Over the two decades of my recreational soccer career one of the most important things I have learnt is how to motivate myself. Especially around playoff time I have to be careful to get pumped for the game but not get so anxious that I get nervous. To manage this careful balance I only listen to myself, I don't let any outside influences affect my mental preparation for the games. That, however, was not the case for the 2003 outdoor playoffs. I got caught up in the John Schepers school of motivation.
The Roadrunners have never had a coach and rarely a player that we all look to for direction. For one thing, it is far too frustrating a role for anyone to take on. For the playoffs this year however, John stepped into that job, at least for pre game speeches.
The first match was against the Red Dogs (now RD Porto). We match up well against them but the last regular season game was a disaster. They swamped the midfield and for a fullback it was hell. It was a 90 minute jail brake of 6-7-8 players at a time. To get ready for the quarter final game I kept telling myself we had played them well before. I was still not sure. Before the playoff game, John pulled us together and said, " I want to play Sunday" (the final). That simple phrase collected all my thoughts. It wasn't about what they did, it was about us going on. We won.
The semi-final was easier because the Dragons took half an hour to get 11 men together. I bet some of them were even registered. John reminded us of the need to play Sunday, but also not to take the game lightly. We didn't and we won.
The final against United was a scene. United was there early running drills, their fans in place behind a banner, and their team shouting chants. When the Roadrunners had finished their smokes and got their battle weary legs taped up we took to the field to warm our keeper up by kicking balls into the north core area of the city.
The three games in four days had taken their toll on my body but mostly my injured hamstring. When I knelt down for John's pregame speech this time all I could think of was how was I going to get back up. I wondered what rabbit he could pull out of his hat this time. He said:" I have played a lot of big games in my life, and this may be the last one, these guys want this game, I want it more". I thought briefly about John's past career, the national team, the Olympics, Russia, Azteca Stadium in Mexico, tears filled my eyes. The pain was gone, I jumped up, ran to the centre circle and I was shaking, waiting for the ref to blow the whistle so I could rip that ball away from United.
That speech kept me charging for 105 minutes of very tough action on a broken body. When the final whistle blew I fell down because I had nothing left. John claims he doesn't remember what he said, but I will for a long time.