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Passion is an intense, driving or overmastering feeling or conviction. In sports, it’s what fuels every athlete’s drive to succeed on the field of battle.

The Maryland State Youth Soccer Association holds tryouts for the Olympic Development Program to get the best players to train year-round and compete against other state associations in the region and then pick the best players from the entire region to compete on the national level. The system is set up to recognize the best players and put them on a fast-track to competing on the national team.

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When many of my old players registered for and then participated in the ODP tryouts many years ago, the level of competition on the field was incredible. Dozens of players from all across the state were facing off in a battle to see who will be selected to represent Maryland in the regional competitions. Every player was good, deserving of their shot at the roster, which made it that much more difficult for the coaches to make their selection.

As the competition went on and the cuts were made, there was one thing separating the players that continued on from the ones who went home. The boys that stayed were the ones that wanted it the most, the ones that had a true “passion” for the game. Of the players I had that were still in the hunt after the first few rounds, I’d be hard-pressed to find harder working boys that I’ve ever coached.

These were the boys that worked hard in practice and went home and practiced some more on their own. These are boys that cared about their “craft”, always trying to find ways to make themselves better, by putting in extra time on their fitness or working on their ball skills.

Just having a passion for the game doesn’t guarantee you great success in any sport. There are many of us that have great passion but maybe don’t have the athletic ability it takes to take it to the next level. I have great passion for Ravens football, but I think I’ll stay in the stands on Sundays because athletically I don’t think I can compete.

Even with my many bionic replacement parts, the speed of the game has long since left me behind.

To make it you need to have a combination of passion, athleticism, opportunity, good fundamentals and good luck. Passion is what makes you get up at 6 a.m. and hit the road to put in the extra time on your fitness. Passion is what makes you spend countless hours in the batting cage until you can hit that fastball. Passion is staying after practice to work on your routes so that the timing between quarterback and receiver is second nature. Passion is taking 100 shots with your right hand and 100 shots with your left so you can comfortably go both ways in lacrosse.

And passion is shooting free throw after free throw so that when the game is on the line you bury your foul shots.

You can also have passion in your coaching. Without passion, a coach wouldn’t spend the time improving her craft, going to school to obtain the proper certifications or participating in coaching clinics to learn new ways to teach her game to her athletes. It’s what drives a coach to spend hours watching game film to breakdown his opponent and find weaknesses in the execution of his team’s game plan.

Passion is what makes a coach spend those nights away from their family to scout opponents in person so that the team can get a leg up on them. It’s what allows a coach to enjoy those times when everything comes together yet forces him to suffer deeply when things don’t go as planned, staying up late in to the early mornings staring at the ceiling and wondering what went wrong.

Recently I found out that a friend of mine who has coached at the high school and recreation levels for more than thirty years threw in his towel for coaching. This is a person who shared my passion for sports, for coaching, and for the thrill that comes with competition. He was someone who gave up a business career thirty years ago to take a lesser-paying job working with young men and helping them not only on the basketball court, but in preparing themselves for life after sports and to be better men.

It was interesting to watch those young soccer players who lived and died by their performance on the field grow up and many of them not play beyond their high school and club careers.

Likewise, my coaching friend after all these years called it quits just because it “was time.”

What was missing from each of them that prevented them from moving on in their chosen sport? You guessed it, passion.

Bishop T. D. Jakes once wrote, “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”

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And if that passion is gone, then there’s nothing left to do but hang up your cleats or whistle and seek out a new purpose.

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