From the time I was a little girl, I always dreamed of playing soccer at the highest level. Of course, playing for the United States Women’s National Team in the Olympics or World Cup is a dream for most young athletes. Other than that, the absence of a women’s professional soccer league during my childhood made college soccer the pinnacle of success. So from the very beginning, I aspired to one day receive a college scholarship to play soccer and represent a prominant university.
At the age of 13, my middle school English teacher assigned us a task one day. She had each student write a letter addressed to him/herself. The assignment entailed journaling our hopes, dreams, and goals we aspire to accomplish by the end of high school graduation. She expressed that she would keep these letters in enclosed envelopes and mail them back to us following high school graduation. The significance was to note the accuracy of what we foreshadowed, and any unexpected changes. In my letter to myself, I wrote, “I hope to get a soccer scholarship to play at a Big Ten college.”
It is without hesitation to say that almost EVERY young athlete dreams of receiving a scholarship to college; to perform on, for most, the final stage of his/her sports career. That all the training, practice, and dedication has paid off, and the reward has been reached. However, in a recent article by www.ncaa.org, Probability of competing in sports beyond high school, it is evident that this dream is desired by many, but achieved by few. As stated in this article, “of the nearly eight million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 460,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools.” In a table listing the percentages, of 374,564 high school students, only 7.0% go on to play NCAA sports, with only 2.4% competing in NCAA Division I. This truly is a tiny fraction. So what makes these 460,000 individuals unique and special? What makes each of these college athletes different for the general population? Is it personality? Skill? Pure athleticism? Commitment and time?
Through my experiences, I led a very distinctive life growing up compared to my peers in school. I spent every single weekend traveling, not just 30 minutes down the road, but hours away for a single soccer game. My team was comprised of players who traveled three nights a week to practice, some of which lived over 2 1/2 hours away from the complex. We competed in several out-of-state tournaments, requiring us to miss birthday parties, social events, and even our high school’s homecoming. Whatever it was, I felt I was out-of-town the majority of the time. But, this was a sacrifice I did not think twice about if it meant reaching my ultimate goal.
I was different than most of my friends. On a Saturday night, I would be out at the local soccer field being trained by my father. Oh, not just on a Saturday night; any night that organized practice was not in place. If we were not at the soccer fields, we were at the track running sprints. I loved training, and being coached by my father, but it was not easy. There were many nights we would be screaming at each other because he set a rule that I needed to “chip the ball into his hands from 30 yards away, 10 times in a row, with both feet!!” A lot of the time, I did question whether I would rather be out with my peers seeing a movie or getting 7-11 slurpees rather than training intensely. But, again, I believed this unrivaled commitment to reach my dream did indeed make me ‘different’ than nearly eight million other students.
On March 30, 2001, I was offered a 5-year full-ride soccer scholarship to Michigan State University. Though it was a culmination of the time, effort, and commitment I had put in over the years, the idea of representing a Big Ten university and fulfilling the expectations that came along with this immense offer became far too demanding and overwhelming.
The extraordinary honor. The pressures. The expectations.