As she hustled down the field with 10 minutes left on the clock during one of her club soccer games on Sept. 8, junior and varsity soccer player Shriya Kaushik tried to go in for a challenge against one of her opponents. Suddenly as she stretched her leg to reach for the ball, Kaushik’s right knee twisted towards her left knee and her opponent fell on top of her, causing Kaushik to topple to the ground. Kaushik heard a snap in her knee.
At first, Kaushik didn’t think much of her injury, and begged her coach to let her keep playing. To validate that this specific accident wasn’t major, after seeing multiple doctors who all underestimated her injury, Kaushik asked her orthopedic doctor for an MRI. A week later, sitting in the doctor’s room with her mom, Kaushik’s doctor delivered the news from the screening: Kaushik had torn her ACL, removing her from the sport she loves for nine months during one of the most critical parts of her soccer career: recruitment season.
“The moment I got hurt, I was just mad because it was the first game of my club season,” Kaushik said. “I didn’t think that [the injury would affect me as] I’m not that injury prone. I only get a few sprained ankles here and there — I’ve gotten a good share of those — but nothing major like this.”
The injury was extremely serious — Kaushik had tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee (ACL). She has been playing soccer since she was five years old, and began playing competitively at the age of nine. Since then, all she has wanted to do is play soccer, even past her high school career. With this in mind, receiving a major injury would heavily impact her future.
“There were a lot of emotions [after receiving the MRI] just all at once,” Kaushik said. “It took me a while and I started crying. I was angry [and] mad, but at that [moment] I wasn’t thinking clear[ly] enough — it was just way too much for me to process. I remember the doctor said, ‘You’re going to need to get surgery,’ and the minute he said that, I thought, ‘Damn. I’m going to be out for so long.’ I already knew it. ”
Kaushik’s plan was to take a break from MVHS soccer this season and focus on winter league for her club with an esteemed coach. Her season comprised of three major showcases in January, February and March in Portland, Arizona and Vegas where coaches from around the country come to scout players. This coach committed every single one of Kaushik’s former teammates last year, which inspired her to gain more exposure for the recruitment process, since coaches can contact players at the start of their junior year.
As Kaushik plans to find the university that suits her the best, De Anza College athletic trainer David Kobata describes that the different wants and needs of universities impact their recruiting process, as well as the overall physical build of the athlete. For example, Kobata explains that for offensive linemen, universities often look at over 6”2’ 300 pound athletes who will be advantageous to the team. As a result, many smaller, yet talented players can sometimes be overlooked. In addition to the physical aspect, Kobata heavily emphasizes the importance of mental toughness that coaches look for when recruiting. In terms of injuries like Kaushik’s, he stresses that high school athletes can come back from these injuries with the proper mindset.
“If [players] go through the proper rehab and be dedicated to the proper rehab and dedicate themselves to be just a stronger, faster, or better [in] departments of your sport, then [injuries] should not affect you at that next level,” Kobata said. “The only way [injuries] will affect you is when you don’t do the proper rehab … Then, you don’t take those steps to prepare yourself, then you are going to suffer some setbacks at the next level.”
Having worked with countless players who have suffered ACL injuries, Kobata notes that athletes in Kaushik’s position should not feel discouraged that their college career is over for their sport. He explains the additional role dedication and confidence can play into the road to recovery and how the significance of support from other individuals can motivate athletes to push through their devastating injuries.
“I’ve seen ACL’s [injured players] come back [to play],” Kobata said. “I’ve seen these guys get back on the playing field whether it’s football, soccer [or] basketball. It’s just a matter of building that confidence and that trust you have in your own body. But you have to have someone in your corner that believes that you are going in the right path and that’s going to give you that support. Having someone ensure that it is a possibility to get back into it, to say it’s not a dead end, [because] you can rebound and you can come back from it.”
Similar to Kaushik, sophomore and varsity field hockey player Ashley Twu has already started contacting coaches and looking into colleges that will allow her to further her passion. Since playing division one has always been a dream, Twu has been looking into division three schools such as John Hopkins as academics are a stronger priority for her. However, Twu emphasizes the struggles in the recruitment process she specifically faces being a field hockey player in California. According to Twu, division one schools often take field hockey players from outside the U.S. and specifically outside California, where there are only a few teams, and look at places like Finland and Argentina where there are stronger teams.
“It’s just [hard] trying to get your name out there to coaches,” Twu said. “I’ve been just sending them emails and videos of me playing and it’s a lot of just a one sided relationship.”
Despite the struggles, Twu has still found ways to connect with coaches over email from tournaments within her club. She has found that the support of her parents has gone a long way, as they have supported her in filming and editing videos and emailing recruiters who might potentially be interested in California players.
