Closure and a new beginning


Photo courtesy Meer Mahfuz

Coppell junior defender and The Sidekick co-sports editor Meer Mahfuz shoots during an individual practice on Aug. 25 at Buddy Echols Field. Mahfuz reflects on last year’s season and explains how the process of returning to athletic play this season has impacted him.

Meer Mahfuz, Co-Sports Editor

If you were to ever tell me I would have to learn how to play soccer wearing a mask or that I wouldn’t be able to walk into the locker room with my teammates, I would not have ever believed you. 

But such has become the reality for high school athletes.

And while I often reminisce about last season’s canceled playoffs and all the scenarios that could have played out – a playoffs we were charging into with a six-match winning streak strapped to our shoulders – I have had to come to grips with this reality and move on.

I can still remember it – the last team dinner of the season after upsetting Marcus 2-1 at home. The dinner was at former Coppell defender and CHS 2020 graduate Mirko Grosili’s house. I remember talking at the pingpong table in the garage with former Coppell midfielder and CHS 2020 graduate Sebastian Blaas about the different opponents we could face on the path to the regional and state championships.

I remember saying goodbye to my teammates because I was going to Bangladesh for spring break and would miss what turned out to be the last two matches of our season.

I remember all the conversations in the locker room and all the funny moments from training sessions throughout the year. I remember raiding Target on the second night of our trip to Austin on the second weekend of January. I can remember walking out of the field house with my teammates on Tuesday and Friday nights in preparation for matches

I remember it all.

There is one saying this pandemic has ingrained deep into my mind: “at least you weren’t impacted to the same severity as others.”

Frankly, this concept has motivated me in the last couple months more than just about anything. I did not lose my senior season, I have not contracted the virus, and my ability to go out and play with friends hasn’t been severely affected. I have just been a mere witness to the whirlpool of emotional and physical trauma my peers have faced.

The precautions athletes have to take now as a result of COVID-19, while annoying and oftentimes unbearable, are part of the best-case scenario as we return to the field and prepare for the fall season. 

Having the ability to play at all given the circumstances is a blessing in itself and doing my part to not add to the problem is just something I have to accept because I cannot bear witness to another cancellation.

For me, learning how to play with a mask on, has probably been the worst part. 

Considering that I am always playing pick-up games and interacting with upwards of 50 people and coaching children from all across the Metroplex through my job at Vedral Soccer Academy, it is important I wear a mask at all times.

Wearing a mask while playing forced me to change my breathing patterns. While it is undeniable that wearing a mask will limit your oxygen intake, adapting to the deficiencies helps ensure I still receive the benefits of wearing a mask. When I started working out with a mask on in June, I was struggling with it, often having to sit out after a couple minutes of training to catch my breath, but after a couple of weeks, the side effects normalized.

Nowadays, being in a soccer environment with a mask on has become second nature, but I would have frowned upon the possibility six months ago.

Losing the locker room environment will also take some getting used to. Having a space exclusively for the players where we can truly be ourselves without the interruptions of the normal world was a safe haven for me and helped me develop the relationships I have with the guys today.

But for now, participating in socially distanced drills, wearing a mask, consciously separating from the groups of teammates and adjusting to this new – and hopefully temporary – life are necessary steps all athletes must take to expedite the return of athletic normality.

I will never forget the euphoria associated with the ups and downs of last year, but I am nail-bitingly excited to see what this uncertain season holds for us.

Follow Meer (@meer_mahfuz) and @SidekickSports on Twitter.