Two weeks have passed since I returned from my first IASAS tournament, carrying, along with my teammates, sore muscles, new experiences, strengthened friendships, and a gold medal in IASAS girls’ soccer.
We all remember the last goal we scored in the last game, just as we all remember the first goal scored against us in the first game. We remember the risky plays and the successful kicks. We remember the major moments that changed the games. These memories of play are not easily forgotten.
However, what we remember more clearly are the relationships formed as a result of the tournament. We distinctly remember the way those plays affected us as a team: the pre-game huddles and high-fives, the nerves and shared remedies, the half-time cheers. Looking back, the relationships made over the three-day tournament stick out clearly in any athlete’s mind. Everything else is slightly blurred.
Playing on various sports teams all my life, I understood the bond that forms when joining a team, but only in a vague, unattached way. Before this year’s IASAS, I never spent more than a game or a practice with any of my teams, with the exception of exchange in Jakarta, earlier this year. During the weekend we spent in Kuala Lumpur, we worked constantly. Every day, we played two games where every moment counted. We constantly leaned on each other. Because of this, we learned a lot about each other.
“During IASAS,” my teammate Emma Gordon explained, “you sort of disregard who you’re close with at school. For that weekend, you just interact with these people who have worked just as hard as you and are at the same tournament to achieve the same goal.”
On our last day in Kuala Lumpur, we were about to go on to play the most important game of the tournament: the championship game. We had all stretched, warmed up, and were ready to go. All except Hannah Winfrey.
Earlier in the tournament, Hannah, a senior on our team, had fallen and injured her knee. Because of this, she was unable to play in the finals. After warmups, we all went into the trainer’s room, where she was, and we hugged her. None of us said much, we didn’t feel the need to. Everyone knew what everyone else was thinking. There were no words we could say.
This reflection sounds sentimental and cliche, but it’s true. The relationships built leading up to and during the tournament are reasons players enjoy IASAS so much. Throughout the season, and especially during the three-day tournament, teams focus on each other and their common goal: pushing themselves to win.
Not only are friendships strengthened within SAS, but friendships are formed with students of other IASAS schools. Many athletes, especially four-year and multi-season competitors, have established relationships with other returning athletes, building the IASAS community.
Most IASAS schools will provide a rest area for the athletes to go between games- usually a designated gym or classroom. Abbo Nathan, four-year IASAS athlete, explained how the teams spend this down time. “Sometimes people from the teams get together in the rest area and play games and joke around together. When you don’t have a game, everyone is just friends with this common experience,” Nathan said. “It’s really fun.”
This year, however, we didn’t have a lot of time for that. Our games were scheduled close together every day, so a lot of the time between games was spent preparing for our next game. We used the time for team talks and warm ups. Before every game, there were plays to be reviewed and nerves to be settled.
“This year, I was so nervous before the finals,” my teammate, Caroline IndeBreakt said. “Last year, we won in the finals against Taipei, but the year before, we lost in the finals against Bangkok. I knew what it felt like to lose and I knew how it felt to win. It made me really emotionally unstable. I definitely felt the pressure.”
Gordon agreed with IndeBreakt, explaining how teammates helped each other settle nerves.
“Pep talks and encouragements from returning players are what helped me get through my first IASAS. On top of that, I always know I can rely on my teammates if I make a mistake. The people on the team are so good at what they do, I know they have my back. I trust them,” Gordon said.
One way the IASAS girls’ soccer team dealt with nerves as a team was through pre-game ritual. Not a cheer or a talk, although we did those too, but something hidden from the live stream and the eyes of spectators.
Before every game, our coaches read us a letter written by an alumni, whether it was somebody that has moved or somebody that has graduated from the school. Within each letter, past teammates wrote encouragements to the team to fight hard and bring home gold. But to my surprise, every letter also advised the team to appreciate teammates, drawing our attention to the relationships built throughout the season. The relationships formed over IASAS, claimed the writers, are what had been most memorable for them.
“Hearing the letters being read reminds us that our parents, our friends, and our old teammates are proud of us just for being there,” Nathan explained. “It reminds us that it’s not all about winning. Yes, we want to win, but we’re there to enjoy the experience and to appreciate the people around us.”