Even though Kaushik’s ACL injury has changed her plans, she notices the strength overcoming this injury can provide and understanding that injuries in her sport are going to happen — especially common injuries in soccer like ACL tears. According to US Youth Soccer, female soccer players are 4-8 times more likely to tear their ACL than male soccer players. Although the situation isn’t ideal, Kaushik hopes to come back stronger and get back on track for the recruitment process as soon as she’s ready to play again in June or July of 2020.
Considering the several months her recovery process is going to take, Kaushik has been receiving support from her teammates when she attends their games. But even so, Kaushik still has a strong urge to join them on the field and anxiously anticipates the upcoming season. She explains that she can still attend showcases in her senior year and catch coaches’ eyes — something that can potentially get her recruited. No matter the outcome, Kaushik knows that there’s only one thing she wants to continue: playing soccer.
“I’m just going to try my best to do whatever I can to increase my chances of getting committed. But if I don’t get a college offer, I’m just going to try to play intramural, like club, within the college,” Kaushik said. “Honestly, it’s not the end of the world for me if I don’t get committed, because there are other possibilities. There’s other pathways that I can take to continue playing soccer. The most important thing to me is that when I graduate [high school] I can’t just stop playing soccer. It’s a part of me; it’s ingrained.”
“You can bend but don’t break.”
For the entirety of the 2019 MVHS football season, coach Ceazar Agront preached this message to his team, inviting the players to embrace their mistakes and learn from them.
“You execute these plays and you don’t overthink things — you don’t look at that big guy and say, ‘Oh crap, he’s gonna roll me,’” Agront said. “Don’t worry about that and just focus on what we asked you to do. Focus on the execution.”
Agront is a firm believer in the idea that if his defense holds its opponents to 14 points or less, and his offense executes enough of the plays, the team can dominate every single opponent it plays. That being said, in the eyes of the MVHS players, the season was “heartbreaking.”
The MVHS varsity football team ended its 2019 season with an overall record of 5-5. According to freshman running back Greyson Mobley, although the team had a strong start, the players suffered in the second half of the season due to having a weak mentality.
“We started out with a good season; we were 4-1 and then [we went] downhill from there,” Mobley said. “I feel like we just got too cocky after we beat [Gunn] the number one team [in the league]. We didn’t really practice hard enough [after that], and then [the team] fell apart.”
Additionally, from the perspective of senior wide receiver Tarun Sarang, one of the most prominent issues that plagued MVHS was failing to gain second half leads.
“Plays would be working in the first half [and] everybody would be doing their assignments,” Sarang said. “Then suddenly a couple plays in, either [people on the team] change up what they were doing from the first half or one person would take a play off or maybe I would run through the wrong hole or something like that. It just collapses plays and then that collapses the drive that we’re on.”
Senior offensive and defensive linemen Nate Reyes agrees that the players’ inability to close out games was the reason for their shortcomings this year.
“I think it’s really just the second something bad happened, not being able to get over it and kids would just beat themselves up over it,” Reyes said. “It’s understandable because when I think [about it], it also has to do with just the fact that we go MVHS — whenever a kid makes a mistake, they’re trained to like just beat themselves up over it. But in football, you can’t do that. You have to just be able to move on, in like 30 seconds, and a lot of kids just don’t know how to do that.”
For this reason, Agront says an area of improvement for the players is to overcome their mistakes and quickly move on. Furthermore, he believes the players should adapt a “short-term memory” system when it comes to errors in play.
“[When players made] a mistake and [started to] shut down, we had to be like, ‘Listen, shutting down is not an option,’” Agront said. “Making mistakes is okay, if you learn from it. If you don’t [learn from it], the biggest thing for us was like, ‘Then you’re not going to play.’”
As a captain, Sarang understands the many aspects of the team that need to be fixed, including execution errors during game play and having this idea of having a “short-term memory.” But, at some point, he believes that sometimes change cannot be made as a leader — there were certain moments during his time as captain where he would yell at teammates out of frustration. He soon realized that this leadership style won’t help players in the long run.
“It’s hard when something goes wrong that much for us as a team and me as a captain to look at the player and be like, ‘Keep going. Pick your head up. Keep your chin up. We can do this,’” Sarang said. “But that’s the only thing you can say in this situation … That’s the thing, they knew already. At the end of the day, me screaming at them is really not going to help them that much … At a certain point there’s not much else that I can do as a leader and not much else [the] coaches [can do] — it’s up to us as players to get our stuff together and execute our plays right.”
