It is truly phenomenal how fast 5 days can fly past you, especially when said 5 days is filled with 8 football matches.
This year, for the first time in an undocumented amount of years, my school’s First XI girls team competed in a satellite tournament for winter tournament week. No, it wasn’t nationals, yes, we stayed in Auckland and yes, we were competing against a vast majority of teams that played their midweek fixtures in leagues at least one above our own. Yet none of those factors detracted from the incredible success and experience that was my time at tournament this past week.
To set the scene and allow unbiased third party readers to understand why it is that I am so thrilled with a tenth place finish, I need to give some context. My school team competes in North Harbour Senior A during the season, some two tiers below Premier. Last year, we won it. This year, we were one point off a repeat and finished up in second (I’ll take this opportunity to congratulate the amazing Orewa College on going undefeated this year). With all of that in consideration, we had earned the right to compete at tournament and the Auckland one (Kathy Seaward at Seddon Fields) was obviously the best option.
However, when we looked at our pool and at the wider draw in general, the challenge ahead was not lost on us. Our very first game was against a premier level side who were intent on winning the whole thing this year. In our pool, which would transpire to be a ‘group of death’, we met three teams who played in higher leagues than us, many of whom had representative level players and played football at a pace we simply don’t experience on a Wednesday. We watched teams rack up rugby scores and bore witness to the easy application of the style of football we are continually working our way towards. Needless to say, we were not expecting much in terms of results. We were focused on learning from the experience and were, without meaning we were flippant or casual, very happy to just compete in the tournament.
I should add, however, that being focused on learning does not mean you want to lose or do not care. If there is one thing about our squad this year that I have not really witnessed elsewhere, it is the level of grit and determination that was brought to every game. So yes, we may have been written off as an easy three points but we were only comprehensively beaten once in 8 games, managed to pick up 3 wins, a draw, and a few other harsh losses. We scored against a team who had not conceded all week, pushed premier teams to last minute, scrappy winners and scored our fair share of goals along the way.
From day one to day five, the improvement our squad witnessed in ourselves was unbelievable. Once we adjusted to the pace and unforgiving nature of artificial turf fields, we began to use them to develop our passing game. Over the week, we became more patient, more technical and more sophisticated than the team has been at any point in my memory of the last three years. We were playing together so much, at such a high intensity, that our already close-knit unit became completely cohesive, and it was a privilege to be a part of.
It’s not the results that made me love tournament week so much though. It wasn’t the goals, the assists, the tricks, the turns or the final placing at all. It definitely wasn’t the pain in my legs either. There’s a list of things that all add up to total enjoyment, and they had very little to do with score lines. It was all the firsts we experienced this week; the first tournament, the first time on turf or in an ice bath for some of our players, the first time playing non-Auckland opponents, the first point at an NZSS tournament, the first win, the first time “Kristin!” rung out around Seddon Fields. It’s no secret that we were an unknown entity to the other sides this week, but it’s no lie to say we made a name for ourselves this past five days. We played with spirit, passion, and pride and we played good football.
I was able to spend a week out of a classroom, with team mates who I have worked alongside for the best part of the year towards this goal. Training hurts, losing stings, winning is difficult but all of it came together this week, and all of it was worth it. I loved the matches, I loved the pregame sing-a-longs and the drives in the van, the trips to the beach and the endless “wait let me take a photo” moments. All of it added to the experience of tournament.
Tournament week was good because we came in the top half, in the top ten, with some phenomenal results in the process. Tournament week was incredible because I spent it with a team of people who have become family to me this year, with dedicated coaches and teachers who never, ever stopped believing in what we could achieve. Tournament week was one of the best weeks of my life thus far, because we were there, we played the game we love and in doing so we exceeded every expectation, those of others and our own.
“We’ll just go this year, see if you girls like it, dip your toe in the water, see how it feels. Then we’ll look at next year”. Now that it’s over, I can say with great certainty; tournament week, we’ll be seeing you in 2017.
NB: Photo Credits: Simone Small
Categories: Youth Football
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).