Soccer tells a story and I wanted to share mine.
It all started around the age of four, as a fast, limber, white haired kid who loved having the ball at her feet. I was a spit fire or so my mom would say. I grew up playing soccer with a wreck league then eventually switched to what is now called club to “travel” soccer. My first ever, real team, E.S.S.L Arsenal was everything I could’ve asked for; a competitive and family oriented environment. My best friends were on the team and we became like a family, even the coach was a “dad-like” figure in my life which was very important because at the time my parents were going through a divorce. I lived in a small town in a small home and went to a small school but life was great.
It wasn’t until years later that my parents divorced and my mom remarried, this is when life started to get tough. We moved about an hour and half south of where I grew up. This tore me apart and I stopped playing soccer. Many may think it was the divorce that hurt me as a kid but I was very fine with my parents being separated, what bothered me the most was moving away from my friends and home. After getting settled in, about two years later, I told my mom I missed soccer and wanted to start playing again. Sadly, my new hometown did not have any soccer so every night we made a trip down to Delaware, Ohio to train with the club, Classics Eagles.
I played with Classics Eagles for about a year or two then decided the club just wasn’t for me. Around this time I was entering high school. High school seemed to be easy for me, I wasn’t really challenged that much with school (or maybe it’s because I didn’t try very hard to challenge myself). Most challenges came from outside of school, new house, new town, new friends, new sports teams, you name it, it was all new. Change was not something I was not good at, at the time. I wasn’t hanging around the right crowd of people, I got caught up in a lot of bad things in high school that no high schooler SHOULD but there was always something that kept me somewhat on track.
Soccer was it. I could’ve went big in other sports like gymnastics or volleyball but what caught my attention most was that little ball you kick around and score goals with. I never really realized how important the game was to me, it was the only thing that stayed the same throughout the years. No matter where I was or who I played with, it spoke the same language.
Shortly after I stopped playing for Classics Eagles, I got ahold of my old coach from E.S.S.L Arsenal and wanted to keep training and playing with the team. This meant even longer drives (1.5 hours) almost every night for majority of the year. Luckily, I got a hold of a coach a couple months later and joined the Columbus Crew Juniors. Car trips felt quicker to Columbus and of course I started driving, which might be why they went faster. I played with The Crew Juniors for the last two years of my high school career then took an offer to play at a division 3 school in Virginia.
Getting to Virginia seemed like a lot of work, I didn’t really want to go to college but I know I needed to, to continue to play soccer. I didn’t do very well on my ACTs and didn’t end up doing very well in my first semester either. Everyone was harping on athletes telling us how important education was and that you can’t be successful without it. This frustrated me, on top of not having any motivation to do homework, study, or go to class I was injured my freshman year of collegiate soccer. This was NEW to me, there’s that word again, new. New school, new place, new friends, new injury, same sport. Homesickness crept into my life, I felt distant from my teammates and coaches, and being injured for the first time wasn’t the toping on the cake either. I eventually left Virginia, seeking out a new school to play the same sport I have loved all of my life.
Up next was Tiffin, Ohio. I was dating this guy at the time who introduced me to a lot of new coaches. I don’t say this very often but thank goodness the good lord made boys. These coaches taught me countless things about soccer. I spent 3 hours every single morning of my summer training with them, having lunch together, playing for 2 more hours after lunch, then going and coaching shortly after I washed up and ate dinner. Summer was for soccer and I was in need of a college team to play on. I was determined and my touch had never been better, which was recognized at a 3v3 tournament by the men’s head coach of Tiffin University. Shortly after, I took the offer as a “walk-on” to earn a starting spot as a captain of the varsity team at a division 2 school.
More challenges arose, I still wasn’t the best student but wasn’t the worse. I kept my GPA just high enough to be on the team but never really strived past that. Soccer was still my main focus, which is great in my eyes but my friends and family not so much. I did well at Tiffin, I didn’t have many stats, in fact I only scored one goal and had a couple assists but I knew my place on the team and so did a lot of other people. My work ethic was starting to get noticed by my teammates, who didn’t seem to like it, my coaches, who wanted to build the team around me, and the fans who all thought I should be playing at a division 1 school. Talk about an emotional season, I was bullied a lot by the girls, tore my labrum in my left hip, and went out on a losing season. It was tough and for the first time in my life I started to think, am I supposed to be playing soccer?
Why would anything be so difficult to pursue if it was something you are supposed to do? At the time, the question wasn’t that serious to me. I never had a thought in my mind that I would actually stop playing. Spring semester at Tiffin I had asked my coach to have a release to speak with division 1 colleges, which pretty much decided my fate and after that conversation I knew I had no choice but to transfer. My entire life, I grew up as a buckeye and I always wanted to play there but never really thought I was good enough until I had an encounter with a dad.
