After developing, battling, and overcoming an eating disorder as a collegiate athlete, I learned an incredible amount not only about myself, but of the prevalent issue that so many of us struggle. I believed my success in recovering was possible because of the incredible support system I had within the Michigan State athletic department; stemming from the administration, to the medical staff, to strength and conditioning personnel, and then to my very own coaches. After such a tumultuous event in my life, my dreams became clear, and I knew there was only one career I desired to pursue: and that was coaching.
My coaches set a phenomenal example for me, and as a result of their efforts to help me regain my health, strength, and soccer abilities back, I felt inspired to follow in their footsteps; to reach student-athletes, influence them in positive ways, and contribute to their development as people. The way they were able to connect with me was by exposing their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses; to show me they have had to overcome obstacles in their own personal lives. I felt accepted, taken care of, and, most importantly, loved. And, that was exactly what I aspired to do in my coaching experiences… But, I wasn’t as successful at it to my players as they had been to me.
I was twenty-two years old when I was hired as an assistant coach at Towson University. I had only been out of the college game one year; and that was spent as an undergraduate assistant at my alma mater, Michigan State University. On my interview at Towson, I had the opportunity to meet and sit down with several of the players throughout the day. One of them, based on my research, was older than me. At lunch, she looked me in the eyes, and asked, “How old are you?” and I lied. I so nervously responded, “Twenty-three.” This was definitely not the start I had imagined in developing trusting relationships with players. She knew I lied. The fact that she even gave me a chance when I took the job as assistant coach was a miracle. And, I am forever grateful. But, to this day, that has been one of my biggest regrets.
At an age so close to my players when I first began, I felt like I needed to appear older, more mature and sophisticated, and indestructible. I believed if I exposed any weaknesses or imperfections, I wouldn’t be respected, or considered a suitable coach. Therefore, I did my best to reflect toughness, strength, and invincibility to my players. I began communicating in harsher, more inconsiderate ways. Rather than allowing myself to embrace their emotions which I had set out to do, I created this persona that appeared intimidating to some, and unapproachable to others.
While it was not my intention, nor my mission, I felt that if I ever shared my personal troubles, such as developing an eating disorder when I was in their shoes as a college athlete, that I wouldn’t be admired, respected, or qualified. And my fear of not being highly regarded as their coach overshadowed my wish to expose my weaknesses and connect with them as people. My biggest regret, even being a young collegiate coach, was not exposing my vulnerabilities to my players like my coaches had done to me. In the end, it was that warmth that enabled and created such an incredibly long lasting, special relationship that I still cherish with my college coaches.
To my players who never knew the struggles I endured, please know, I apologize for not sharing these things with you at the time. If I could go back in time, I would do things differently. I have made and will continue to make mistakes in life, but my hope is that I learn from them, and become a better person as a result. Each one of you has touched me more than you will ever know, and you are a part of my story that will continue to evolve. So thank you.