Six years ago I jumped on a plane and made my way down to sunny South Florida. When I moved, I virtually knew no one in the area. I graduated college early and took a chance on one of the prettiest places I had ever seen. Fort Lauderdale was exciting for me. New place, new opportunity. It was a blank slate to create whatever life I wanted to lead.
Very quickly I realized, making friends and finding your way as an adult is a bit different than when you’re growing up or in school. It took me months to connect with people on more than just a surface level. When I was feeling more alone than ever, I turned to one thing that never let me down: soccer. I wasn’t finding what I needed from the people I was interacting with and didn’t know where exactly to turn, so I reached out to a local soccer club and started coaching a U-9 girls team.
Just like juggling a ball, the flow and cadence of the game rushed right back to me. The routine and discipline that comes from practices, training and thinking about the game wrapped me up like a big hug and made me feel more at home. I’m sure coaching those girls gave me a lot more than it gave them.
Soccer and I have a long transformative relationship. Ever since I can remember, soccer has been in my life. Back to the first team I was on in the outskirts of Pittsburgh where I wore an extremely oversized mustard uni with obnoxious red shorts even though everyone else was wearing back (thanks Mom & Dad), I had been playing soccer. Ironically, around the same age of the girls I was coaching, 9/10 was the age I decided I would play soccer in college. This was the first real goal I had ever set for myself and I wouldn’t be stopped until I reached that goal.
When I went on to play soccer at High Point University (go Panthers!) I knew very well that I was not the most talented or technical player on the squad. But I also knew for damn sure I would work the hardest. I trained to be the strongest and fastest I could be so I would have a base that wouldn’t let me be outworked. As time went on, the game served me in many different ways, but never how I expected.
As many former college athletes do, I felt burned out. Injuries and frustrations led me to leave the team before I graduated, but I very consciously kept the lessons and core meaning of the game close to me. All the lessons I hoped to pass on to the girls I was coaching when I first moved to South Florida are the same lessons I use in my everyday life. The game made me who I am today and I am forever grateful for that.
I think about that U-9 team often. Whenever I am not on the top of my game personally, I think back to those smiles, the growth they made, blissfully knocking the ball around, joy across their faces, and realize...I had a hand in that. I made an impact on their lives and one day, if not already, they will pass that along to others.