There is no "I" in "Team"

May 1, 2010
You never expect to require a tough skin with your own teammates. Most athletes would anticipate tons of grief from their opponents. Even more may be prepared to take a physical beating from the opposite team. After all, as every good sport knows, any team sport requires the entire effort of a team, not just one person. As every seasoned soccer player knows, the two goalies basically hold the fate of the game in their gloved hands.
It was almost May; middle school girls’ soccer was in full swing. Everyone had their defined positions, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. As our sixth game of the season, we were playing Zeeland Cityside. I’d convinced one of my out-of-school friends, Monika, to come to the game because it was at my home field, and she went to Cityside. I practiced for about fifteen minutes, but then my coach called us all over.
“Okay, I’m going to have Alex on center defense. Julia, you’re right, Norma, take left. Bella, left forward. Aster, center, Maria, right. Kayla, you’re playing left mid, Addie, take right, and Holly and Hannah take center. Jenni’s our goalie.”
No surprise there; I was the only goalie that could- or would- play out of three. One, Tamora, quit (there was no chance she would return) and the other injured her wrist practicing with her brother. I grabbed my gloves, mouthguard, and the goalie shirt as I dashed out into the field.
Gloves. Check.
Mouthguard. Check.
Shirt. Check.
Team. Check.
“Goalie, ready?” the ref asked. I gave him the thumbs-up. Then, the game started.
As the game progressed, it became increasingly evident that my team would lose, no matter how awesome of a goalie I was. Although our game that day was considerably better than the one we’d played two days previously (which we lost, 3-0, and I played goalie full-time), we still had some major flaws.
In the first half, they scored once. Number five, with a long white-blonde ponytail, from Zeeland slid at the ball resting on the ground that was almost in my reach. She was alone; the defense and midfielders were all clumped together a few feet away. They would have scored again, but I managed to sprint out to the edge of the penalty box and block the ball. Number five from Zeeland was right there, and kicked the ball (despite the fact that I was holding on to it). Up, up, up, spinning, it went. It landed outside the box for my defense to get (which they did). As she jogged past, Holly commented on my lost save. “Jenni,” she yelled, “You’re supposed to catch the ball, not drop it!”
I turned around and scurried back to the goal box, ignoring her statement.
By halftime, we’d been unable to score. My coach gave us a little pep-talk, and sent us back out. When I jogged past, I waved to Monika, who saw and waved back. My hunger for retaliation was more intense than ever.
They scored twice that half; once, because they had a great pass across the goal to a spot where no one was, and I wasn’t fast enough to get there in time. The third goal was going over my head, so I tried to jump up to get it but there were too many people and it was too late, again. My team failed to score, again.
Someone yelled from midfield. Hannah. “Jenni, you have to try to get the ball!”
Well, duh. Now shut up, turn around, leave me alone and score a goal, for heaven’s sake!
“I do!” I shouted back, garbled by my mouthguard.
“Then show it,” Hannah threw back.
Those words hurt more than getting the 9-inch² bruise on my thigh and scars to match.
“You couldn’t do it if you tried,” I replied, ice clearly visible in my voice. If you could understand me through my mouthguard.
I wanted to quit. All I wanted was to get away from her. I wanted to cry, to give up, to follow Tamora’s example. I wanted to see her face when she found out that there were no goalies left, and she had just disposed of the last one. I wanted her to feel like worthless cash, to cry, to be humiliated in front of everyone. I wanted to be rid of goalie forever. I wanted to have the choice to play goalie or the field. I wanted Haley to play goalie so that she could be miserable.
We lost, 3-0. Again.
After the game, so many people told me that I did great. Those that actually heard what H---- said also told me to ignore her. Monika commented that I was definitely the best player on my team.
Hannah’s mom was talking to her, a good distance away. “Good game, Jenni,” she smiled. I hated her voice right then, but I hated that smile even more. A sugary-sweet, I-really-don’t-mean-this-but-I-have-to-do-this smile that I still hate to this day. It was a it’s-so-pathetic-that-you-think-you’re-great-but-you-really-suck smile.
My mom took longer than I wanted; two tears streamed down my face before she could start the car. Rather than have others think that I was mad about losing, I turned my face away. My mom asked me a question; I don’t even remember what it was because I was so focused on not crying.
“Just go,” I moaned.
I tried hard to keep a smile on my face as we wove through the overfilled parking lot. A little boy wandered off into the road; I wanted him to suddenly materialize on the other side of the road so my car didn’t have to stop and wait for him to cross.
We passed the final parked car and a wave of relief washed over me. All clear. There was nothing left I could do to hold my tears. I cried, and Hannah would never know what pain so few words could cause.

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