We had played the best team in the GLIAC and I had worked my butt off. I was drenched in sweat, covered in mud, and yes was bleeding from the knees and arms where girls had scratched me. I literally gave everything I had that game because I truly believed that we could’ve won. After the game my mom and I went to a small restaurant in Tiffin, as we were walking in a family was walking out. A dad of a girl from the opposing team asked if I was 00 (yes, I had a keeper number) and played in the midfield. I nodded, as I felt grief and pain from the game. What I thought was about to be a draining conversation about how bad we sucked, it started with “you have great work ethic and should be playing division 1.” Instantly, my mood changed. I wasn’t feeling happy, I was feeling relief that someone other than my mom noticed my hard work. Totally disregarding the division 1 comment I nodded and politely said thank you and good game to his daughter (who happened to be their best player) and carried on. I will forever be grateful for that father who put a spark into my imagination.
That moment started it, I had dreams of playing at Ohio State when I was younger but never thought it was truly possible. I contacted OSU and everything seemed smooth sailing. I was accepted into the school and had one year to wait to play then I would be an Ohio State varsity athlete. During this year I had decided to take up animal science as a major and was training with the team every day. The assistant coach and I got along really well, he thought I was the next Rudy, which encouraged me to work even harder.
One year was up, it was my time. I was going to be added to The Ohio State University Women’s Soccer Team. Spring season was here and I was told that they were adding me to the roster and to come to training prepared and ready to go the next day. I had never been more ready in my life, my touch was great and fitness was awesome from spring conditioning. I came to training the next day, geared up and ready to go. My laser focus helped me pass the beep test and crush training shortly after. Then everything went downhill, head coach came up to me personally after training and said “it’s just not going to work out.” I was so confused and filled with emotion I just replied with “okay” and left. I sat in my room and cried for… awhile, then realized I couldn’t just give up. I had worked every day to get to this moment and I wasn’t going to just let it slip away. I emailed coach at that moment and said, please give me a second chance, I know I can do this. She replied with, come to training tomorrow.
What felt like an endless circle of yeses and noes, coach was having a hard time putting me on the team due to being a year short of credits that didn’t transfer or meet the standards of Ohio State. I was ineligible to play in the NCAA, forever. Why was this happening? I had worked so hard. Was I supposed to be playing soccer? There was that question again, which came with a lot more weight this time. For the first time my dreams of playing at The Ohio State University were crushed and I thought to myself “how will I ever go pro now?”
Playing sports is like playing politics, unfortunately, it’s all about the big name schools or clubs that get you somewhere. Or so we think. Sure, division 1 schools are the way to go if you want to play professional ball, especially BIG10 schools but is there an exception? Of course. Does the exception seem impossible? Of course. But is it worth every single minute of it? Absolutely. I’m not knocking division 1 sports at all but if I had to choose, I wouldn’t change one part of my journey. I never grew up in a huge club that had a good political name for itself. I didn’t have a lot of money either growing up. I never really played collegiate ball but for a year. I was constantly injured throughout college and things just didn’t work out for me in that stage of life. But, the coolest part about it is, is that I found a way to work hard and earn a true spot on a professional team without having a big name school behind me and that is something to be proud of.
Getting to a professional team wasn’t the greatest delight but it was an incredible journey. I had a lot of fun and will continue to have a lot of fun, as my journey feels like it has only begun. I have played on a couple teams in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, which led to a tryout overseas. The tryout went well but the team kept switching managers so going back over would have been rocky. I tried out at NWSL tryouts and went to a couple international combines, which you would think is how I got to Sweden. But in reality, connections got me to Sweden.
Remember those coaches I mentioned earlier that I spent my whole summer with? Well, training with them I made a lot of friends. Mostly, foreign guys who loved the game just as much as I did, if not more. One of my friends had contacted me during the winter months to come to some indoor training with a coach that worked at Stars. If you haven’t heard of Stars it’s a little janky indoor facility off of 161 and 71.
Winter training was awesome, my attitude, not so great. Attitude, something I haven’t mentioned but is something I have constantly struggled with throughout the years was a big part of winter training. For some reason, I had this impression I had to impress the coach and everyone around me, when everyone knew me and how hard I worked. I was over the “hard work ethic” compliment, I wanted to be known as a great player. One night after training, this new coach called me into his office and wanted to talk to me about playing. He says to me “today you played amazing and it was because your attitude was good.” I instantly got an attitude but I tried not to show it, I felt insulted but he was right. I continued to listen and didn’t really comment much, just nodded and agreed. The conversation was tough to hear but ended with, “V, you have to fix your attitude. You won’t get anywhere with the attitude you have but once you fix it, you will be great.” I remember every single word coach said to me that night because it was exactly what I needed and wanted to hear (that doesn’t happen very often).
Coach suggested I read the book, Mind Gym. I did and I tried to change the pressure that I put on myself but it just kept turning into negativity. I would take deep breaths and try to let my mistakes go but then I would begin to overthink. It just felt like an endless rollercoaster of good and bad mindset. It took a long time before I started to see a change in my game. About a year actually, I was just coming home from England and noticed that I was on fire. Not just my touch or movement off the ball but every time I messed up I just didn’t seem to think twice about it. All of my coaches noticed, especially the coaches I spent my summers with. I remember I went to play pick up at Antrim Park and I just had the biggest smile on my face the whole time.