One pivotal game during every MVHS football season is the Helmet game against Cupertino HS. Due to the persistent issues arising throughout the MVHS football team, these errors had alluded to their game play and the ways they had executed playing the game.
According to Sarang, the captains and coaches kept in mind of the persistent issue emotions that would ultimately affect one’s gameplay. Despite the Helmet game being a determining factor of whether or not the Matadors could make it and play in the playoff season, Sarang had set up a game plan which was to have a mindset in which the game was like any ordinary game. By doing this, the plan was to ensure that players weren’t burdened with the feelings of anxiety that would naturally come due to the game’s high stakes.
“[The Helmet game] shouldn’t be one of the things that we go in there and get all emotional about and get all high strung,” Sarang said. “The thing with that is it can pay off well when you have high emotions — you can absolutely stomp a team. But then also what can happen is if a mistake happens, like it does with our games most of the time, it can just flatten and crumple the team, so our decision was to make [the Helmet Game] a formal thing.”
Beginning the game with a strong and hopeful 0-14 gain leading into halftime, the Matadors had just fallen short the second half of the game, which led to a devastating loss. This loss led to Cupertino HS keeping the helmet for the fourth year in a row, and also led to the Matadors just short of playing in the playoff season.
“It was was just heartbreaking [to lose],” Reyes said. “Everyone [on the team] was crying after the game because it’s the helmet game — this was supposed to be our year to get the helmet back. But it was more, for me, [the fact that we had lost] that opportunity of [making] playoffs that MVHS hasn’t gotten since like 2010 or whenever the last time it made CCS.”
With emotions running high, the Matadors were frustrated with this big loss; the amount of traction the game’s results received on social media via memes only amplified those feelings.
“When a team is talking mad trash the whole week leading up [to the game], you just want to go out … and punch them in the mouth,” Reyes said. “Then you lose, [and] it sucks because you want to be able to say something [about it] but at the same time, we didn’t deserve to tell them to shut up, stop posting on social media and stop talking trash because we lost.”
With the season coming to a close at the end of October, the failures that had surfaced did not deter from the team’s bond.
Sarang believes that the main factor that kept the team unified were the locker room discussions before and after games and practices. Thus, he reflects on the times of having locker room memories as it the team cope with the continuous losses throughout the season despite the many disappointments.
With the football program at MVHS slowly falling apart, due to a lack of participation from younger students resulting in no JV team, Sarang believes that a solution needs to be made quickly in order for football program to even continue at MVHS. He instills words of advice to the underclassmen about ultimately regretting having the opportunity to play high school football.
“Come out for football. Come to spring ball. Come to the interest meetings, see what [football] is about,” Sarang said. “You’ll never know until you try and then you’ll always regret it … Especially for freshmen, just come and do it. Workload isn’t that much as [a freshman] and you’re not going to miss out on a lot. Just come and do it because you’re going to regret it if you don’t.”
Mobley hopes to further encourage the younger students at MVHS to ultimately play and keep the program from falling apart. Despite its challenges, he hopes to change many aspects of the culture at MVHS and help fundraise to keep the football spirit alive.
“I definitely want to change the culture [here at MVHS] and try to get [people to] pay more attention to football and try to like put more [effort] into [changing the play people perceive the sport],” Mobley said. “Maybe change the culture of the whole school so that more people play and we end up having a team in the next few years, which is looking like that might not happen right now. We’re working on like fundraising and spreading the word about joining, but I don’t know, it’s gonna be hard.”
Two years ago, junior Christy Feng played her first season as the only freshman on the girls varsity water polo team. Throughout the regular season in that year, MVHS dominated their league finishing in the top spot. However, at the league tournament which was the deciding factor in order to qualify for the CCS playoffs, the team fell short by two points, finishing third in the league tournament unable to reach the postseason. Two years ago, the girls water polo team held much promise, being inches away from making CCS, but ever since her freshman year, Feng has only seen her team end the season less successful than the previous year.
As a student athlete in highschool, such as players like junior Christy Feng, one of the largest psychological challenges students face is how they deal with failure: failure on a play, failure in a game or failure for an entire season.
Since some students like senior Trudie Ngo initially join a sport to have fun, their struggle to accept failure is overshadowed by their focus on their own improvement and creating memories with the team. This was the case for Ngo, who recently joined the water polo team in her junior year, and she emphasized other goals such as enjoying the sport over winning.
Ngo noted how at the beginning of the season, there was a large gap in skill among the team and the new coach were also reasons for their losses. Even though the girls water polo season did not go the way many wanted to as they only won one game in their league, Ngo was able to put the idea of winning and losing behind as she believed that as long as the team tried their best, their improvement meant more than a score or record.
