A Letter to my Freshman Self: 4 Confessions from an Ex-Student-Athlete
Hey you. It’s me – just a few years down the line. You’re not a collegiate soccer player anymore. Your day doesn’t revolve around your next conditioning session, class or practice. In fact, it’s been over three years since you played your final game. Don’t worry, I won’t tell you everything that happens. I just want to give you some advice. The rest? That’s for you to play out yourself.
You’ll be glad to hear that you do a good job at being happy, despite a few years after soccer where it was harder to be happy than either of us ever expected, but I promise you’re still the same you. You still carry snacks with you everywhere because you’re always hungry. You still chew gum daily and chomp like a maniac when stressed; it’s just not in the middle of a conference playoff game anymore. You still wear your heart on your sleeve and take on whatever comes your way with that all-out sort of effort that landed you on the field as a division I college soccer player in the first place. You really are happy - I am happy - but Brooke, never feel bad during the times that you aren’t: it is so important you remember this. I know it may be hard to grasp such ideas since right now, I know you really can’t fathom a world without soccer, let alone “happiness” coinciding. Let me help.
1. You’re actually going to miss all the bruises, fitness tests, and (weirdly) those concussions.
Embrace it all. The beautiful, the ugly, the grand and the mundane. Every early morning strength session that leaves your legs feeling like cinder blocks. The one word response you give with a shrug of your shoulders when someone asks why you’re covered in bruises; “soccer,” you say. The post repeat-400-meter nausea you feel in the middle of June as you train for your fitness test while your friends are at the pool. Brooke, don’t be afraid after the practice you and a teammate knock skulls - I know you won’t be able to remember your roommates’ names for a few hours and you’ll have to sit out for a few weeks, but your gnarly black eye will make your teammates laugh and remind you you are strong. Soak up the struggle. You’ll miss every difficult detail and the larger purpose each challenge represents.
2. Get ready for the inevitable “in-between.”
Weeks, months later, after the graduation photos where you’ll proudly don that “Student Athlete” shall across your shoulders, when the reality of what you’ve said goodbye to starts to set in, you’re going to feel alone. You won’t have your teammates and coaches around every day anymore. The thing you’ve been living and breathing the past twenty-two years is now someone else’s. You’ll keep seeking the same high you felt on the field on game day with the number twelve across on your chest, braid down your back, Nikes on your feet, but for awhile, you won’t be able to find it. This is the messy, puttering-around-in-the-dark part. It’s still hard for me to think about, because Brooke sometimes it will be so hard - but I don’t want that to scare you, because it is also a necessary part of this journey. Keep pushing. You still have purpose! It’s just going to take time to reconstruct it and mold it around a bit. You’ll find that confidence again, always remember that, in new ways, and it will feel different. But different isn’t bad.
3. These crazy, hooligan teammates? They’re going to teach you a HELL OF A LOT about love.
They’re not just teammates. This exhausting, fulfilling, sometimes heartbreaking, incredibly sweaty four years of college soccer journey you’re on together will bind you as family. They’re showing you what true loyalty and love looks like. You’re going to pattern future relationships off of them so you can have somebody’s back as surely as they have yours and sacrifice your personal desires for another’s like they did you. Even though you’re a terrible dancer and feel super self-conscious – jump in and dance along during those pre-game locker room parties. These girls love you for who you are – terrible white-girl moves and all.
4. You’re more ready for this next level of competition (aka the “Real World”) than you think.
You may feel like your resume is lacking a little, because being a student-athlete requires more hours of work than a full-time job and you don’t have time for much else. However, you’re honing habits that will set you up for success. Your time management skills, ability to thrive under pressure, commitment to preparation and openness to critique will translate to all areas of your life. The same drive that earned you all-conference honors on your collegiate soccer team – the self-motivation to put in blood, sweat and tears when nobody was looking – it’s still there, inside you. It won’t disappear the second you step off the field for the final time. You just need to get to know yourself better to know how and where to redirect it, and that will come. You’re a rare breed. You have inherent qualities that set you apart from others, even outside of the sport you played.
Brooke, buckle in, and don’t blink even once. These beautiful, glorious four years of college soccer are the start of the rest of your crazy, messy, wonderful life. It’s okay to not feel okay all the time. Sometimes, even now, I still don’t feel okay. There will be days where you’ll ache to have this back. But stronger than the ache is the deep, warm gratitude you’ll feel to have been one of the lucky ones to experience it at all.