I smile and sign autographs no matter what. Most fans don’t seem to care much if we won or lost. They don’t know if I had the game of my life or a complete shocker. They say, “Great game! You were awesome!” Sometimes they even tell me I was wonderful when I didn’t play a single minute. I thank them whether I feel on top of the world or have a lump of disappointment in my throat.
What the fans don’t know is that sometimes after a bad day at the proverbial office, I need them more than they need me. The 11-year-old with the Washington Spirit jersey doesn’t know how I feel as I smile and take a selfie with her. To that girl, I was already successful the second I stepped onto the field to warm up. She isn’t judging my every move or measuring me based on my personal goals.
If there’s one lesson playing professional soccer has taught me, it is to redefine my notion of success. Success is relative, subjective, and often very abstract.
With the exception of the Seattle Reign, most National Women’s Soccer League teams have embarked on a roller-coaster ride results-wise this season. As players, the majority of us come from winning programs. Whether with our youth clubs or college teams, we spent the first 20-plus years of our careers training a mentality of dominance, personally and with our teams. So for most of us, it’s mind-boggling to be fighting to stay above .500 or to be flirting with mediocrity in our performances.
Consequently, I have learned to define success not in the outcome but in the process. It has become about consistently moving forward — not necessarily checking a goal off my to-do list.
I try to turn my attention to more process-oriented thinking. Before I play, I make a personal script and fight to stick to that script. I identify what I need to do — where I should be receiving the ball, the angle I need to take to be able to go forward with my first touch, the technique I need to use to win balls in the air — and only give my attention to those objectives. I know exactly what I need to do to have a good game and I battle to make that happen.
It’s the same with my team. We go into every game with the aim of winning. But soccer is known to defy logic — sometimes you can do everything to prepare and the result still doesn’t go your way. The Washington Spirit has gotten points in our last three games, which is a club record, and obviously a streak we strive to continue. It’s a constant fight for consistency, however. As we scrap to grind out results, put together complete performances, and find the perfect system and player combinations to be successful, our focus is on being better every day.
In the movie “The Amazing Spider Man 2,” a character says, “What makes life valuable is that it doesn’t last forever, what makes it precious is that it ends.” Similarly, what makes success sweet is to have battled through defeat and persevered. What makes personal victory rewarding is that it comes through fighting to create new habits and perfect certain skills. What makes us confident is that we’ve known doubt and decided to ignore it.
I no longer question why those fans feel the way they do no matter what kind of game it’s been. I graciously accept the praise and know that the 11-year-old me would be proud of who I am today. It is all the aspects of the process that I attend to that make me successful, not any one goal I have or have not yet achieved.