After we got done playing, coach came over to me and said, who is this new V? Where did she come from? I just smiled and laughed and said I’m ready. He nodded in agreement. That was it, we didn’t have to say anything else to each other. I knew and it was amazing because he knew I would get there. There wasn’t a day that he didn’t believe in me, which I will forever be grateful for.
I continued to try out for teams and keep the ball rolling until this past summer. I went out to Washington to play with a WPSL team, I didn’t play much but got selected to go to an international combine. Everything was great but there was something off. I kept talking to my best friend about how if nothing professional was to come soon, then I was going to be done with soccer in the next year. Now, I’m not trying to make this a “Christian” story but I’m also not, not trying to do that (double negatives are the best aren’t they)? I was on my way to Oklahoma for a combine when I just felt heavy, not like the heavy you get after doing the Man U test but the burden heavy, like I was carrying this unnecessary weight on my chest (and no, it was not these huge melons my mama gave me). So I prayed.
I prayed the night before the combine, “Lord, if this is supposed to be, then let it be.” I let go and I was no longer in control, at that moment I felt weightless. Free. My mom texted me, “How’d it go?” My response, “I did great, I had fun.” At that moment, she felt weightless. Free. The rest of the weekend I prayed the same prayer and got the same, amazing result. I had fun and did great, I was selected to be on the international team.
Crazy enough, the combine still isn’t how I got to Sweden. Connections are. The winter training coach took my soccer film last year and kept it. He believed in me. A coach contacted him asking if there was anyone he knew of, coach sent him my film and shortly after I got a message. Ironically enough, a Facebook message while driving home from the combine. I read it, called the coach I knew and ask about the opportunity, he said I should take it, I took his word for it and now I’m playing on a professional team in the second division in Sweden. Everything had led up to this point. All the hard work, all the disappointments, ups and down, emotions and attitude adjustments, coaches and teammates. But most importantly to me, connections and praying.
I’m sure you are all aware that following your dreams is not a straight shot and here is my question to you. Why would you want it to be? Can you imagine how boring and repetitive that would become? You wouldn’t make it past your middle school soccer team, trust me. You have already encountered difficulties in your soccer seasons and seasons of life. The cool thing about soccer is that you can compare it to life and use it to your advantage. If you are struggling in school or hanging around “not so great” people, use it as a getaway. If your parents are going through a divorce, think of your teammates and coaches as family because they are. If you move and everything changes, remember that soccer is the same no matter where you are. If you decide college isn’t your thing, remember that being able to figure out how to get from one side of the field to the other and scoring, is just an analogue for life. Then when you reach your goal, never stop working, just like the off season. But most importantly, remember to give back just like you gave back when you left every out on the field.
QUESTIONS AND ADVICE!
1) How did you adjust not having a high school team to play on?
It was hard to adjust, honestly. I didn’t really feel that closeness you get when on a sports team. The last time I felt closeness from a team is when I played with E.S.S.L. Arsenal. I made many lifelong friends on other teams, but I haven’t felt the family presence since that team. So without feeling, it was hard to adjust when I played with the Crew and Classics Eagles. I made a really good friend, who is still one of my best friends to this day, but that was about it. So I just focused on soccer without emotion. I was certainly passionate about it but I didn’t rely on other people to make me feel passionate. Whenever I was going through a hard situation I talked to my friend on the team but I never really expressed more to the other players. I made sure that I put in extra work too, I watched film and did extra lifting/running/touches on my own. I even did private training. I knew that I wasn’t getting the same amount of exposure to soccer just playing club 3 to 4 times a week because I was an hour away from everyone so it wasn’t like I could just call up a friend and go get an hour training in. I had to do it on my own.
2) At the end of the day, what are your favorite memories of playing?
There are many. So bear with me. When I played with Arsenal we played at the starburst tournament at Bowling Green State University and it was super muddy one year so after the game we all went and slid in the mud pit.
Next would be when I ate a couple slices of chocolate cake and drank a whole Pepsi before I played… one of the best games I have ever played.
One time, during a game with Arsenal I was playing forward and there was a 50/50 ball between me and the goal keeper. We both ran up to it at high speed and we both kicked it at the same time but mine won and I scored a goal from like 25 yards out.
Some other times are just playing pick up at the turf fields at OSU or pick up at Antrim Park with all my foreign friends. They have so much creativity in their game that lacks in a lot of other places, so I go there to have fun and clear my mind. I specifically remember a time (this is called a white moment) when there were three guys standing between me and the goal and I zig-zag dribbled in between them, that was the moment I knew I was really getting good.
There are a lot of white moments that are my favorite like scoring twice with my left foot in a game or scoring an upper 90 in nationals with my left foot to win the game.
3) What is the #1 piece of advice you would give a younger you?
There isn’t just one piece of advice so here’s a list.
STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF.
Believe in yourself. Work hard every, single, day. Stop hanging out with bad kids & influences. Have integrity. Stop letting negative energy effect your play. Never let laziness and tone of voice rub off on you. Be patient and stay humble. Choose a path that is relevant to your dreams, not everyone else’s. Get good grades. Start the recruiting process earlier then 10th grade.