My Professional Soccer Dream
Earn a player spot on one of the professional National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) teams in the United States.
To raise at least $3,000 by March 1st for registration, transportation (i.e., gas, tolls, possible airfare, etc.), and overnight-accommodation fees to try out for at least four NWSL teams.*
I am registered to try out for the Houston Dash (Feb. 15-16), the Western New York Flash (Feb. 21-22), Portland Thorns FC (Feb. 25-26 in Downingtown, Penn.), Boston Breakers (March 1) and Sky Blue FC (March 7-8).
*I will keep costs down as much as possible. After the tryouts are done, I will use any leftover money for moving and other expenses if I do earn a spot on a team. If I do not make one of the teams, I will donate any remaining money to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
My Story and the Story I'm Choosing to Create
The last few months have been an internal mind battle for me, but I have decided that enough is enough. I am good enough. I am better than enough, and if I do not follow my heart's passion to play the sport that I love at a competitive level, I know I will always be held down by fear and regret.
Two years ago, I trained very hard to try out for the U.S. Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league. I found an amazing gym, Major League Fitness, located in my hometown of Fenton, Michigan. My coach, Coach Keith, helped me shatter all of my perceived strength and fitness limits to increase my overall confidence and skill as an athlete. I learned Olympic lifting, improved remarkably in technique and strength in my powerlifting, and learned basic gymnastic skills to feel connection throughout my body--a skill I was definitely not taught much about up until that point in life. My awareness as an athlete went up tenfold. It has improved more since. I was ready to go! I was registered to try out for the Atlanta Beat. Airline ticket and hotel accommodations were set. On the day I was signing up for the Western New York Flash tryouts, I read the news that the league had been suspended due to a lawsuit with a franchise owner. My heart sank. Everything I worked so hard for was slipping away. I still had hope until I received a call from an Atlanta Beat representative telling me that the tryouts were canceled. More sadness sank in. I followed WPS news closely for the next month or so until I read that the league had folded and would not be coming back. More disappointment.
One year after, in the start of the 2013 new year, came the birth of a new women's league, the NWSL. There are currently eight teams in the NWSL.
Pushing Through Fear
Back in November, just a few short months ago, I told myself and others that I was going to follow my heart and try out for professional soccer this year. Instead of beginning to train, I let fear set in and control my every thought and action. I started focusing on all of the "I can't's" instead of all of the "I can's." I could mention all of the reasons to why I believed why I can't, but those truly are not important to my mission now.
For too long I focused on my sadnesses and disappointments in life. Sure, there are many, but I also have had a lot of awesome experiences. Awesome experiences that I worked my butt off for and put my full heart into. I've always had my strength (mentally and physically), gifted athletic ability, and soccer talent on my side. Through all of my down times in life, working out and testing my mental and physical capabilities has pulled me through my most trying struggles. This work ethic trickles down into my school studies and my integrity in the workplace as well.
There are accomplishments of mine I am proud of but can say with a true and authentic voice that weren't/aren't mine. I believe this is true for many of us. I went to college, then had a good-paying job for a bank, was laid off so decided to go to grad school, and finished grad school while working many meaningless, life-sucking jobs. But I don't truly believe that those choices/accomplishments were made with my full heart and best interest. I was listening to what other people told me I "should do." Perhaps this is the fault of my own, but how common is this story? Many people get on track to do something, and 20 years down the road have no idea who they are and how they got to where they are. I know this: I am 28, on the verge of turning 29, have had my ups and downs, have struggled to find meaning in work (Side note: I have worked for a lot of shitty people--to the employers, managers, and friends I know who work with integrity and don't put money over people/relationships, I honor and respect you. Thank you for "keepin' it real" in business.), but I still have my athletic talent. It doesn't go away. It's not meant to leave me. It is me. Through and through.
Most of my "bad" situations/happenings are part of a story that I don't believe I was taking responsibility for. I won't use the word "control" because too many of us try to control what we cannot. All of this, all of the good and the bad, has brought me to this moment. Right now. Pretty cool. Writing this, feeling the fear, but listening to it to know that it really does not exist. I know that all of the negativity in my life has come from outside sources. I am alive. I am breathing. And each time I touch a soccer ball I come to life and see all of the vast opportunities in front of me.
