Sometimes my life feels like a maze. I continually come to a fork in the road and I am presented with a tough decision. My entire career, I have been faced with choices, and I have sometimes felt compelled to create paths that weren’t offered.
As a young player, it was the decision to play on an all-boys team, which girls team to join when playing with boys was no longer appropriate, and not to play for my high school team. Then, it was the agony of the college process. Little did I know, this was only the beginning. My path continues to surprise and amaze me. And while I would have loved a beginner-level maze to learn by, in which I made it safely to the finish line, being stuck right smack in the middle of the never-ending path has proved to be fulfilling and enlightening.
There’s an invigorating freedom as well as a maddening burden about being a free agent in women’s soccer, or likely any sport. You can enjoy the luxury of choosing where to play, and you control your situation — but you’re responsible for the outcome, whether it turns out great or leaves something to be desired.
I try to empower the young players to whom I speak to own their journey, so they can learn to negotiate their own maze. These are some of the points I live by, and use to guide others.
You decide how good you will be. Pia Sundhage, former coach of the United States women’s national team, once said, “Do not let a coach decide how good you will be.” This is some of the most valuable advice I have ever received. When I was 14, a coach at a youth national team event told me that I wasn’t athletic enough to play at that level. After tears and self-questioning, I knew deep down that coach would only be right if I believed he was right. So I set out to prove him wrong. Whether a coach thinks you are the best player on the team or sits you on the bench that is only one person’s opinion. As players, we can decide to accept these judgments or not. As a 14-year-old, I worked on my strength, speed and agility; I felt I was in control of how good I could become. I watched soccer and perfected techniques (and still do) to have an advantage over players who may have strengths I lack. Your fate — as well as the player you will become — can be in your hands if you decide it is.
“If you stay thinking too much about the past, you can’t grab the future,” the Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry said.
Once again, I’ve chosen to uproot my life and change teams. Last year, I came back from playing in Sweden with the intention of making Washington my home. Now, I will move to an area of the country to play for Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League, a move that seems nearly as foreign to me as Sweden — the Midwest. Believe me, I agonize over these types of decisions. But my motto is: Once you make up your mind, don’t look back.
When I pack up my car and venture to Missouri early next year, my challenge will be to let go of the past and be open to the future. I will do my best to enter my new home and adventure unburdened by the fears and expectations of past decisions. I’ve always admired the way Kansas City plays and I look forward to being reunited with some of my favorite people to play with. Plus, I already have some recommendations for the best places to eat in Kansas City!
Go with your gut. I make decisions that feel true to my goals and to who I am. When I considered where to play next year, I knew I would be content to stay and play for the Washington Spirit. But something about the Kansas City team excites me — the thought of playing for this team feels in line with my soccer values. Staying true to myself, and going with my gut, is the only compass I have with which to navigate my personal maze.
But do not be afraid to make yourself uncomfortable. Sometimes staying true to yourself and feeling comfortable don’t go together. You have to make what feels like the best decisions, even if they are difficult ones. I took part in my fair share of awkward social situations as the only girl on that boys’ team (an understatement--based on some jaw-dropping incidents). I was criticized for not playing high school soccer. I chose to play at the University of North Carolina, a program known for a style that emphasizes all my weaknesses as a player. These were difficult decisions.
I’ve learned that saying goodbye to the easy road is hard, but saying what-if? about the tough road is harder. Take chances, and leave no stone unturned.T
The maze you navigate might be a crazy one, but the more you realize it is yours to navigate, the more empowered you become. The uncertainty of constant decisions and change can be excruciating. But the adventures and discovery soccer gives you can make your life very full. Speaking for my own career, I have no regrets for the path I choose through this maze.
My next adventure takes me to Japan for the International Women’s Club Championship tournament as a guest player with the Arsenal Ladies team. Next week, I fly to London and meet the team to travel to Japan. I’m going with a new team to a country where I’ve never been, and I am excited to learn as much as possible from this new and challenging situation.
So, I make yet another turn in the maze.