We were more than just a team
by Maddie Pillari
Everyone’s been on a sports team. Whether your athletic career ended after pee-wee soccer or you’re a NCAA athlete, there was probably a point in your life where you were eating orange slices while someone’s dad half-assed a half-time speech. Every sports team I’ve ever been on has had a distinctive attitude, its own vernacular. The more competitive and older I got, the more these teams functioned as their own organic units, banding together people who maybe wouldn’t be friends off the field. Varsity athletics in high school and in college epitomize this camaraderie that occurs when you spend multiple hours a day with a group of people. For me, the lacrosse field became the battlefield, and each practice enforced a mentality as serious and concentrated as that of soldiers facing deployment. Your teammates were more than just people you played lacrosse with. They were in the trenches with you, sweating beside you, simultaneously competing and supporting.
You have your cult leader, the coach, a totalitarian dictator. He says run and you run. He says sprint and you sprint. I remember walking to practice, thinking about what mood my coach was going to be in, and how that would directly affect what was about to happen tome and my teammates during practice. Would we face a fitness test or teambuilding game? I’d also think about the mood of my teammates. Group mentality is a strange thing, and some days everyone was slow and tired. The lazy days were the worst days, usually midweek when everyone was half-sick and homework had piled up and 4 p.m. felt like a perfect time for a nap, not three hours of practice. This collective lackluster wouldn’t go unnoticed by the coach, and he would probably make us run to scare us back into trying or caring.
I can’t think of any other place in life where I was so emotionally and physically tied to 25 other people. The mindset of “this is your teammate, on and off the field” was heavily enforced on both my high school and college lacrosse teams. Team lunches, team dinners, team breakfasts. Team community service, team pregames and parties. Travelling to different states for games, late nights at Denver International Airport and various Hiltons; there is something so natural and comfortable about sleepily following direction, about letting someone else think for you. When you are walking across campus at 3 a.m. on a Sunday after getting back from a trip, the dim glow of the few lights remaining lit is a strange solidarity, one that binds you to the girls walking next to you in an irrevocable, resolute way. Carrying equipment past a moonlit Tutt, eyes and backpacks heavy, is only bearable because of the girls walking next to you, their weary yet supportive silence. Sharing Xanax on flights and making music videos, throwing parties with themes like Disney princess, jungle and wedding. These people that you probably wouldn’t otherwise spend time with—they become a kind of family.
You adopt the habits of your teammates, their moods as contagious as their colds; one person just wants to go home and everyone starts to feel a little weary. One person sneezes, and the next day three people are absent because of the flu. The choice to try hard and be happy to be with everyone is just that, a choice. And after I failed to make this choice too many times in a row, failed to put on a happy face and participate in a way that was fair to my teammates, I knew I had to leave. Because when you are dragging your feet to practice, other people start to drag their feet too.
Leaving my lacrosse team was hard. Separating from such a mechanized, tight-knit pack of people was a strange thing. Since age four, I was a part of a team. But I needed to leave, to learn how to schedule my own day and not rely on that group mentality. As happy as I am to have been a part of it, I am happy to be on my own. My days are less structured, which is sometimes hard. No longer do I stay up late at night thinking about practice the next day, or sit through class biting my nails down to stubs as I count down the hours until I have to head to the locker room. There are times when I feel adrift, unanchored. No longer is anybody responsible for me, or am I responsible for anyone but myself. I am not “representing” a team, and therefore my actions reflect solely on me.
It’s weird, who you remain close to and who you realize was only bound to you through matching jerseys. And weirder, still, the seemingly endless amounts of time available now that I don’t have to cut three hours out of my day for practice. I see them practicing sometimes, while I’m at the gym or when I’m walking by the fields. It’s then I realize I left behind something more than just practice.