Soccer: My Life, My Game
I started playing soccer when I was 7-years-old after my parents told me I could not play hockey. I saw kids playing one day, and thought, "Hey, that looks like fun!" Plus, soccer pretty much is hockey positionally, but without the ice, with a larger surface-playing area, and with the use of feet and a ball instead of a stick and a puck. Thus the reason why so many hockey players also play soccer. I was a natural. I scored goals upon goals in the AYSO (American Soccer Soccer Organization) league. I didn't realize at the time what a huge influence soccer would play in my life and how it would guide me through all of life's journeys: to My Destiny.
After a couple of years of playing AYSO, I joined a club team named La Forza in our local area. The teams I played for were okay, but I often got frustrated as I was used as a goalkeeper because of my strong athletic ability. I wanted to play up front and do what I loved to do: score goals. Up until high school age, I struggled with accepting that I was on this club team, and as the youngest of six children, my parents could not afford, nor did they have the time, to take me to a metropolitan area to get on a better club team. I often fought this with spite at those young ages, but I pushed through, and by the time high school came, I had my driver's license. So I found a club team in Ann Arbor, Michigan and played for them. The soccer was better, but I was so behind in technique and tactical skills that were not taught to me, nor developed, during my younger ages. During this time, two coaches came into my life who helped me tremendously. Their names are John and Judy Trecha. I worked with them during any available time I had in my schedule. I dedicated my time and my life to getting better. I focused my life on the game. They opened my eyes and helped me improve in so many of my soccer skills and abilities. They believed in me. In fact, Judy strongly encouraged me to try out professionally once she heard U.S. women's pro soccer was making a comeback. She is my most influential soccer coach to this day, and I am so grateful for the faith she placed in me.
I continued working with John and Judy throughout college, and they helped me flourish back into a true goal scorer and leader on my Northern Michigan University (NMU) Wildcats team. At NMU I hold the all-time scoring and points' records. I thank my teammates and friends who helped me achieve this great accomplishment. Without them, it would not have been possible, and without them, we also, to this day, would not have had the best team that NMU ever produced in history. We broke many records individually and as a team. I am proud of them, and I am grateful for the player they helped me become.
Life In-Between and the Here and Now
Life has happened in-between my time from college to now. I took "jobs" because I was told it was what I "should do," and I had a fear of not being able to support myself financially. My siblings and I paid our way through college and life after. Quite honestly, trying to do what others have told me I should do, does not work. (Side note: I currently live with my parents rent-free, and I am grateful for this as my babysitting and dogsitting wages don't pay the bills. And let's just say that Sally Mae and I are not on good speaking terms.) Through all of this time I have continued to be an athlete and play soccer on whatever leagues are available to me--this includes driving 45 minutes to an hour away from my current living location to play on better-quality soccer teams in larger cities. I need more than this, though. I crave and miss competitive soccer! I want to be challenged by the best of the best. I want to be the best player I know I can be at my sport, and the only way to do this is to learn from the best players out there, playing professionally.
So here I am. With this dream. My soccer dream I have had since I was a little girl. No longer filled with the negative self-talk and no longer affected by the negative people who always have an excuse to say why someone "cannot." I am doing what I love this time around. Perhaps clichÃ© to say, but we get this one life, this one body, to create a beautiful story that is our OWN. No one can take this away from us. No one. They may try to drag us through the dirt, but they can never kill our spirit. I love myself and soccer more than enough to go for this. SO I AM!
Thank you for your monetary donation. I am so grateful to have you in my life--all of you who believe in me and believed in me even when I could not believe in myself--in my darkest hours. Every person I have crossed paths with in my life, negatively or positively, has taught me valuable lessons to make me who I am today.
You are contributing more than money. You are contributing to a dream, a life-long goal, a story that is blossoming into creation!
THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
-Watch Goal!, the movie, directed by Danny Cannon
-Also, watch this video about U.S. Olympian and World Champion, Evelyn Stevens, Why We Play: http://youtu.be/xkqN-10EBnw
A very generous "thank you" to Jamie, Liz, and Amy who hosted me in Boston! And also a big "thank you" to Liz, my sister-in-law's sister, who also hosted me during my travels (...and who is also letting me stay with her again for this weekend's tryout). THANK YOU!
