I was initially drawn to the sport of soccer because my brother played. From there, it was clear very early on that I had potential. Of course, I enjoyed the sport, loved to win, hated to lose, aspired to score goals, and was determined to standout. I was driven and motivated by my individual performance. My mood was dictated by how well I thought I played, and how well my dad believed I performed–even from the young age of five. His affirmation meant the world to me. When it was good, I was high. When it was bad, I was at a very low. This mentality became a focal point in my journey as an athlete.
I was a freshman in college at Michigan State University, and I was consistently in the starting lineup. I understood that my position was demanding and involved a lot of running. But, what I didn’t understand was being substituted out of the game. It was engrained in my mind that if I played well, I stayed on the field; and, alternatively, if I was not performing to the standard in which I was expected, I got subbed out. So, it didn’t matter the score, the lineup, how my teammates were playing, the opponent, or the timing of the game, if I was substituted out, I couldn’t help but put my head down, drop my shoulders, and sit on the bench in frustration.
That is an understatement. When I was pulled out of a game, I beat myself up. I sat there anxiously waiting to hear my name called to re enter. Even worse, I sat on the sidelines and secretly hoped that the player who was put in for me didn’t do as well as I did. I, for one, wanted to get back on the field. And, two, I feared being outplayed, and replaced in the starting lineup. Did you read what I just said? Yes. I participated in a TEAM sport, and all I focused on was me as an individual. My performance, my statistics, and my minutes played.
It was a Sunday afternoon game my freshman season. We were playing Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. I started the game, played the first twenty minutes of the first half, and then was subbed out. At halftime, my coach announced the lineup for the second half, and I was not named. Trying my best to hold back tears, my eyes welled up, and I was angry. The score was tied 1-1. Why had I lost that spot that particular day? I sat on the bench the entire second half before the game went into overtime. Again, my name was not called to play. In double overtime, my teammate scored off a free kick to win the game, and everyone ran on the field to celebrate in genuine joy and happiness. Everyone except for me.
Becoming a coach opened up my eyes tremendously to lineups, momentum, and certain combinations clicking. When something was going well in a game, why change it? But, unfortunately, as a player, I was blinded by these concepts. Instead of being happy for my teammate who was playing well in my position that day, for my teammate who scored, and for my team who won, I pouted and cried. My body language screamed selfishness. Again, my mood was dictated by how well I believed I performed. And, sitting on the bench meant it was not well.
I was the player that Coach Geno Auriemma is referring to in his press conference that has gone viral. I was the player he is shaking his head at; not recruiting; and definitely not playing. I was the player making sure that my assists were recorded on the stat sheet. And, finally, I was the player who looked out into the stands for assurance from my dad. Looking back to when I started playing soccer for the pure enjoyment of the sport, the camaraderie, and for the competition, I get sad. What changed? Why did my focus become my personal achievements? Why wasn’t I able to see the big picture instead of just ME?
This endless pressure I placed on myself led to the development of an eating disorder. I felt I didn’t have control of my playing time, whether or not I started, or how well my teammates performed. So, I instinctively turned to food, diet, and exercise. It wasn’t until I battled and overcame this imposing disorder that my eyes opened, and I gained clarity. And, the importance of being a team player. As much as it’s sad that this individual pressure led to a health issue; I am grateful I was able to play my final two collegiate seasons in true form. I finally “got it.”
Coach Geno, you are an exceptional coach for teaching your players the importance of synergy and selflessness. Truthfully, that is probably one of the biggest reasons you are consistently at the top. You’re right. Players like me got away with it. And players like me held back a team from reaching its greatest potential. Trust me. I am not proud of that particular aspect of myself as a player. But, I am proud now to use my mistakes to help others see clarity when it comes to being a team player, and to understand the benefits that come along with it.