Sometimes in life you don’t realize the impact of a person or event until you have the experience and perspective to understand it’s uniqueness. Few people stand out in my mind as having a positively illuminating impact on my life – I mean truly shine, like a lighthouse in the middle of a vast, dark ocean – and Sue Behringer is one those people.
Sue recently retired after 20 years of serving as Assistant Coach for the Severna Park Varsity Women’s Field Hockey team. Severna Park Field Hockey holds the state record for most State Championships, is the toughest team at the school to make, and it’s head coach, Lillian Shelton, is responsible for bringing the sport of field hockey to Anne Arundel county in 1975 when she created Severna Park’s team, then subsequently led the expansion of the sport throughout county.
Before my first year of high school, I had no substantive knowledge of or experience playing field hockey, even though I grew up a jock. Once I arrived, I quickly learned that field hockey was the most prestigious sport to play. It wasn’t football, it wasn’t basketball, it wasn’t baseball. The field hockey team’s level of success and excellence was unparalleled.
For my freshman spring semester gym class, I had the good fortune of having Coach Shelton as my gym teacher. During the indoor field hockey portion of class, Coach Shelton pulled me aside and asked if I had ever played. When I told her no, she convinced me to come out for the junior varsity team in the Fall. Which I did. And I made.
The JV team was headed up by an All-American Division I Field Hockey and Lacrosse player. While she and Coach Shelton had their differences, I flourished under Coach Petersen’s coaching and ended the year as the team’s leading scorer.
If I wasn’t a favorite of Coach Petersen’s, I certainly felt and played like I was. Getting the ball in the net seemed like the easiest thing for me to do. Until the next year when I moved up to varsity the next year. On varsity, I was not a favorite of Coach Shelton’s. As a junior I didn’t start and spent more time on the bench than on the field. I learned to accept this but my senior year, when I wasn’t selected as part of the starting line-up, it got to me. It affected my entire game-time playing ability. There were circumstances outside of just me that impacted my game performances, but I think the biggest factor was inside my head. Things I did in practice I could rarely repeat in games and it got progressively worse. The entire regular season passed by and I only scored a handful of goals. I remember one game against a relatively easy team where the ball was right in front of my stick, in front of the goal, and I didn’t move. It was like my natural instinct to score had all but vanished.
So there I was sitting on the sideline of a scoreless game at the quarterfinals when a time-out was called with only a few minutes on the clock. Coach Behringer pulled me aside and before sending me in, said:
“You’re going to score.”
“I want to,” I replied.
“Not want to. You will.”
Thirty seconds later, I knocked the ball in the goal, and it made a loud, thunderous clang that rang up into the bleachers. The goal sent our team in the semi-finals. The newspaper write-up of the game didn’t do Coach Behringer justice. She knew I could score. I had stopped believing it much earlier on in the season.
I went on to do it again in the semi-finals, only in that game we were down 1-0. I scored with less than 10 minutes on the clock to tie it up and my teammate scored to send us to the State Championships.
In the state championship game, with 3 minutes left, we were down 1-0 but a teammate scored a goal to tie it up which sent us into overtime. But neither team could score. As the time on the clock was winding down to less than 2 minutes, our team was awarded a penalty stroke. Without even looking at the sideline for a cue from the coaches, I walked up to take it. I had no doubts, no nervousness, no awareness of all the people anxiously watching me. It was just me, the ball, and the goal.
I sent the ball sailing into the net. It won the game and won us the championship. But that goal started with the words ‘you will.’ There’s a big difference between saying you want to achieve something and saying you will achieve it.
I don’t know what would have happened if Sue hadn’t had that talk with me on the sideline before sending me in. Maybe I would have scored. Maybe not. I do know this: the people who don’t believe, who don’t give and show support, who don’t have faith, who don’t say ‘you will’ – they’re a dime a dozen in this world. The Sue Behringers of the world, however, are the reason championships are won, dynasties are built, and masterpieces are created.
They say in sports, it’s all in your head. It’s true in sports and it’s true in life. The outcome of every endeavor is determined before any action is ever taken. Thanks, Sue, for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons of success and life.