Please permit me to brag about my 15 year old daughter in this proud papa post. Tuesday evening was my daughter E’s first Junior Varsity water polo game of her sophomore season in high school. While she’s always been a swimmer and started on a swim team early in grade school, last year was her very first time ever playing water polo. By her own admission (and with her permission to share here) she was pretty clueless last year. The few minutes that she played last season were mostly a jumbled mess of mistakes along a pretty steep learning curve. Her lone highlight came in the end of season tournament in which she took a shot on goal only to learn the pain of hitting the crossbar. I remember telling her then that I was proud of her because at least she had taken the shot. Despite not experiencing much success in the sport last year, E refused to give up. In fact, she made it her goal at the end of her freshman season to be starting JV in her sophomore year. She played and practiced water polo with a club team over the summer and winter seasons. She continued to show up with a desire to learn and improve. She swam on her high school’s swim team again in the fall season. She gained confidence in herself as she began to increase her strength and sharpen her skills. She watched as her time trials improved and her coaches approved.
The 2015 season began in early March and E was excited to compete for a starting JV spot. I can admit this now, having seen her improvement from last season, that I was a little leery of her ability to attain this goal. I supported her 100%, but there were doubts in the back of my mind since I had not seen her play at all of those practices from last summer and winter. Still, after just three practices during that first week she proudly announced that her coach had selected her (along with a few other girls) to continue to practice with the Varsity girls, to compete for a spot on the varsity squad. WHAT?! Needless to say, E was ecstatic and I was blown away at the news. I’m pretty sure she was somewhere around cloud nine dreaming about the possibilities. After a few more practices it became apparent to her that she wasn’t quite ready for the varsity level and she was feeling a little down about that after one practice. It was at that moment, while driving her home from practice, that I told her just how proud I was of her. We took a little stroll down Memory Lane and reminisced about her freshman season. I reminded her that her goal had been to crack the JV, not varsity, lineup. I felt that she needed to know how much she had grown and improved from the end of last season to the beginning of this one. She had to know how impressed I was by her dedication and perseverance. I finished my pep talk by reminding her that she had already accomplished something that her old man never would. She had already played on not one, but two, high school sports teams.
Well, last Thursday was the Intra-squad Scrimmage and E played one quarter. She was on defense from the very first play and her aggressiveness and tenacity were remarkable to everyone there and her coach even pointed it out to all of the parents in attendance. It was a marked change from the timid player E was during most of her freshman season. While she wasn’t in for a long time I was pleased to see such obvious growth and improvement in her game. Those hours shuttling her to and from practices at the different pools were beginning pay dividends. All of this buildup set the stage for the first game against another team.
I didn’t know this but E didn’t make the starting lineup for the JV squad. Even so, she was among the first subs for her team, unlike last year when she was among the last to get in, if at all. Her first game action was the start of the second quarter and I noticed immediately her aggressive confidence as she played swarming defense and swam harder than I remembered her doing last year.
A short time later E received a pass and advanced it toward the goal. As the defenders closed in on her she deftly passed to an open teammate who buried the shot for a goal in the wide side of the net. While I was cheering her for making the pass and garnering an assist I could only marvel at the growth from last year. But the best was still to come as E was just getting going. A minute or two later the other team turned it over and E swam hard into the offensive end where she received a perfectly placed pass. She swam the ball forward on a 2-on1 break and surveyed her options: try a risky pass over a defender to her teammate or take the shot on goal herself. All of this happened in a matter of only seconds as the defenders were closing in and her coach was shouting instructions from across the pool.
As I held my breath (and snapped pictures!) E made her choice and took the shot. Her powerful toss beat the goalie to the near post and she had the first goal of her career. As she swam back toward the center of the pool she looked up at me, absolutely beaming. If I could have leaped over the railing and jumped into the pool to hug her I would have (but that would’ve been a bit awkward and a tad embarrassing for her).
I’m such a sucker for feel good stories and this one ranks right up there for me as a parent. I’m blessed to be with my children 24/7 as a Stay At Home Dad. I get to witness some pretty amazing things like first words, first steps, first crushes and so on. Now I get to add to that a first goal in water polo. But, more than the physical first-goal itself, it is the sense of accomplishment for my daughter that comes from working hard to improve herself and seeing firsthand the fruits of her labor. I’m so proud of her for sticking with it and for finding the resolve to push herself even when others doubted her. I look forward to watching many more of her games…as well as how it will inspire her younger siblings.