Monday, 15 October 2018

Nothing is permanent: The time for change (A personal journal)

Nothing is permanent.

As a lifelong athlete, you know the day is coming when you have to face reality and stop playing the game you've loved your whole life.  For me the summer of 2018 is when I reluctantly have to step away from a game I've played since I was 4 years old, and the game I've loved more than any other... soccer.

I consider myself extremely lucky....

I played soccer for 32 years.

-I played at the rep, regional (CSL) and provincial level (OCAA)
-I captained the U19 regional team,  who finished in the top 10 in the province.
-I was a starting-11 player both years in college.  With our second year, missing provincials by one game.
-I played 17 years in the local Men's League.  14 of those years with the club I played my highest levels at in my youth, The Trenton Sockers.

I coached soccer for 20 years.
I was a referee for 2-3 years.
I have been and still am, a fan of the game.

Through that time and those experiences,  I learned the game from all vantage points and angles, I loved the game more and more each year, I met many friends and experienced some awesome memories.

I love the game.  

Like any athlete, you know the day is coming when retirement has to happen (be it forced or by choice), but you sort of brush off that thought and go on playing. Although in my last few years I've always said that I would retire no matter what if....

I was forced to by injury.
If I physically couldn't keep up.
If I could play, but not at 100% for fear of injury or due to other reasons.

My play was always 100%.  I was raised to approach the game knowing that you absolutely need to give 100% at all times, and to be a respected player on the field. If you're the top player or the superstar, bonus, but be a respectable solid player.  I feel I did that over my 32 years, and of course I owe all of that to my, Dad for putting that mentality into me from day one.

In my two main sports growing up, soccer and hockey, I was on more losing teams than winning.  And yet I am still proud to have played for the clubs and organizations that I did.  Losing in sports is not a bad thing (don't get me started on the state of the youth game today). And it sure made those highlight years that much sweeter when we did win!  Sports helped shape me into who I am, along with of course, my parents and my upbringing.

My highlights over the years:  My proudest moments/seasons

*Starting soccer had to be one of those memories.  I remember driving by the fields and Dad asking if I'd like to try it.  I knew Dad was a soccer player. So I was excited to try.  Both my parents always reminded me (in anything I did);  try it, work hard, and if you don't like it, you don't have to do it the next season.  Do what you love. 

*I was always a smart player.  I learned to play every position on the field over my career and often was utilized in more situations because of that.  I wasn't always the fastest (especially in my youth being overweight).  And I was definitely not an aggressive player in my early years.

I believe it was my last year of U12 or U13 and on the way home (as we typically would), Dad and I would be chatting about the game. I'm always my biggest critic in anything I do, and then my Dad is next.  He would never tear me down or make me feel useless;  he would be honest and give constructive criticism when necessary.  He would also be the first one to tell me when I did something great.  Both my parents always had the most perfect balance in that department I felt.  After one game in particular, Dad said something that hit me and I've never forgot, "if you don't get more aggressive, you're not only going to get hurt, but you may never play in the men's league where it IS rough".  I've never forgot that talk.  It was a turning point in my soccer career without a doubt.  He was right.  And the next game I remember the play vividly where I stayed with one of the faster guys in the league while running after the ball, and going shoulder to shoulder to battle for it. I won the ball and played it safe for a throw in.  It was the highlight of the game, it felt good, and Dad was quick to let me know how great of a play it was.   :)

*My final year of house league and select was U15.  Trenton Minor Soccer where I grew up playing, only had select teams and house league until I was 16 years old.  At that time I went to rep and higher levels.  But that final year in house league was memorable because it was the one year where I was a dominant player in the league. I had 14 goals that season, and was dangerous any game we played. I'll never forget the finals that season;  I had a goal disallowed (ball went under the mesh in the corner but the ref called it no goal), and the entire second half of the game, the other team's coach was making sure one of his players was shadowing me at all times.  "Stay on Arsenault!!" he was yelling.  It was an awesome feeling.

*My years with the Trenton Sockers FC were very memorable.  Two years of U17 rep soccer, including being captain of the team my second season and also being a call-up with the U19 CSL regional Trenton Sockers team.  We also had Watertown, New York in our league. As if saying you had to travel to another country to play wasn't cool enough at the time, I'll never forget the one game against them, at home where we had at least 100 people in the crowd watching.  That's unheard of for us at the time for soccer!

*My two years of U19 soccer were unforgettable. The Central Soccer League (CSL) at the time, was the second highest league in the province.  The top CSL team would be promoted to the OSL (Ontario Soccer League) and the bottom OSL team would be relegated.  In my fitness career, I predominately worked with junior hockey players and higher.  The CSL at that time, would be OJHL equivalent if we compared it to hockey now (which is what our local Trenton GoldenHawks and Wellington Dukes play in). I'm proud of that.  It was nice to be able to relate to these athletes who played a high level of their sport, as I did. We played teams Toronto way mostly.  Some very good teams and players.  We had matching warm up suits, bags, names on our jerseys, dressing room for home games, set warm up routines etc... We had soccer 3-4 days per week many weeks.  It was so much fun!  I even had two pairs of cleats so depending on conditions I could switch from firm ground to hard ground boots.  I loved every bit of it.  And that second year of U19, I was captain of the team, and we finished ranked in the top 10 in the province which was pretty cool to find out!

