Wiping sand off my forehead, stance ready, and eyes watching the ball, I dove. I heard the crowd erupt in cheers, but not the side of the crowd I was hoping for. I remained lying on the sand and stared at the ball sitting in the goal, taunting me. I turned my head toward the field and was greeted with a mouthful of sand. The girl who scored the goal stood over me, apparently having just kicked sand in my face with malicious intentions. It took everything in me to hold back from knocking her to the ground.
“It’s okay! You got it, Gotthardt!” I heard one of my teammates yell to me.
Easy for her to say. She hadn’t just given up our four point lead within two minutes. I stood up (after getting rid of as much sand as I could from my mouth) to throw the ball back to the middle of the sand soccer field. Looking to my right, I stared at the ocean for a moment and took a deep breath, hoping to calm myself. The familiar sound of the whistle blew, and I turned my attention back to the reality, trying not to focus on the fact that every bone in my body ached from two other games of throwing my body to the sand repeatedly.
The game continued, and our opponents scored another goal on me. I looked at my coach and motioned for a substitute, desperately wanting anything but to continue playing. I was done being humiliated. Apparently he didn’t care that my pride was at stake, because he simply shook his head, as if that ended the matter– which, unfortunately, it did. The referee blew the whistle to signal for a two-minute break, and I trudged over to the sideline, head hanging.
“Can Devin please go in? I’m getting pretty tired,” I pleaded to my coach, as my team strategized.
“No,” he said plainly. “You got this.”
Another whistle blow.
Realizing I had no choice, I ran back onto the field, taking my stance. Right off the bat, my team scored two goals. Back and forth the ball went, taking uneven bounces on the bumpy surface and being kicked and headed from exhausted player to exhausted player. Arms flew, girls shoved, and unkind words were exchanged. This was a dirty game. Another two goals were awarded to the opposing team, each one tearing at me harder.
Time was winding down, and I was growing more and more defeated, despite the encouraging words coming from my teammates. We were losing 7-8 (such high scoring isn’t uncommon in sand soccer), and I desperately wanted it to be over, win, lose, or draw.
From way outside, a shot was taken, and I jumped to catch it. Adrenaline kicking in, I threw the ball across the field, yelling instructions to my teammates, suddenly desperate to win. Another ball flew toward me and I dove on top of it, landing with a thud. As I tried to get up, I realized I could hardly breathe. Ball still in hand, I was forced to throw it to the best of my abilities, attempting (and failing) to recover from the wind being knocked out of me. Air still wouldn’t come, but the ball came flying back at me. I reached out and caught it, but just as I heaved the ball to my teammate, the whistle marking the end of the game sounded, and our opponents’ cheered loudly, jumping up and down.
I made the familiar head-hanging walk to the sidelines.
My coach smiled at me. “Aren’t you glad you stayed in?”
“You do realize we lost, right? I let in eight goals,” I said with defeat.
“Oh that doesn’t matter,” he said, dramatically waving his hand. “It’s important that you learn to not give up.”
It felt like a cheesy movie. We walked over to the parents, and I was congratulated on my saves, but I laughed and joked about those other eight non-saves. My body still ached, but this time I decided to hold my head high, because as cliche as my coach was, I really was able to push myself because of him. He (and everyone else on the team) knew that I was perfectly capable of sticking with it to get the job done.
Justice hadn’t been served. We had lost, and an unsporty team had won, able to advance to the championships. They may have won the soccer game, but I had just triumphed in my own battle.
Face still covered in sand and body still in deep need of a hot tub soak, I left the field with a smile on my face.