“I think it was a very fulfilling kind of experience because I feel like everyone was able to grow a lot in this season,” Ngo said. “We didn’t have a very good base to start off our season. But then I feel like I was really proud of us because each of us individually got better with our personal skills and I feel like we just got better near the end of the season.”
In addition to focusing more on having fun and improving, Ngo also believed that a factor that continued to inspire and motivate her to stay committed to the sport was the community aspects of the team.
“I’m really inspired by the captains like Christy [Feng], Emily [Tang] and a lot of the seniors who try really hard for water polo because they care so much about it and have been playing water polo for a long time,” Ngo said. “So I feel like if we want to get the most out of our season, we have to put a lot into it and I feel like I should put a lot into my team, because I feel that people are counting on me to...I feel like I don’t want to miss out on any learning opportunities I can get from water polo and any memories I can make.”
Heading into the water polo season this year as captain, Feng initially cared for their record against other teams in their league, as the season progressed and their losses began to pile up, Feng had to accept the fact that they had to move on to other goals. At first, Feng struggled to accept this due to her passion for the sport, and the fact that she had recently quit playing club water polo only motivated her to want to do better. However, that wasn’t all in her control.
“Two years ago and even last year I looked forward to coming to practice and being with the team, and going to games and watching water polo,” Feng said. “ut now I just want to go to practice [and] just go through the motions [of it] — I’m not really excited about any [aspect of practice anymore][Changing our focus from winning] is fine because the point of water polo is like having fun while playing the sport. But also, we kind of lose sight of results.”
Eventually, Feng’s mindset became similar to Ngo’s as she tried focusing more on her personal game, and making sure she was doing the best she could. Her change in mindset was also driven as she noticed how the team talks before games became less oriented on winning and more on other goals.
“In my freshman year, before every game, we all had a talk and we were like, ‘We know we have this game in the bag,’” Feng said. “We know that although this might be a challenging game we know we have a chance and we know that we can do it, and we just need to have good collaboration and communication. Now we still have talks before [games], but the topics might be like, ‘Let’s just go have fun and enjoy this sport,’ or, ‘Just try the best we can.’”
Another team that experienced similar struggles with the girls water polo team was the girls varsity field hockey team, which had also recently ended its season with only two wins out of nineteen. For senior Lauren Lee, even though they had an unsuccessful season, the team supported and relied on each other to make sure they stayed motivated throughout the season. Similarly to the water polo team, the field hockey team made sure that they all focused on how they could improve, but their approach was more personal.
“We do that kind of by on our group chat and make sure that we text each other and just say, ‘Try to forget about the game that just happened,’” Lee said. “After the games, we would have a lot of team talks. Our coach, in addition to telling us what we need to improve on, would try to also encourage us and tell us that we did good and have us say what we did well so that we weren’t just focused on how we lost and what we did wrong.”
The girls water polo coach, Randy Kenyon, has a very similar approach as he really emphasizes on pointing out a lot of the successes of the team, rather than the failures. Specifically, he believes self-critique is easier than finding positives, which is often a challenge for athletes.
“There’s always going to be something that you can pick out out of a game,” Kenyon said. “No matter if you’re a professional or if you’re right out of middle school, there’s always gonna be something to look at be like, ‘I can improve upon that.’ But making sure to try to point out the good that we have done I think is huge.”
In addition, Kenyon tried to encourage team bonding to keep the team motivated through the losses. He believed that even though the team was losing games, the community still made the sport enjoyable for the players.
“I tried to increase the number of team bonding because the more in tune you are with your teammates and with yourself, then you’re out there for fun,” Kenyan said. “You’re out there to work hard, play hard and try to get [the players] to have shared experiences and do more activities with each other as a team.”
For underclassmen like sophomore Navarin Pirachai who played on the varsity field hockey team in her sophomore year, when they experience an unsuccessful season, they are able to keep their heads held high as they acknowledge that they still have more years to redeem themselves. Despite the unsuccessful record, Pirachai saw her sophomore season on the girls varsity field hockey team as a good experience, and she sees the season as an opportunity to motivate herself and the rest of the team to do better and improve next year.
“[Something to carry to next season is] motivation to do better” Pirachai said. “Obviously, we don’t want to disappoint our coach or anything and it just feels good to win. ithout the seniors from this year, we’re probably going to have to work harder next year to compensate for the skill that we lost.”
Student athletes in MVHS have a variety of incentives for joining a sport, and because of this, sometimes teammates’ goals do not always align. Because of this, when a team starts having a downhill trend for their season, captains like Feng may have to accept defeat and find other ways to motivate the team.