This quote was posted on Facebook by dear friend, Tami, this past weekend. I saw it shortly after the Boston Breakers tryout where and when I was disappointed. Before I get to this explanation, I want to reflect on these words.
Too often we believe that the little, or big, things we do in life only hold meaning to us and not others. And even when they do hold meaning to us, we often take for granted how significant these little things help influence others to be their better or best selves. Of course I "liked" and commented on this post when I saw it. I shared that "...each one of us is living someone else's bigger dream that he or she aspires to become. This helps me be grateful. To think that we can each inspire each other in the smallest of ways is amazing to me." I often think about meaning in life like this--the full picture. It helps me not be disappointed with outcomes when I initially might feel as if they are "pointless" or "failures."
Right now in the world someone is wishing that they could have food to eat, a bed to rest in, a mother for comfort, legs to walk, a formal education, clean water to drink, the ability to be Heard, life without war or slavery, a successful acting career, vision to see, proper health insurance, etc. These are all blessings, and someone, right now, somewhere, aspires to be the person someone else is. This is not to say that we should lose the essence of who we are, but we are inspired by those who strive for what they want or have what we need. This is also why we need the dreamers of the world.
It would have been easy for me to say and think that "I'm not going to try for professional soccer because it won't happen." In fact, this was one of my "can't's" before I decided I was going to commit to this dream with "I can." What a crappy way of thinking and living life. Could you imagine if this was/is the attitude we always carried? Life would be meaningless, devoid of color and purpose--which often is the case for depressed and anxious people. There would be no great works of art, no films to be watched, no explorations, no discoveries to be made... Yuck.
I really need(ed) to focus on this perspective this week. It has been hard for me to "stay present" as I fly out tomorrow for one more tryout with Sky Blue FC on Friday. These last few weeks have been exhausting with the travel, play, and mental roadblocks along the way. And trying to keep my healthy eating on track has also been challenging. But it has all been worth it. If you would have told me a year ago, when I was unhappy in another job and starting to date someone who was not suited for me, that I would be trying out for professional soccer (finally! :) ), I would have, one, not believed you, and two, been so full of angst. But I guess this is the blessing in life. We are not supposed to know about the future. Rather, we set goals, stay focused, stay present, and chip away at the parts of life we know we can change. It always starts with our perspective and thought. If we are clouded by negativity or are around those who cloud us with negativity, this must change. Be confident and positive (...and around those who are positive), and I promise, things will change--the people we meet, the stories/ideas we share, our expectations, our goals. This does not mean it is easy, but it is worth it. Believe in the full picture.
The Portland Thorns FC tryout has been the best tryout by far in the four tryouts. The coaching staff is amazing. They were prepared and ran the tryout as if it was a team practice focusing on possession play and styles of attack. It helped that there were also only 18 girls at this tryout. The head coach, Paul Riley, is a very honest guy and sat us down after day 1 to talk about the franchise and let us ask questions about the league and team. He also let us share a few jokes. :) He is honest and has sincere passion for the game. He expects a lot from his players, and this shows. Because he expects this, he gets the best from his players.
I introduced myself to Paul and the coaching staff when I first walked into the field facility because I wanted him/them to know my name. He was very good about remembering all of our names. In this tryout, I played with another forward who was also at the Western New York Flash tryout. Her name is Anisa, and we connect very well on the field so I was happy to play with her again. She will also be at the tryout this weekend in New Jersey. Looking forward to playing with her this weekend--hoping there isn't a larger number of girls there.
Overall, I loved the Thorns tryout. I was tested and made to think quickly like any good practice should go so these skills/tactics come as second nature in games. Also, all of the girls were very skilled and positive motivators. Playing with positive people makes for a far better tryout than being around negative people. Positive people uplift the whole group and help each other along the way. Unfortunately, I did not make it to preseason--the coaching staff informed us of this last Friday via email. If there was a team I would have liked to try for and enjoyed the most, it is definitely the Portland Thorns.(Granted, I have one more tryout so I won't speak too soon.) I wish them all the best, and I am so appreciative to their coaching staff for putting on an excellent tryout. No doubt that they are up for a stellar season.
