Monday, March 29, 2010

Ponytails: The Life Cycle of A Girl's Soccer Team

The ponytail just fell into her hand.  What else could she do?  It happened so fast.
After a hard breakaway bump-o-matic,  squinchy-faced,  stretched-out gazelle sprint, they were alone in the corner with the ball.  They toed, touched, and trapped the ball between them with cleat-clad feet, teeth gritted with spiraling frustration.  
Tardy teammates were no immediate help, jogging, seemingly in slo-mo (but not really), to catch up/mark up.  By some trick of physics and raw passion, slow motion and hyper action co-existed on that field. 
No one moved in to provide “a little help here” for either player.  Everyone knew the two girls in the tangle were due to duke it out.  It was expected.  Even the Field Marshals noticed the defender had taken a dirty barrage of low blows, trips and hooks from the striker from the first touch.  It was inevitable they would lock up once the defender decided to defend herself.
Circling like a flock of ospreys, all the players moved into position transfixed by the potential of this open-air clash.  They were ready to dole out the leverage should the ball squirt free from the girl gladiators.
The defender’s only immediate companion, a crouched, captive and queasy goalie, shouted and prowled the pitch ready to bat it away, or worse, helplessly watch it fly by her outstretched glove encased fingers, should the defender lose this battle. 
 On fire, in an Amazonian warrior fury of jabbing elbows, lethal knees and streaming ponytails, they connected skin to skin in resounding bitch- slaps causing the spectators to intone, “ooooooh.”  The trick of physics made this dancing dust-up seem like forever.
With every panting breath:  This is for coach. This is for mom.  This is for my team. This is to bond us, best friends forever.  This is for all the training and the money and the sweat and the tears.  This is to win State CupThis is for my future
Turn it and burn it.  Turn it AND BURN IT.  TURN IT AND BURN IT!
The ponytail fell into her hand. A column of hair smooth and whippy and tempting in her fingers.
She couldn’t resist in the nanosecond it took to decide.  A sacrificial offering.  A retaliation. A stop to this stalemate.
She yanked the ponytail. 
They disengaged.
And the whistle blew.
And in clear ringing syllables here it came. 
What the fuck is wrong with you?” shouted the striker. 
The defender raised her hands to her face in shock.
For a beat, only the chattering of the green parrots nesting in the field lights was heard.  The rubber band, stretched beyond its capacity, had snapped. The play was over.  Both received yellow cards from the referee with a stern warning. The defender for the hair pulling, the striker for the language.

What the fuck was wrong with the defender became abundantly clear as she and her team lost two games and tied just one during this high-end tournament where scouts were taking note.  They should have won, they have the skills, strength and talent.  At times they have played brilliantly as linked and like-minded as if they were sisters from other mothers. But when it counted, like this tournament, when there was pressure, they could be angry and distant from each other giving opposing teams the gaping chink in the armor.   The defender knew she’d be alone in the box dancing for her life, and what did it matter.  What was wrong?  Everyone could see and hear the cracking fractures.

At the volatile age of 15, her team mates don’t share the same vision of the sport.  Boys, hormones, cars, malls, cell phones are carving chunks out of the girls she had come to love.  The need to make college soccer scholarships materialize or never see higher education is exacting its pound of flesh in this repressed economy.   At 15, real life is forcing choices.   Real life is shouting in their faces to grow up, choose.   Do you play this game, or do you play more grown up games now?
The team?  It is splintering. 
“If we split up now, I know I’ll never see some of them ever again. Starting over with a new team is so hard.  I am so tired.  I am so sad."
And for a defender who thought her beloved team would last forever, grief gave way to an angry yank of a ponytail.

photos by Linnnn


  1. I've been there and watched this happen. Just substitute softball. Its a hard moment to watch and if I recall correctly its even harder for them.

    Dare I say, this too shall pass?? I can say, "When one door closes another opens". For mine it opened the door to a tryout/making/playing for a Gold Glove Olympic Development team that she never would have left her team-mates/friends for prior.

    Give her my best and let her know what I'm sure you already does go on.

  2. Dear Linnnn,
    I don't know as much about sports, but I do know that achievers get wrapped up in what they're trying to achieve. We all do it, and miss a nuance or make an unfortunate grab.

    The others as they lean toward other goals, are growing a dispassion toward the team. This always hurts.

    The weird thing in this world is that the person who still cares is deemed 'over-invested' or told to 'chill' or whatever. That happens everywhere too. 'Genius is intensity' (Balzac) but it's not comfortable to those who are phoning it in.

    The grab ends up as a sign of caring, however mistaken. It's a plus that in sports that you learn about these things withing a rule-based place.

    I think the sympathy you have for the growing up/making it matter sounds very appropriate. The penalty was already called. The sympathy and perspective you showed means you become a valuable sounding board and resource for perspective.

    I had to think this over, to get my thoughts in line. This post is more complex than it seems on the surface. Otherwise, I would have commented earlier. But now I can say,

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post. I have learned something valuable.

    Ann T.

  3. Sad, chin up for her. Another opportunity really will come along.

  4. Award for you at my place.

  5. That was quite a sad story when players just don't share the same vision. There are a few girls out there who love soccer but the fact it, some of them might actually outgrow this love for soccer and turn their love to other things.


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