Monday, August 12, 2019

Guest TigerBlog - Thoughts As Preseason Is About To Begin

TigerBlog has a standing offer to anyone who would like to share this space to say something about Princeton Athletics and what it means to him or her. 

The person who has taken him up on this the most is Princeton's men's soccer coach Jim Barlow, who led his team to the Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament a year ago. TB asked Barlow if he would write something about what a coach is thinking in the days before preseason begins.  

What he got back is hardly what he expected. In typical Jim Barlow fashion, it is well worth reading:


It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. The tell-tale signs are usually when the English Premier League starts (it kicked off this weekend, Go Liverpool!), my Mets have been all but officially eliminated from playoff contention (not this year, thankfully), and my inbox becomes flooded with email reminders about things to do to prepare for the upcoming season. One email that came out of the blue this week was from from Tiger Blog, who asked me if I would like to write a guest blog about what the last few days before preseason are like.

Usually, it’s the best time of the year. The excitement of finally getting to be with the team again, the curiosity to see who improved over the summer, what the incoming class looks like and how the pieces may fit together all contribute to the positive energy and mood of the group. And, it’s the start of a two-week period (yes, two weeks) where the entire focus of the job is on building a team. It’s the real work that drew me into coaching in the first place. This means creating a culture, establishing responsibilities, and challenging and pushing some great student athletes to be better. It’s incredibly fun.

This year, however, the joy of the days leading up to preseason have been tempered a bit.

Last Monday, Princeton lost one of its most gifted and creative artists of all time when Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison died. I haven’t read much Morrison, but the news of her death quickly brought me back to a memorial service that Princeton held just days after the September 11th attack in 2001. Toni Morrison read her poem “The Dead of September 11th” (click HERE to read it; it’s amazing) at a packed Cannon Green, and her words stayed with me as I kept them taped to my desk in the soccer office for some time. I even quoted them when I spoke at my former assistant coach and close friend Rob Myslik’s ’90 funeral in 2003 after Rob was killed in a car accident.

Today, however, as Princeton and the world mourn Morrison’s death, I cannot help but think how her powerful poem from 2001 could instead be titled, “The Dead of August 2019” in memory of those killed in Dayton and El Paso last weekend. 

Word of those tragedies triggered memories of April 1999, when I was setting up cones for a spring workout. Our captain Chad Adams ’00 came out to the field and told me that a shooting in Columbine High School had just occurred. I remember the shock and disbelief among the players and coaches, and the overwhelming sadness that enveloped the field and the country that day. It seemed no one knew what to say.

I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say (Morrison, “The Dead of September 11th)

What helped me, however, and many others, during those dark days in April 1999 following the Columbine shooting, and after September 11th, 2001, and after January, 2003, when Rob died, and after many other national and personal tragedies over the years (including April, 2008, when Princeton soccer assistant coach Arron Lujan and his wife Heather lost their two-year-old son Vaughn to meningitis) was the Princeton Soccer family. 

And, as I think about the days leading up to preseason and what they are like, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful that in just another week that family will be back together. In a world that seems so depressing and hopeless lately, this group is inspiring and uplifting, on and off the field, and gives me reason to be optimistic about the future. Our team is made up of players from different races, religions, geographic backgrounds, income levels, sexual orientations, political leanings, and academic interests, and yet, somehow, they all get along, treat each other as equals, work together to solve problems and succeed, comfort each other during tough times, and have a ton of fun. And they’re a pretty good soccer team, too. The glue that keeps it all together is how much they care about the team and each other, in good times and bad. After observing how some of our media and politicians have responded to our recent tragedies, I think our team has much to teach our country.

It's the Princeton Soccer family who rallied together to support Rob Myslik’s family and wife Sue after Rob’s accident and who pays tribute to Rob every time they step on the field named in his memory. It’s the Princeton Soccer family who traveled with the Lujan family to a funeral for Vaughn in Richmond, Virginia, and who decided to get team uniforms with Vaughn Lujan’s name on them to wear to his memorial service in the Princeton Chapel. It’s that same family who rallied around current Associate Head Coach Steve Totten and his wife Liz when Liz was faced with a terrible diagnosis two years ago, and who continue to support them as Liz works incredibly hard to recover. And, as national tragedies are becoming more and more commonplace, it will be the Princeton Soccer Family who pulls together and provides support and hope for each other during these difficult days in our country.

I can’t wait for the guys to arrive to start the work of defending an Ivy title and begin anew the process of becoming a special team. It will be great to have the family back on campus.

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