If you have been coaching for long enough, there comes a time when the rhythm and schedule of a season become routine. The kids change, the opponents change, but the sequence of the season remains the same.
The ordinary, unspectacular flow of events helps us find comfort in the anxiety and apprehension of the next season. Scheduling games, organizing equipment, meeting with your coaching staff ... this often starts long before the first of the new year. In the weeks leading up to it, the routine of holding player signup meetings, parent information nights and athletic department meetings all lay the groundwork for Day 1.
Spring sports in Massachusetts always start on the third Monday in March. The weather is rarely nice, but the opportunity to take the field brings an energy that makes even the coldest March days feel like mid-June. We are back — and it feels right.
Tryouts, preseason scrimmages and early season games in March set the groundwork for a busy April. By the time Patriots Day arrives the team has settled into a flow of practices and games, with the hope of showing steady improvement into May.
May brings warm weather and the push for the playoffs. Then June arrives, and everything wraps up in a hurried pace.
If you have taken care of business in March, April and May, you're looking at a playoff run and the quest to be one of the select few teams who has the privilege to end their season with a win. No matter how your final game ends, the three-month odyssey that the team just shared grinds to a halt.
Just like that, it's over.
We all have practice ending a season. Much like the start of a season has an order, the conclusion also follows suit. The final whistle, the postgame handshakes, the collection of jerseys, the senior good-byes, and cleaning out the locker room take immediate precedent as the team realizes that the journey is over. It serves as a cruel catharsis.
However, once we go through that process, we're left with a sense of pride and joy as we reflect on the season. The reflections are most often centered on the shared struggle and the bonds we develop during the season. As time passes, the wins and losses fade away and the legacy of the team lives on in the memories of the shared journey.
The reason this spring is so much harder is because we believe that we were denied those opportunities.
One reflection that is personally helping me through this process is that we — the St. John's Prep lacrosse team — are not "missing out". No one is having a season. Every senior, across the country, in every sport was denied the opportunity to enjoy the journey of a spring athletic season.
Despite this, it does not mean that we can not gain from this whole experience.
The 2020 season did happen — just not in a way that any of us could have predicted last June when the 2019 season ended.
The Zoom meetings, the remote workouts and individual time playing the game of lacrosse on a wall or in the backyard filled the void. The socially distanced lacrosse season is our new collective experience.
For spring sports athletes, players, coaches, families and fans, the months of March and April have been a never-ending cycle of anxiety, uncertainty, hope and despair. Would we have a season? What would it look like? What are we missing out on?
In the end, we'll reflect back on the spring of 2020 and realize that we did have a season. A season that was unlike any other. That experience was our shared struggle.
Unlike all the other years, this will be the first senior class that I've ever coached who didn't get to enjoy one last chapter in their journey as high school athletes. In an indelible way, I'll never forget the 2020 senior class: both for the potential that they collectively possessed (they were going to be VERY GOOD!), and for the shared struggle that they had to endure.
Last summer, as we started the journey of the 2020 season, we asked our seniors what their legacy would be. I'm confident that the 2020 seniors, in programs across the country, will be forever remembered as inspiring the younger athletes who take up the mantle next year.
We will begin the process of a new season. The routine will start again. A new group of seniors will work to carry out the legacy of the 2020 team.
“Ad astra per aspera”.
Editor's note: John Pynchon is the head lacrosse coach at St. John's Prep.