A chip off the old block…

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10-11-13 jack soccer

I played a lot of soccer when I was younger, and for a little while I even made a living playing it. I’ve been involved in the game all my life, though at my age now, all I can really do is coach. Currently I coach the local high school boys team, and although resigned to the sidelines, every now and then when I’m feeling adventurous I jump out onto the field and show those young’uns what it’s all about! Jack loves all sports, and as parents we have always wanted him to explore a variety of interests, so we haven’t pushed him hard in any one direction. He’s 9 years old now though, and since it’s fall, that means another parks and rec soccer season. Jack has been asking about playing a higher level of soccer… more than parks and rec (which is a great program for kids). Lori and I told him that we’d do parks and rec one more time this fall, and if at the end of the season he has any interest in getting more serious about soccer, then we’d jump “all in” and support that path. I’d love to coach him and help grow that obvious love of the game that he already has… here he is… a chip off the old block.

Race for the Cure

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Every year, my team of varsity high school soccer players participates in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Bangor. We usually get a good number from the JV and freshman teams to join in as well, and this year I think we had 55+ kids running… certainly a record number participating since I have been coaching this team. Jack decided that he wanted to run the race this year too, and here’s a little sampling of me trying to keep up with him…

Growing up playing sports

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A composite of several photographs showing Sam's baseball swing

I grew up playing soccer. From I was no age at all, I was playing soccer… morning, noon, and night. I played non-stop, and it was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I played every morning before school, at recess we threw jackets down for makeshift goals and played, I hurried through lunch so I could have even more time to play, and you guessed it… I played every day after school until it got dark and we couldn’t see the ball anymore. In fact, I was that kid who literally dribbled a ball on the way to school and back… seriously… there are pictures somewhere to prove it!

I spent my younger years in a part of the world where there is a tremendous passion for the game, and as a kid I was certainly swept up in it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED playing soccer – or football as it is rightly known – and I needed no encouragement whatsoever to devote countless hours to doing what I loved. However, looking at that experience through my “parent” lens today, I can see that it did take up an awful lot of time, often at the expense of other potential enriching pursuits. Maybe that’s why Lori and I have been reluctant to push too hard with the boys when it comes to youth sports?

Sam at the plate

Despite our reticence when it comes to youth sports, Sam dabbled in most activities while growing up, and although he is still an ardent fan of just about every game, he eventually settled on playing baseball, which he excelled at. As a teenager, he spent endless days practicing on the Little League fields, and I can remember playing some serious catch with him on the side of the yard as he honed his pitching skills. The heel of my left thumb still hurts when I think of the times spent kneeling as a catcher trying to deal with his fastball. When he learned to throw a curve ball… forget about it… my days as catcher were over!

Sam on the mound pitching

Anyway, we have been really hands off with Jack to this point when it comes to organized sports. We didn’t want to push him into team activities, but at the same time we don’t want him to miss out on what we believe can be a very positive growth experience. He has played rec. soccer the past couple of years and although he enjoys the game, it doesn’t seem to be something he is especially passionate about. Lately though, just as we began feeling a little guilty for not signing him up for more activities – quite coincidentally – he has started taking more of an interest in baseball. Maybe it’s the poster sized photograph of his big brother Sam playing in the Senior League World Series that hangs over his bed, or maybe it’s because his friends are all getting into that scene? We also just rediscovered the huge collection of baseball cards that were accumulated when Sam was younger, so it does appear that Jack is genuinely starting to develop an affinity for the game.

Our newest little baseball player

So, when asked if he wanted to play organized baseball like his friends this spring, he immediately jumped at the chance. Last Saturday we headed out to the local sports store to buy him a new glove… one of his own that will fit him until his hands grow big enough to use Sam’s old glove. He was thrilled to be able to choose the one that he liked, and we went straight to the gym to try it out and break it in. He is a good little athlete (some say he gets that from his mother’s side of the family), with pretty good hand/eye coordination and a willingness to work hard, so it looks like we might be jumping in with both feet to see if baseball becomes Jack’s thing. It might seem strange considering my upbringing and association with soccer, but I absolutely love everything about the game of baseball. Perhaps Jack will too, and that would mean I get to shoot sports again… and maybe it’s also time to feed the fire and schedule another trip down to Fenway to see the Red Sox!

Race for the Cure 2011

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The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure has become quite an event on the fall calendar around here with huge crowds turning out every year to participate and support what is an important cause… and today’s race was no exception. There were 5,000 + runners and walkers on the Bangor waterfront as this morning’s event began, and as has become a family tradition, we were there too.

Every year the high school soccer program I coach participates in the race, and this year we had 58 people signed up for our event team. It doesn’t surprise me that the boys commit to something like this… they are a special group of youngsters, and I am very proud of them. In years past I have actually run the entire 5K course, but this time I decided to walk with my peeps. Just as much fun, and a lot less sore afterwards 🙂

Soccer season again!

