For the last three years, I have been playing professional soccer in Europe. I have played in France, Denmark, Iceland and Lithuania. All vastly different places with their own unique cultures and challenges. To be an American playing in Europe means a lot of sacrifice. Going long stretches of time without seeing my family, friends… my dog! It can be very difficult and I often question my motivations for playing. However, I always come back to my deep love of the game.
I believe that without my passion and constant enjoyment for soccer, I would not have been able to advance from youth soccer to college soccer and from college soccer to the professional ranks. Playing my youth career at NEFC, I found so much joy and freedom on the pitch. I learned to express myself through my passing, my dribbling and my shooting. The game was a space to truly be in the moment. Although there was a lot of noise coming from parents and opposition coaches about play-time, college recruitment, rival clubs, my peace remained. My parents and club coaches always put my love and enjoyment for the game over any bit of achievement or status. There was never pressure to perform or to get recruited by a top school. I focused on maximizing my enjoyment of the sport. Part of that enjoyment included long extra sessions with my trainer Brandin McClay, hours of work mastering my technique, and intense study of the game, but enjoyment was always the driving force. Many youth players are getting burnt out by the excess pressure around the game. Fostering and maintaining the love of soccer is crucial for any player looking to find sustainable success in their youth career.
The pieces fell into place for me and I was fortunate enough to play my college years at Brown University. This was certainly a step up from the club level. The speed of play was faster, the girls were stronger, and the mixture of academic demands with soccer demands was quite daunting. While results and play-time were a bit more important at this stage in my career, I once again prioritized my love for the game as a driving force.
At the beginning of my Freshmen year, I was not getting a lot of game time. While I was feeling a bit defeated, I had a true desire to increase my minutes. That desire did not stem from jealousy or ego. It stemmed from my love of playing high level soccer. The more I increased my minutes, the more enjoyment I could squeeze out of the game! I worked tirelessly in training and ultimately adapted to a new position to earn a starting spot on the squad. From this I learned how powerful motivation is. When we are motivated by things like jealousy and selfishness we tend to burn out. When we motivate ourselves using our passion and love for the game, we seemingly have a never ending reserve of effort.
My first professional contract was for a Champion’s League team in Lithuania… I certainly had to look at a map to locate it! I was buzzing with excitement- this was my dream come true! And while I am still living that dream, my first few months of professional ball were tough. I quickly experienced a new level of ruthless competition during practice. It was like my teammates were playing a different game! The tackles were harder, the ball was passed using only one or two touches and people were screaming at me to keep up! I questioned if I was cut out for the next level. I went back to the thing that has always grounded me throughout my career, the passion for the game. Instead of viewing my new team as a massive hurdle, I viewed it as an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the game. I spent my time in Lithuania learning about elements of soccer that I never knew existed.
Throughout my entire career, filled with very low lows and very high highs, I have always felt grounded by my love for the game. While trophies and scholarships can motivate in the short term, enjoyment of soccer is a long term motivator. Protect, foster and feed your (or your child’s) love for the sport- it will be your most important achievement.