Off the Rails

September 5, 2016
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Sitting down with my sparkling water, my peaches, and a ton of hope that Bayern München would win the 2016 UEFA Champions League, I settled into my spot on my beige sofa. I didn’t really need hope. Statistically speaking, it was no contest. Bayern had won five Champions League title while Atletico had not won a single one.

Even though I knew my team would win, I trembled with excitement. As the announcers introduced the starting lineups, my basement transformed into an arena.

The first few minutes were like a normal soccer game as the ball moved around on both sides of the field. But this was a bad thing. Bayern München weren’t supposed to be equal to Atletico; my team was supposed to be dominating. In the eleventh minute, my heart was ripped out of my chest. Time slowed as Bayern defender's slid for the ball and the dirt under the goalkeeper was ripped from the earth as he pushed off the ground with his cleats. For a second, Atletico’s Saul Niguez was a magician as he dribbled past five players and scored against the best goalkeeper in the world. But I still had hope; there were seventy-two minutes left--plenty of time for a comeback.

The game went on, shot after shot. In my basement, I was sweating just as much as the players on the field. Each second felt like the longest minute of my life until it was the eighty-ninth minute. One minute left for Bayern München to tie the game. Arturo Vidal, a midfielder on Bayern, blasted a shot towards the back of the net. My eyes grew bigger than the sun. I screamed, “This is it! This is happening!”

Atletico’s goalkeeper stopped it. He seemed to grow a few inches taller as his fingertips managed to nick the ball slightly, just enough to miss the scoring by a centimeter. Obviously, the players couldn’t hear me, but I was shouting directions as if I was the manager. I clutched my chair, slouching and slowly sliding off of it, all while yelling in frustration. My sure thing was the opposite of sure. If my parents had been home and not a dinner with their friends, I would have heard my dad holler, “KEEP IT DOWN!”

Now, looking back, I realize why I became so distraught over my favorite team losing. This feeling of disappointment had been branded into my brain during a squash tournament two years ago. Ranked as 70th in the nation in the U13 division, I wanted to up my ranking through a tournament. When I went up to the draw, I noticed that I was up against a kid ranked in the 100 range, so I thought to myself, “Easy win.”

An hour later, I entered the court and began to warm-up with my opponent. He was decent. He was hitting solid rails and very good volleys. They were right against the wall which made them seemingly impossible to get. But I had this game in the bag.

I was horribly wrong.

I was off to a good start. With every heavy thump of my racquet, I knew my placement was perfect to score another point. The distance to each corner seemed to shrink to the size of a Rubik’s cube as I darted around the court. My steps were so light there was almost no noise when I ran. When I lost my first point, I shrugged it off. But then there was another.

My racquet suddenly felt like an anvil, and I couldn’t react fast enough. When I ran to the corner to get the ball the once short distance became a mile long. I lunged and got as low as possible, yet my racquet missed the ball. Doubt flooded my mind. All I could hear was to the crack of the ball hitting the wall, and all I could see was my opponent ready to pounce like a panther hunting its prey.

Steam rushed out of my ears because I had given up my lead. He was one point away from taking the game. My elbow was bent at a 90-degree angle, my racquet ready to receive my opponent’s serve. Though my form was in place, my mind was anything but. I heard the ball smash against the front wall. I just swung. I made contact, but it was horrible as the ball landed right in the middle of the court where my opponent could do whatever he pleased with it. I saw, almost in slow-motion, my opponent making the perfect contact and the ball making a tsk sound against the wall; it flew past me and landed in the back left-hand corner. I took two steps, but I was too late. I had thrown the game.

I came out of the court having lost the first game out the set of three and sat down on the bench. My water suddenly tasted like a sour lemon, and it felt like I was wearing earplugs made of anger as my dad gave me notes on my technical problems: “footwork was sloppy... my racquet wasn’t at a 90-degree angle…” I marched into the second game determined to win. But I quickly learned it’s not the wisest to be fueled by anger. The game went downhill very quickly, and I lost eleven to five. The corner seemed to be a mile apart, and the glass wall behind me felt like prison bars. Again, after my loss, I returned to my outdoor bench. As I looked down, I heard a thump, thump, thump. My dad’s footsteps were heavy with irritation, most likely because I hadn’t listened to a word he had said when he gave me technical notes. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Come on! Just calm down and do what you always do.” And he didn’t let me go back inside until I had steadied my legs and controlled my breathing. I was calm. But not collected.

But as I walked into what would be the last game, all I could see were my mistakes imprinted in that court. I could see when I whiffed the ball in the back right corner and where I lost right after the serve in the back left-hand corner. And the front corners were just as devastating because I had lost five points there. A surge of anger, confusion, and disappointment rushed to my head, and I felt my face turn red. As I focused my eyes on the two small yellow dots on the squash ball, the court grew small again. I knew I could make a comeback.

The final score was eleven to nine, but not in my favor. The court started to get smaller and smaller again, but it wasn’t enough. I had lost. I couldn’t get the last two games out of my head, even though the score had been closer. I couldn’t let go of my negative emotions and the belief that I was supposed to win because a ranking had told me I would. When those emotions come into play, it can mean your demise. These emotions were the demise of Bayern and me. But now I know that I have to push aside these emotions because when they flow out, the dreadful disappointment is one step away.

This disappointment is something I never want to feel again because it shattered me to pieces. But now I know that there’s always another challenge or match ahead. And next time, I won’t check the rankings.

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