*I spent 2-years in the OCAA at Loyalist College, as a Loyalist Lancer.  We had a discipline team, great teammates and a great team/family culture in those years.  All of that thanks to our coach, Terry Boyd (whom I also later played with in the men's league).  I was a starting-11 player both years, which was special as those 11 players were predominately the ones on the field (unless they were hurt, on a yellow card or just plain not playing well).  Some guys barely saw 5-min on the field all season. But that was the way it was.  The top players and those who earned their spots, would play.  I received the "excellence in athletics and academics" award from the OCAA both years I played (holding a 4.0 GPA in the Fitness & Health Promotion program).   Our first year was tough and we weren't too great.  I still had fun. But our second season, our team had the 1st and 3rd top scorers in the league and we were one game away from making provincials, losing 1-0 on the road to Humber College.  No regrets for me though.  Some great memories.

*I had 17 seasons in the Bay of Quinte Men's League first division (my last two years being in the "Old timers" division which is 35yrs old and up).  I think the highlights for me though came once again, after the games in talks with my Dad.  I'll never forget the first time he told me early in my men's league years that I played "just like he used to" (which was playing fair but aggressive, and good).  I was a similar playing style to him... finally!  That was my "pro contract signing". That was my "big time moment".  I did it!  I was the type of player Dad always knew I could be, and the player that he was when he was young (with less goals LOL).  I was fortunate enough to hear that several times during my men's league days too. :)

*Another highlight for me to was surpassing my Dad's playing career.  Playing more years than him in a game we both enjoyed, made me feel privileged and lucky. Throughout my career I was a consistent player, with minimal injuries keeping me off the field (and no major ones for sure).

*Coaching both my girls was a highlight of mine for sure. Although they both didn't stick with the game, they made me proud when they played. They were good players. They listened. They tried hard and they improved because of it.  I got to experience the enjoyment of watching your child play such a great game, just like my parents did. :)

*My parents supporting me ALL THOSE YEARS was incredibly memorable.  Mom and Dad were at so many games and practices.  Travelling, tournaments, rainy and cold conditions sometimes... It's no wonder I was successful in my soccer career when they were so dedicated to making sure I could experience every bit of it.  That is something I could never forget.

***

I'm not sure I'll ever forget my last game either (unfortunately);  Monday August 13th, 2018.  We were playing the top team in the old timers division.  Those games were comparable to first division games;  intense, rough and skilled.  The only difference was the speed was naturally less than first division and those young kids running around.  Of course, I was feeling great;  focused, good energy and playing well.  About 3/4 of the way through the first half, I jump to intercept a ball that's being chipped over my head (as I'm running back toward my 18-yard box), I clear the ball well, but land awkwardly on my right ankle and my full body weight crashes to the ground.  I knew it wasn't a "rolled ankle" like I had experienced in the past. I knew my game was over. But I felt it was probably just a bad "twist / sprain".  Little did I know that night, it would be my final game EVER and 10-weeks later I'd be writing this blog post, while still working on rehabbing my injury.

That's where the nothing is permanent came to reality. I knew when I learned I had a minor avulsion fracture of my right ankle, that my career was done.  Not so much because I didn't think I'd get my ankle healthy and ready again, but because of the point I'm at in my professional career and life;  Business owner, musician, family man etc... I have too much going on and too much that can be impacted due to such an injury.  To risk it happening again, OR WORSE would just be ridiculous.  I have to face the reality and walk away.  Although the fact that I knew I could still play well (ability and fitness wise) is a good thing in a way. I left on a good note in that sense.

What did I take away from my years in the game?

Pride.  I didn't play pro. I didn't get a full ride scholarship or get scouted by top clubs.  I didn't play as high as some of the soccer players I've trained in my professional career. But damn it I'm proud of the levels I played at, and the fact that I was always a respected player on whatever team I played with.  I was always a consistently good player in my career and no one can take that feeling of pride away from me.  It feels damn good to have been that type of player and teammate.

It's the little things.  Like in life, the little things are the most important. Those talks post-game with my Dad, the little moments of him praising me (or helping me), the team feel that my CSL and OCAA days provided.... these are all little things surrounding the game that made it so special.

Don't be afraid to try something new.  As I said, my parents were both always pushing trying new things. "You never know, you may just like it" they'd say.  Sports were no different.  In soccer, I could play any position the coach needed me to play and I could play it well.  And because of that, I understood the game better. Granted, midfield, and defense in particular,were my comfort positions, I'd play where ever I was needed when the time came.  I'm proud of that. Especially because there aren't many players on each team who can do that (if any).

and finally....

I love the game.  I can't describe the feeling of the ball at your feet, making a great pass, taking a long shot from outside the box.... I can't describe the feel and smell of the field during those night games under the lights. I can't describe the fun and excitement of the first practice of the new season after a winter off. I can't describe the feeling just before kickoff as you're lined up ready in formation.  I can't describe the feeling of winning an intense game with lots of hard play and effort.

It's just simply an amazing game, that has been a massive part of my life.... for the bulk of my life.

Although I'll be a fan for life and continue to watch my favourite teams on tv and live... I sure will miss playing.

But....

Time for change has arrived.... and I can proudly say.... 

With zero regrets