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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The volleyball team rallied behind their seniors to take third at the MIAC tourney. The senior-laden women's cross country team trained for the NCAA Regionals. The senior-led hockey team, full of high expectations, kicked off their '90-91 campaign. And the seniors on the football team clung to their chance for a title share, even though it's now hanging by just a few slender threads.
Watching seniors try to finish off their careers in style may be the most interesting aspect of college sports. Watching seniors cope with their younger teammates is an ongoing sub-plot within that broader annual drama.
Several years ago, after a late-season loss by the football team that put them out of the title hunt, I told coach Jim Christopherson how sorry I felt that he didn't win the title. He looked at me with dead seriousness and said, "Don't feel bad for me. I'll have plenty of chances to win the title again. The people you should feel for are the seniors. This was their last shot."
I remember thinking at the time that this was probably just a high-sounding line he used. But as we talked, then and over the years, it became clear to me that he really meant it. And he was right, not only because it was an unselfish and proper view for a coach to have, but because it reflected his special insight into the seniors' perspective.
This coach, who year after year puts such faith in his seniors, regardless of what new hot-shot sophomores might be waiting in the wings, understands the generation gap within college teams, the gap between seniors and all those younger athletes who find such comfort in just being young. And he gives seniors their due.
For most of us, age has a way of giving us a better sense of the broader context in which we live, a better sense of what is important and what is trivial. Friends and family ties become more important than money. Being principled becomes more important that getting an edge.
And succeeding comes to mean more than being just today's stat leader.
Even within the semi-cloistered world of Concordia athletics, where 18 is considered young and 22 is considered old, the same process occurs. Maturity brings with it a sense of what will be worth remembering.
The seniors see themselves playing the final scenes of a dramatic final act. The rookies barely know the play has begun. Seniors want their younger teammates to see the world through senior eyes. But they know it won't happen. Seniors remember their own youth.
The difference between the 18-year-old hot-shot rookie and the 22-year-old battle-scarred veteran is more than just the number of intercollegiate games they have played. It is that intangible, barely explainable difference we coaches like to call "experience."
Rookies think every game can be won. Seniors know that every game can be lost.
Seniors also usually know what it takes to win. They know about those "little things" that coaches always rant about but rookies almost never understand.
Seniors know that staying focused is usually more important than raw talent. And they know that individual statistics are about as meaningful as last week's spit.
The seniors remember their freshmen teammates and notice how few made it to this, their fourth year of play.
Injuries, burnout and losing positions to younger, better players each took their toll on the others.
Those that remain are playing this final year to leave a legacy of success or, maybe more importantly, a legacy of having played with character and heart. And they don't want care-free youngsters to screw that up.
Admittedly, on some teams, seniors can suffer from the complacency that age can foster. And the young among us are invaluable in those situations in trying to jolt their elders out of that complacency, telling us we are thinking too small, telling us not to accept mediocrity.
But the youngsters' knowledge that they will have other chances in later years almost always detracts from their performance today.
As has always been the case, the ignorance of youth can sometimes be humorous. And sometimes it can be aggravating to no end. The closer a team gets to game time, the more stark are the contrasts between seniors and the young ones.
While the seniors are thinking about how high the sun will be in the fourth quarter, the rookies are thinking about how high their socks should be to look really cool.
While the seniors are thinking about the defensive scheme they will face, the rookies think about where the team will stop to eat.
While the seniors are thinking about the particular tendencies of the refs who'll be doing the game, the rookies are asking if St. Paul is close to Minneapolis.
While the seniors are thinking about how each teammate needs to come through for there to be victory, the rookies are wondering why they aren't in the starting lineup.
And, most revealing, while the seniors try to imagine what plays will need to be made in crunch time, the rookies are hoping they won't have to touch the ball in crunch time.
Most seniors are a little too shy to ask the rookies to pay better attention. But young players should try to imagine how much a senior year can mean. And remember that, if they're lucky, some day they'll be seniors too.
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