Movie reference above…ok for those of you that also suck at movie references and don’t have the patience to figure them out (yes, just like me)…it’s off of the film “The Kids Will Be Allright”. Great film as a sidenote. I apologize for my painful (ly awesome) wit.
So what is this theme all about? I think like most high level players (or not), I’ve had this nagging fear in the back of my mind about finding something after I’m done playing that brings me the same joy, passion, and emotion that being on the field has done for me. The sport has been my best friend through so many ups and downs of my life. It’s taught me or been a metaphor for almost everything I feel like I have learned in my life, it’s brought me an incredible circle of friends, and been my magic carpet that has taken me on a ride around the world. Its been my comfort in hard times, its been the platform for which I’ve dreamed my biggest dreams, and its been a place that’s taught me about what’s really important in this life.
It’s a lot of weight to put on one thing’s shoulders.
So with this, I have known that there is eventually an expiration date as a player, and I’ve wondered what I will do that will make me feel as good, when I am done.
I had a glimpse of this future 4 years ago when I got my first call up for Ireland. I had just gotten an email telling me that I was chosen to be a part of the squad that would play against the US 3 times in giant stadiums spanning 2 different time zones, and reach a dream of playing internationally that I’d always aspired to. Yet the same day, I received news that surprisingly, grew a bigger, more fulfilling feeling inside of me. One that brought me to tears in the same kind of way of when I dreamed of accomplishing my soccer dreams when I was lost in daydreams in my head growing up.
This event happened during the first year of my college showcase in Vancouver, Canada. I received an email from a girl that told me she had always dreamed of playing in the US, but that her family had no money, and would I let her play for free in the Showcase. Obviously I said yes, and got an even better surprise when I found out who she was.
I had watched a team play the week before that was her age, and there was a player on the team that I thought was magical in her creativity and vision on the ball. The girl that emailed me was that same player. She further astounded me by telling me that she had been cut from the Provincial Team a couple of weeks before.
At the same time I received her email, I also had been having a really hard time getting access to even let the players know that the college showcase was happening, as nothing of its magnitude had been ever done before in Western Canada. Political bodies such as BC Soccer were doing everything in their power to try and make it difficult for me to pull it off, by limiting access to top players, and hauling me in for ridiculous meetings. This player ended up also being my undercover ally and send me 3 spreadsheets full of player contact info, that I had been searching for, for months, that allowed me to get things off the ground.
Our story had a fairy tale ending. She came to the Showcase, dazzled all the coaches there in the same way that she did for me when I first saw her play, neutral eyes that saw her talent without any politics to get in the way. In the end, after she had been cut from the Provincial team that year, she ended up getting connected by a NCAA coach from the Showcase to the U17 Colombian National Team (she had dual citizenship), and 6 months later played in the first ever U17 World Cup in New Zealand, including a game against Canada (a 1-1 tie).
The day I found out I got my first international call-up in 2008, was the same day I found out she made the U17 Colombian team. The tears of joy that streamed down my face was for playing a role in opening a door for her to reach her dream, and in a way that made me double take, reaching my dream of playing internationally almost became an afterthought.
Fast forward 4 years to now, and for the first time I have had the opportunity, with 2 of my closest soccer buddies, Tiff and Manya, to work with basically amounts to a group of cast-offs from 7th to 10th grade. They’re the kind of players that aren’t on the best teams, or have the star-studded resumes. But they are passionate players who love the game, are willing to work, and as most of them have been overlooked, come with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.
Yet we have created our own little happy place over the last few months, with this special group of girls. As coaches, we have given them every tool that we have in making them better players, and we have created our own little soccer utopia, where these girls have flourished to incredible heights in a few short months.
It’s been one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced in my professional life to be able to create an environment for a group of players that is everything that I wished that I had: all the information and tools to be successful and an environment that is about who works the hardest and wants to be the best, and everyone coaches, and players, giving their all, every time that we are together.
In a few short months, it feels like we have our own little soccer family, and it’s been almost healing for me to do something in my little sphere of influence that brings together every idea of how I think things should be.
So I’m just going to give a little shout out to our group of 4 that has been with us from the start.
Haley: You came in shy, technically needing so much work, and with your biggest asset being your desire to work. Getting slide tackled into the wall last night by you, as a coach, made me realize that Haley Wheeler is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I better bring my A game to play, even if you’re only in 8th grade. I see you putting in the work with Monz every Sunday, and all your late night soccer sessions in your basement is paying off. I know you are capable of very big things if you keep pushing yourself.
Mary: Your journey with us started with us in a state of shock that you didn’t start on your high school team when Tiff thought you were one of the best players at your high school practice that she helped out with. That heart and desire that you’ve brought to every training session is what has made you take the tremendous strides that you have taken in the last couple of months. Your tackling, your desire and your willingness to listen and learn is going to continue to take you far. Plus the fact that you’re always the one doing the little things like picking up the balls. I can’t wait to watch you tear it up next year, and show them how much they’ve been missing by having you on the bench.
Kel: You come off as someone that has a bit of a lacksadaisical (sp?) approach to the game, but you’ve proven pretty quickly that the only thing you’ve been lacking is someone pushing you to push yourself to take your game to another level. You’ve got so many incredible skills as a forward, and you’re fun to play with and to watch. It’s been awesome seeing you put the effort in and improving your defense. You’re creative, you’re talented, you’re fearless in your attempts to meg, and I know that if you keep putting in the work, that you can take the sport into college and do well. You’re a sweet spirit and bring so much fun and life to our group.
Becca: Our little old soul– the heart and soul of the group and the one that I think defines what we are trying to be all about. Starting with the fact that you are a 5’2″ keeper, but to be honest, you never look that small when you are in goal. You are composed, unbelievable with the ball at your feet, so willing to learn and improve and put the work in to do so, and fearless taking on shots from guys that are in college. You’re always thinking about other people, have the ability to take getting shredded on by a group of older guys and girls, and laugh along. In all our car rides together, I have to remind myself that I am talking to someone that is 15 years old, because you are so wise beyond your years and have such a sensitive soul.
That all being said, I got a little choked up last night and cut short what I wanted to say, at the fear of starting to cry like a baby in front of a bunch of teenagers (I’m sure you didn’t notice, because I know I am that smooth).
But thank you to all of you for being amazing people first, and fantastic soccer players second, and for giving me the knowledge that working with players like you and teaching you, and players like you everything I have learned, may even be more fulfilling than anything that I ever experienced as a player.
I think I speak for both Manya and Tiff as well when I say:
Go make us proud.