“I think [it] is important to know that like being part of a sport, especially in high school, isn’t all about winning. A lot of it is making really important memories with your friends and having fun in the sport and learning how that sport affects you in your life,” Ngo said. “I feel like I gained a lot of things from water polo, especially learning how to be more confident and more mindful about my teammates and people I care about.”
Over my 10 years playing soccer, I’ve learned many things. I’ve learned how to pass with all surfaces of my feet, read the body language of the opposing team and shoot into all corners of the goal. I’ve learned to push myself (mentally and physically), step out of my comfort zone and interact with new people.
That being said, the most important thing I’ve learned, however, is how to fail.
My first failure came on my first competitive team. Our coach decided to split our team into two, one with players who would play up an age group, and one that would stay in our age group and merge with the team a level below us. I was always against the split (I loved my team the way it was), but if it was going to happen, I knew I wanted to play up (more competitive soccer).
I still remember when my dad’s phone rang that Saturday morning. He picked it up and signaled to me: Jubin (my coach). He stepped outside to take the phone call. I peered at the door from the stairs, waiting for it to open. When my dad finally came in, I could tell from his face that it was bad news. He sighed, and told me that the team was being split, and I had not been selected to play up an age group.
At the time, it felt like this was the end of my soccer career. I went to my room and cried, head buried in my pillow to muffle the noise of my sobs. My dad assured me that my coach made a poor decision — it had nothing to do with my soccer abilities.
I worked hard to convince myself the same. I had been a captain; I was a valuable part of the team, right? Besides, there were tons of other teams I could play on, better teams. I complained to my other teammates who also felt wronged by the split, made another team and moved on, still convinced I had been wronged.
After moving teams for a season or two, I finally found a new team, a really good team. Although making this team had been one of my greatest successes, it quickly became one of my biggest failures.
On this team, I was constantly struggling. I couldn’t pick up the drills. My ball-handling skills lagged behind the other players. I ended up on the bench more times than not. I hated going to practice because I felt like such a bad soccer player.
I told myself it was just a matter of time before I caught up, skill-wise.
But that never happened. I did improve, but never to the extent I wanted to.
I was the definition of bench-warmer. I felt terrible making my parents spend money and time on my soccer career, just to see me sit on the bench for 75% of the game. I felt bad for my teammates because I constantly let them down with my play on the field, whether it be making a bad pass or not defending the opponent correctly. Worst of all, I was letting myself down. I wanted to see myself thriving and making my parents and teammates proud, but for some reason, I walked away from almost all my games feeling like I could have done a lot better.
The more painful part of failing with this new team was that it was no one’s fault but mine. At first, I tried to write it off as adjusting to a new team or building familiarity with a new style of play, but after two seasons went by, I just had to accept that my poor performance was solely my fault. I couldn’t say it was a bad decision from my coach — my performance as a player was based completely on me. And I wasn’t performing.
Now, I know this sounds depressing, but consistently coming up short has taught me a lot. I’ve realized that it is neither practical nor feasible for anyone to be great at everything they do.
Everyone is so scared of failing. Scared of being bad, at anything. Scared of not living up to expectations, whether it be our peers or our own.
But being bad at something, or even failing, is perfectly acceptable. And when I realized that it was okay for me to be bad at soccer (at least compared to everyone else on my team), it took a lot of stress off my shoulders. I could joke with my teammates about being a benchwarmer. I didn’t feel dread going to every practice because I knew my team accepted my skill level, even if it was below theirs. I felt a lot less pressure to perform where everyone else was performing, because I knew I wasn’t at that level; instead, I focused on being the best soccer player that I could be.
Once I accepted my failure, it became a lot more clear to me why I had continued to play (or rather sitting on the bench) for all these years. I am never going to be the next Mia Hamm or Alex Morgan, but soccer has still given me incredible friends and role models, a mechanism to cope with stress and a way to exercise and stay healthy. So even though my performance may be a bit of a letdown, my overall soccer journey has been nothing but a success.
I’ve also realized that being good or bad is all relative; I was the worst one on my team, but I would have easily been the best player if I moved down a few levels. I also realized that although I viewed my performance as a total disaster most times I played, it usually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. More often than not, we judge ourselves more harshly than everyone around us. And although that is both natural and necessary for improvement, it’s important to keep failures in perspective.
I’m not saying that playing poorly is a good thing or that I’m done trying to improve. It’s nice to be proud of yourself. It’s nice to know that you’ve done a good job for your team. I’m just saying that given the role soccer plays in my life (more recreational than professional), I’m not going to let my performance take away from me enjoying the sport. I’m going to create more realistic expectations for myself, and I’m going to realize that it’s okay to be bad at things.