Finally, a little, but not a lot, about the Boston Breakers tryout that was held on Saturday and was my last tryout on my long road trip. This was definitely my least favorite tryout of all. With about 70 girls in attendance, there was once again a large gap in skill level, somewhat like the Houston tryout, but I did not enjoy this tryout, nor did I think the quality of play was good. There were skilled players here again, some of which I remember playing with from the other tryouts, but this tryout was unorganized and lacked leadership. Of course my viewpoint may be somewhat biased because we were split up positionally to warm-up, but I truly feel that the staff was not prepared. After warming up we played 8 v. 8 and then 7 v. 7.
I could have made a case to why I should play later that day when they made the cut down to 18 girls, but I didn't want/to. This tryout and team did not feel right to me, and I trust this, especially by observation and experience.
On the upside, I did get to meet Paul Wahlberg at his popular restaurant, Wahlburgers, shortly after the tryout! Paul is the brother to actor/producer, Mark Wahlberg, and singer/actor/producer, Donnie Wahlberg. There is also a new show about the restaurant, Wahlburgers, on the A&E channel. This is how I knew about the restaurant. Paul is very nice and genuine, and his restaurant is great! Thank you greeting and taking a picture with my friends and me. :)
So as I struggle with "staying present" this week with over 30 hours of driving last week and a tryout I was not thrilled to end the week with, this brings me back to what I am good at. I am good at seeing the positive and good in people and situations. I am good at understanding that, so far, these teams were not in God's plan or the full picture. They were/are part of the picture, and definitely are helping me to become wiser and shaping me into the person I'm becoming (I am), but they are not all of me. It is normal for me to feel disappointed and let down when I don't make a team's preseason, but I do not need to let this stop my determination or my dreams. There are always many avenues in life to help us fulfill our dreams, and if we pay attention, and don't resist our calling, destiny will open itself to us, lovingly and graciously.
So as my wise and dear friend, Tami, hash-tagged after the opening quote she posted, #herestopassion.
This past week was stressful. I had to spend all day and most of the night in airports last Monday, come home to prepare for this week-long road trip, (Last week I was still filling in the gaps for where I was going to stay overnight during this journey, which has all worked out--thank goodness!), and I had to get my workouts in--so it was a busy week! I do think I made it more stressful than it needed to be, and thank those who had to put up with my crankiness/tiredness. :/ All of this stress ties into one theme I have been thinking a lot about lately, which is "control" or lack there of (...of outside events or circumstances).
As my early-morning flight was delayed last Monday, I was disappointed because I knew I'd probably miss my connecting flight in Minneapolis-St. Paul. But when it comes to flying, I know that customers, as well as airline employees, have no control over the weather or what the planes are capable of doing in bad weather to make their employers make the decision to delay flights. "It is what it is," in these type of situations. I continued to watch one after another of angry or frustrated customers approach the airline employee at the desk, and I kept thinking, "What are you trying to accomplish? There is nothing he or you can do. It is what it is. And we cannot control mother nature or the lovely weather she blessed us with this winter." Delays, especially during winter, come with air travel. Period.
After thinking this, I didn't know that this would also be a precursor to the frustrating day I had ahead of me. I smirked at the people making a big deal out of the delayed flight thinking that I would be able to make my connecting flight--until we sat on the runway for 30 minutes to put us more behind schedule. This still didn't really bother me, but I knew that I would not make my connecting flight in Minnesota. When we landed, I immediately booked my ticket back to Flint for a flight that would depart nine hours later. This was somewhat frustrating, but again, I thought, "It's air travel. Ah well. I won't get to work out today like I expected to."
