreate the same with a youth program.

This week my heart was warmed while on vacation on the Outer Banks when we had a visit by one of the original Wolves players from the original youth team on which my oldest son played.

These are two young men (now 27) who didn’t grow up in the same neighborhood, didn’t go to the same school at any level -- elementary school, high school, or even college.

They played Deer Park soccer, St. John basketball, and Wolves soccer together until they were about 12 and started pursuing other interests -- Marcellus to lacrosse, where he earned a national championship at Stevenson, and Mike to rugby, where the West Carroll Marauders won a club state championship.

We get so caught up in wins and losses, championships and titles, and postseason accolades and awards, that we can lose sight of the one thing that will last well beyond our own abilities -- the friendships and relationships we develop with one another while trying to accomplish our common goals.

The great Olympic gold medalist and champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard once said, “You don’t appreciate things until they’re gone. For me, I miss my friends; I don’t miss boxing, I miss the camaraderie.”

Enjoy it while you can ladies, because this euphoria will go away. But the relationships should last you for the rest of your lives.

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