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Soccer has always been a big part of my life. I grew up in Ireland playing every spare minute I had, and am fortunate to still be involved coaching the local high school boys team.

When younger, I was totally devoted to soccer and absolutely loved the game… still do. Back in the day I was lucky to play at a decent level, and since coming to this country I have also had a chance to coach at just about every level. I still follow my local and favorite teams back home, and it has been nice to see Sam develop a similar passion for, and knowledge about, the game. The good news is that he has become a huge Liverpool fan – like myself – now we just have to get him over to Anfield to see a game in person.

Anyway… just like Sam at 7 years old, Jack is now playing spring soccer, and it is exciting to see him give his all out on the field every Sunday. He runs tirelessly and seems to genuinely enjoy playing… gotta love this game!

It’s Snowing Again…

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I am supposed to flying out to Baltimore tomorrow, but the weather has us totally socked in right now. I am not sure if I will be able to get out of town to attend the NSCAA Soccer coaches convention or not, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

We have been walloped again with another Nor’easter that’s packing 40mph winds and driving a foot or more of snow all over the place. The snow is literally coming down sideways as I write this, and as you can see from the view out into our back yard, it is really starting to pile up.

Snow days with a 6 year-old in the house are always exciting, and Jack certainly got his money’s worth out of this one with his buddy Jack over to play. Seeing a couple of first graders go at it all day like these two have gives me a renewed appreciation of what teachers do on a daily basis.

The snow is supposed to wind down after dark, and I forsee some time spent with my friend the snowblower later on this evening. Here’s hoping that the plane I am taking out to Philadelphia (and then Baltimore) tomorrow is able to get in to Bangor in the first place… we shall see.

Going for the Gold (ball)

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Photo: Amy Sing Prusaitis

Photo: Amy Sing Prusaitis

Here’s the background… my high school boys soccer team finished the regular season unbeaten and sitting on top of the eastern Maine rankings. This meant that we would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs all the way as far as the Eastern Maine Final, and a victory there would give us the right to represent the eastern part of the state in the Class A State Championship game. After hard fought playoff victories against Erskine Academy and Morse HS, last Wednesday we were able to outlast old foe Brunswick HS to become Eastern Maine Champions and move on to the Class A State Championship game in Falmouth against Portland HS.

We knew that Portland was a very talented team, one that had speed all over the field, and several individual players whose resumes were quite impressive. Here in Maine, just about any team coming down I-95 to play a team from the southern part of the state is automatically dubbed the underdog, a tag we actually welcomed. After all, down south they have state of the art turf fields to practice and play on, they have indoor facilities that allow them to play year round, and every other player on a roster plays “premier” soccer. What chance did a little old team from up north in Bangor have against the city team from Portland who had won 14 games in a row?

In the days leading up to the game, my assistant coach and I talked about what kind of strategy we should deploy against our latest opponent. Should we be careful not to concede an early goal against what was obviously a potent offense? Should we conservatively play four guys at the back instead of our customary three? What should we do about their star player? How would our guys deal with the unfamiliar artificial turf surface? There were lots of questions to ponder, and sometime before we stepped onto the field on Saturday we would have to have a plan ready.

Saturday morning rolled around quickly and I was feeling a little tense, so I decided to go for a run. I haven’t gone running in a while, but all of the nervous energy built up within me came flooding out as I cruised around the neighborhood with ease. With music pumping from my iPod, and me moving at a rate that I would pay for a day later, a very clear and obvious plan evolved for the game. I called my assistant coach Don to share the idea, and he laughed… he had been just about to call me with exactly the same idea.

What was our master plan? We were going to do exactly what we had done throughout the season to get us where we were. Playing for a state championship is an incredibly special and fleeting opportunity, and we wanted to make sure that our guys embraced the moment… that they didn’t feel they had to compromise who they were and what they do best while worrying about someone else. We didn’t want them to play not to lose, we wanted them to be confident in their abilities, and we didn’t want them to be afraid to try… really try. Winning this game certainly wasn’t going to be easy, but then again, the things that mean the most in life aren’t supposed to come easy.

Long story short… we came out with a belief that we could win, and more importantly, an understanding that in life you have to be willing to stretch sometimes, take a chance on that dream, and never, ever be afraid to fail. In what was probably the most memorable experience in all my years of coaching, our guys passionately played their part in a game that contained many twists and turns, a game that was definitely worthy of a state championship. On an unforgettable evening with an incredible traveling fan base, we eventually prevailed over an impressive adversary by the score of 3-2, and we finished off what was a truly remarkable season as the 2010 Class A Maine State Champions! Go Rams!