Well, things got messy when I changed my flight for an earlier takeoff time to fly into Detroit instead. I spoke to the Delta representative about transporting my checked bag to this other flight, and she said she could. I know that transferring bags like this is not guaranteed in air travel, and I really don't know how much of an effort the airline staff makes to transfer bags when connecting flights are changed. I waited around patiently for the 4 p.m. departure time, and off we went to Detroit. Because I changed my flight to the earlier arrival time in Detroit, my expected ride from the airport home did not show. I was very frustrated at this point, and I began to break down like some of the air travelers I had seen earlier in the morning that day. On top of it all, my bag was not on this flight. It would come three hours later that night. I was tired, hungry, wanted to work out, and hey, another snow storm was in the works outside.
After these unexpected events, I went to a corner in the baggage claim area, plugged in my dying phone, and began to cry.
I had no control over what was happening to me that day, but I let it get to me. I was tired and frustrated. I broke down.
My sister thankfully came to get me so I would't be stuck in the airport all night, and we finally arrived home at 3 a.m. the next day. I was pooped. And although I wanted to get a good morning workout in, I opted to sleep in instead. I knew that the recovery sleep from that long, frustrating day was more important than forcing myself to wake up with very little sleep to most likely have a "bad" morning workout.
Just as I had no control over this situation, I try to apply this philosophy to my life. To let go of what I cannot control. When I finally made the decision to try out professionally for soccer, facing my deepest fears and anxieties, I said: "What will be will be. If I'm meant to play professional soccer, it will happen. But I must work hard and put in the preparation to do so," which I have done. This is where the meaning of "control" altars/differs. I do/did have control over my preparation for tryouts, and I know I have prepared to and beyond my perceived abilities--with my full heart, passion, courage, and strength--and no doubters can tell me I have not (I will get to this...). And I do not feel the need to prove my preparation, even though I keep a log of everything. I do not need to prove anything to the people who question or doubt me. Although, I know that I am in control of my thoughts, and I can choose NOT to take in the negative thinking/speaking from others, as well as the choice NOT to compare myself to others (i.e., to what I am doing "right" or"wrong" in this worthwhile, but trying, journey).
(The one disadvantage I do have in all of this is that I cannot compare this level of play with anything I have at home. So therefore when it comes to preparation for playing with top-level socccer athletes, I cannot from home. Outside of my strength and cardio workouts, I work on my ball touches, my shooting, and my movement, but there is no comparison to skill level of play and intensity in the rec leagues that are only available in and around traveling distance from my home.)
And now how this all applies to the Houston Dash and Western New York Flash tryouts... :)
The Houston Dash tryout was an awesome experience. I have not played that competitively in a while. In fact, I don't know if I have ever had the opportunity to play that competitively. All of the girls I played with have one thing in common with me: passion and love for soccer. (Sure, there were some players there that were there to say, "I tried out for professional soccer"--not to imply that they love the sport any less--but had the understanding that the tryout was the goal, whereas for me and others, making the/a team is the Goal.) Also, because this is the Flash's inaugural season, there was a lot of publicity tied into the tryout.
In 75-degree weather, I played well. We started playing small-sided games of 7 v. 7, then 9 v. 9, and at the end, 3 20-minute full-sided games (11 v. 11). With my strength training, I notice a huge difference playing at this level. I don't fatigue as quickly, and I also notice my my muscle recovery. In other words, of course I'm sore after playing soccer for 2-4 hours, but I notice how my muscles don't ache the days following.
I was not invited to play the second day of the Houston Dash tryout, but I did not take offense to this and was very happy with my performance. This is not in my "control." I did my best, got a goal in our full-sided game, and I very much do believe that I "deserved"/showed I could make it to the second day. Of course there is always politics to choosing who moves on in these things, and there always will be, but I took away from it what I needed to, and it was great practice for my next tryout with the Flash.
My tryout with the Flash went even better. This time around there was only about 35 very skilled girls here, which made the competition and play even better. I am simply amazed by the training/coaching program the Flash have in place for their professional, amateur, and youth players/teams. The teams are all tied in together, therefore the youth players are getting trained and coached by some of the best professional coaches in the NWSL. So bravo to you, Flash. I applaud your coaching program and how you develop top-level players. The Flash were league champions in the inaugural season of the NWSL last year, and also won WPS and W-League championships in the years before.
I know I played very well and with heart as usual, and I had a lot of fun again playing with skilled players, but I did not score the go