Berkeley Prep Head Coach Mike Ryder Reflects On The Shortened Season

FLN’s Note: I was messaging with Coach Ryder on Twitter a few days ago and I asked him to put his thoughts on paper concerning the likely cancellation of the season (I was going to try to hold out hope for a resumption of the season but at this time I just don’t see it.  Major League Baseball is now talking Mid-May and even the Kentucky Derby just moved a May race date to September, just to name two things). Mike wrote this up and I’d like others; coaches, players, parents and referees, to also submit a writing about their feelings at this point.  We all will feel a sense of missing out.  But we will all get through this by being smart and acting like we always do during times of crisis.  America didn’t get it’s reputation in the world by fluke, it got it by rising to the occasion.  And we will, again.  Thank you Coach for submitting this!
  For the last 13 years, I have been immersed in coaching lacrosse in the spring at either college or high school level. While I am fortunate that my full-time job has always been working in a sport I love, the relationships I develop with the players I get to see every day in the spring season are what keeps me passionate about coaching this sport. Currently as Head Coach of Berkeley Preparatory School, our 2020 season has been rolling. 10 games in, a 9-1 record, with one of the tougher schedules in the state, and most challenging in our program’s history.  This season had a ton of promise and opportunity. Weeks ago, we sat down as a team and had a long conversation about “Values”. We listed off as many values we could think of as a group, then shrank that list to what we felt was most important to our team and then finally settled on four that best fit us to be the “Pillars” of Berkeley Lacrosse, which are: POISE – GRIT – PRIDE – ENTHUSIASM The team felt that these were values that could be used on and off the field and symbolized more than just the words themselves. Since then, we tried to focus on those pillars whenever possible. On Thursday of last week, we had a home game. With a win, we would finish undefeated in our district for the season and lock-up the #1 seed. However winning took a back seat, as suddenly, we didn’t know if this would be the last time the 2020 Berkeley Buccaneer Lacrosse team would be on a lacrosse field together, and for the seniors, would it be the last time wearing “Berkeley” across their chest, in any sport?     I’m not one for “rah-rah” speeches as it is not in my personality as a coach, but sitting in the locker room, watching the team go about their normal routines, sparked some emotion in me and naturally I came back to our pillars. I asked them, “how would you play today if it could be the last time on a field with this specific group of guys”.  I said, “of our pillars, one rises above the rest in a time like this, and that is “Enthusiasm”. This is an opportunity to have fun, be loose, play a sport we love with our friends and compete with energy. Nothing else is more important for the next couple hours. Play with as much enthusiasm as possible for the seniors, so they can remember this moment in the most positive way possible.” The guys responded with a strong team victory, played with a ton of enthusiasm, both on the field and on the sideline. When the lights turned off, we would then wait to see if we had the privilege to play again tomorrow. Friday, we had a game scheduled as well. We waited all day to see if it was going to get pulled out from underneath us, but our opponent wanted at least one more day also, and thankfully made it happen! Now, do I really have to give another speech about how tomorrow isn’t guaranteed? Definitely not with the same intensity. This time I thought about what was truly important. Which, in my mind, was appreciating the moments with each other. In the locker room, during warmups and throughout the game, I implored them to soak in every moment, because that it what they are going to remember most about this team when they look back on the 2020 season. This game definitely provided moments. A great start, followed by weathering a comeback from our opponent, and thankfully for us, a 7-1 run to end the game. The enthusiasm ran deep that night and continued with the celebration of our incredible senior class, who have grown up together playing this sport. This group helped to shape the culture of the program moving forward. If Friday really was the last day, I know these young men left the program better than they found it, and for that they should have a ton of “Pride”. Suddenly, we hit the pause button. Now, our school is currently on a 2-week spring break, so technically we would have been off this week anyway, but this was a week for our program to reflect, recover and refuel, before a grueling end of the season and the opportunity of a playoff run. Now, that opportunity is uncertain. Having never dealt with anything like this before, it has been interesting to see where my thoughts go to as a coach in a time like this. While my ego (and most coaches egos) want the opportunity to finish the season, win more games, etc.  all I can think about are these players and the moments we are missing out on, when not having this sport to bring us all together. Our plan for next week was to come back from break, practice for a couple days and then take a trip to Vero Beach and stay overnight in a hotel before playing a strong St. Edwards team. I was really looking forward to this trip. It was going to be a chance to be away from school, as “professional lacrosse players” for a week. We had bus rides, hotel time, team building sessions and meals in place, that were no doubt going to bring this group even tighter together as we entered the final stretch of our season. Now that opportunity is no longer, we need to adapt and move forward.     What do we do now? We as coaches, players, parents and leaders can feel bad for ourselves about the potentially lost moments, experiences, games and championships, or we can choose to display “Grit” in the face of adversity, and by definition, have the courage to show strength of character and resolve. Whether or not we are able to step on a field again this spring, we can hold true to the values that drive our team and continue to push forward as we wait for what is out of our control. Lastly, but first on our list of pillars, can we display “Poise” while there is chaos around us. I constantly challenge our team to slow things down, when our bodies and minds are running a hundred miles an hour in an intense game. That composure can make the difference in a win and a loss. Now we are faced with the same chaos in real life. Can we challenge ourselves to be poised, confident and have the right tact in this uncertain time we are living in right now? Can we be disciplined personally, despite a change to our routine? Can we be level-headed when many around us are, well, not? There is nothing I want more than to finish the journey we started with Berkeley Prep Lacrosse and hope that this isn’t the last of the 2020 season, but at this point, all we can do is fall back on are our pillars. At this time, I am grateful that we came up with these as a team and cherish the moments we’ve had to this point.  Poise, Grit, Pride and Enthusiasm can be applied to everything we do, not just on a lacrosse field, and we can continue what we started regardless of what the future holds. If we do that, we will be stronger because of it. While this article reflects my own thoughts, values and program. I know so many coaches feel the same way. This is an opportunity to lead in a way that we haven’t been asked to before, so learn from it, use it and make your impact last for the players you love in a time like this. If we are fortunate to get the opportunity to be on the field again this year, this only magnifies how much we should appreciate those moments with our teams. Good luck to all and hope to be back on the field soon!