Practice, hard work and self-sacrifice. These are probably the favorite words of coaches. (Dedication and perseverence are probably in there too.)
Coaches look for those who strain and sacrifice and work hard. When they are choosing their teams, they look for the athletes who impress them with both skills and desire. The select few who make that impression get the reward of team membership. Those who are unimpressive get the cold edge of the axe.
Cuts are the feared actions of coaches that bring nerves to the most nerveless athletes. They cause sleepless nights, added worries and psychological strain. They test a player's ability to perform under pressure, the pressure of having to make a team.all athletes know the struggles against being cut. One such athlete is Scott Malkim, an Eliot House sophomore, who has been living on the edge of the blade, avoiding the fall soccer cut by a hair. His thoughts and emotions provide an example of the tension evoked in the battle to make a team. His words speak for many athletes, and his experiences speak for almost all.
The Bottom of the Barrel
At the last moment, soccer coach George Ford invited Malkin to varsity training camp. From that moment, the battle was uphill.
"In the back of my mind," Malkin said, "I felt I didn't really beiong there. I was really at the bottom of the barrel although I sure felt lucky enough to just make that barrel."
At St. George's in Newport, R.I., the prospective varsity soccer players worked three-a-day sessions for a week prior to Harvard's opening. There were hours of conditioning, more hours of playing soccer, and the continuous push to keep running. And through it all, there were the coaches, watching, and deciding who could continue and who had to go. "Being one of the less strong, and knowing there were always three coaches watching,...it got to me," Malkin said, adding, "You're always conscious of how you're doing but it's tough to evaluate your own performance in terms of what the coach is thinking."
That's the occupation of many athletes trying to make the team. They are speculating on the coach's thoughts, wondering if their performance is scoring points, or if it is even noticed at all.
"When I did something good, I was trying to decide what he [the coach] thought, or whether he was even looking at me at all," Malkin said. "I had good ideas, but not enough self-confidence in my ability to carry them out. I would freeze up..,"
In practice, there was always the fear of cuts, returning to haunt. On the other hand, team spirit provided some relief.
"There is tremendous camaraderie on the team. We were together on and off the field and really had great times," he said. "But it's still hard for someone in a precarious position to feel like a real part of the team."
With two to five of the 20 varsity positions going to freshmen, according to the wishes of Coach Ford, Malkin's spot was extremely precarious, or so he thought, estimating his rank on the totem pole as 19th or 20th among upperclassmen.
Keep on Pluggin'
But still, the athlete in danger of rejection continues to practice and hope.
"I'll keep at it, but if I'm cut, then my gut reaction will be disappointment. Disappointment not to be a part of a team, and disappointment in myself for not doing a good enough job to make it," said the English major. "Sure, if I miss varsity, I'm most likely still on JV, but it's not the same. In perspective, maybe I'm lucky to be there, but the failure makes me reconsider my real ability."
The prospect of failure looms large, and the fear of failure hangs heavy. But the prospect of success still remains.
"It's an honor to make the team. If it wasn't soccer, I guess I would do something else, but it's not the same as being on a varsity team. There's a very special feeling to that," he said.
Success means a future and more sports. But failure--for some it means a wait until next year, and for others it means the end.
"Bob Scalise, the Radcliffe soccer coach, once told me there are two kinds of athletes, the naturally gifted once and the ones who just bust tail," Malkin said. "I'm certainly not the naturally gifted type, and if I couldn't make it this year with all the work I put in, it would mean I'll have to work harder next year to try to make it. The question is, then, "Is it worth it?"
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