Alright, soccer weekend is over. For those of you that I’m friends with on social media… I apologize. You’re probably sick of seeing soccer posts and pictures and me reliving my glory days through old memories.
But… if you’re an athlete, or if you’ve ever been a part of something bigger than yourself besides athletics, you likely understand the urge to share with anyone who will listen how that thing made an impact on your life.
I’m going to share a bit of my story with you guys. And how something as simple as kicking a ball around made a profound impact on my life.
For me, soccer was so much more than just a sport. Yes, enter all the cliches that come with this, but for real… there were so many things that playing this game did for me.
For me, soccer was my creativity. Playing sports was (and still is!) my art. It’s the place where I feel myself come alive. I feel like a kid running and messing around with reckless abandon. Nothing else seems to matter when I step onto a field. It’s like a huge playground.
Soccer was a way I could make my parents proud. Now, this point I could spend some significant time on.
I’ve always been a family girl. Growing up, although my parents were divorced and I lived with my mom, I’d see my dad every Tuesday night after school, and my brother and I would stay at his house every other weekend. On top of that, he came to almost every single sporting event of mine, from bowling league (yes I actually did that), to of course, my crazy soccer shenanigans and travel. It was awesome.
My mom was the exact same way, coming to all of my sporting events, even when I assured her that it “wasn’t necessary.” She’d make 8 hour trips up to the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula for you non-Michigan folks) to watch me play in one game…only to turn around and travel all the way home.
They’d show up at everything from a little 3 on 3 friendly tournament to games across the country… on multiple occasions in a year! Even my step-parents jumped on board for all of this (shout out to Mike & Sandy!).
My parents were relentless in their pursuit of showing up for me, and that is something I will absolutely cherish forever and something I can’t wait to do for my kids. Being able to look up in the stands and give my parents a wave (or a head nod when I was trying to play it cool) was a source of comfort and reassurance for me. Especially during big games when I knew that there was a lot on the line. Having a constant there gave me a sense of peace…but also excitement. These people are here to see me!
This past weekend I went and watched my alma matter, Grand Valley State University, compete for, and win, the National Championship. It brought back intense memories for me, watching some of the girls find their parents and embrace them after the game.
I remember finding my dad and my mom, hugging them so tightly and just savoring that moment, saying thank you. It was the last time they’d ever watch me compete competitively in a sport, so it was the end of a journey for them as well. And what better way to send them off and show them appreciation for all of their sacrifices than to come out on top as the best team in the nation. For me, that was the pinnacle of me making my parents proud.
My soccer team was my second family. The best thing about being on a team is that you are joining together with a bunch of people who otherwise you may have never come across in your lifetime.
These crazy people become your best friends and comrades. When you’re in the trenches together day in and day out, pushing each other to the limit during practice, cheering loudly for each other during the games, and picking each other up when things got rough…you forge some pretty amazing relationships. Both on the field and off.
Soccer was my constant when things in life were a little crazy.Life has its ebbs and flows, but through all of that, I knew that I would have practice every week and games every week. I knew I’d lace up my cleats 5-6 days out of the week year round.
Consistency equaled discipline for me. For those of you who know me… I’m pretty much a free spirit:) Without this consistent schedule the chances that I would have planned out my homework schedule, eating schedule, etc., would be pretty slim. I would have been a hot mess! I often joke that playing a college sport kept me out of trouble.
Soccer was my first real example of the success that can happen when you put the extra work in. I was obsessed with improving my game when I was in high school. I would do extra workouts, spend most of my free time at the soccer field practicing, and would soak up as much knowledge about the sport as I could. I wasn’t the most naturally gifted player. Natural athlete, yes, but skill wise, I had to work at it hard core. I wanted to play in college so bad I could taste it. Pretty sure my friends thought I was nuts!
Playing collegiate soccer at a high level was a dream come true. When I had the opportunity to join GVSU’s team as a walk-on midway through the year after leaving Cornerstone University, I could hardly believe it. I’ve shared this story with several of you, but I was shocked. I was the most nervous human being ever the month leading up to second semester before spring season started and worked out like a maniac so that I could come in on top of my game.
No way was I going to blow this chance!
I became a starter my first season with the team and I remember just looking around thinking…is this real life? I ran around the field like a crazy person that first game because my adrenaline was out of control!
I worked my way into a scholarship the following year.
I remember my senior year when we beat Saint Rose in double over time in the Final Four, just taking a moment to let it sink in during the celebration. I could not believe that I was getting this opportunity. God was (and is!) so good. I think I thanked my coach an obscene number of times throughout my career for giving me a chance, he probably got sick of hearing about it. (Sorry Dave:)
I thought at any moment the lights would come on and someone would be like… “just kidding Amber, jokes on you!” It was all just such a dream come true for me.
And then…it was over. Done. In a blink of an eye, the one thing I had poured my heart and soul into over the past 15 years to achieve greatness was over. I was an athlete, it was what defined me. If you asked me what I thought people thought of when my name came up… I’d say, “soccer player.” What else was there?
We talked about this idea of “what defines us” with my middle school Young Life girls last week. And as I reflect back on that now… I realize I was 100% guilty of defining myself with this thing.
In fact, I’d bet that most people think in those terms….”I’m a photographer.” “I’m a teacher.” “I’m the vice president of such and such company.”
We let these things ultimately define us. And I think that’s where we run into problems. Because what happens when those things are over, or taken away from us? Who are we then?
I think this is the thing that athletes and organizations don’t pay enough attention too or talk about when an athlete wraps up their career. There’s no transition period. One day you’re playing and a part of this huge amazing thing called a team where you have comrades and resources and consistency, and one day you’re not. And while it’s true that sports prepare you for real life…they are also super different, people! I wish it was socially acceptable to wear cleats and a jersey to the office and kick a ball around! Alas… it is not 🙂
So when the jersey is taken away and the crowds stop cheering, what’s supposed to happen next? Who am I?
I hit some rough patches after college, and while in no way do I want to make excuses for myself, as I reflect back, I think this loss of identity had something to do with it. I was trying to wade through life and figure out who I identified with now, where my consistency was, where I could practice my creativity. What dream could I possibly pursue next? What was I going to pour myself into to achieve greatness? What the heck was greatness in the real world?
AH! I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest every single time someone asked me, “So what are you going to do now that soccer is over? You’re going to have so much free time!” I realize now that that feeling was probably nervousness and fear. I had no clue.
If you’re an athlete whose just finished your career, or perhaps your someone who has poured your heart and soul into a project for years and now it’s finished, you know what this feels like. Or maybe you’ve just ended a relationship that you’ve been in for several years or you’ve been let go at a job that you’ve had most of your adult life…these things can be tough when they come to a halt!
Here are the words I wish someone would have shared with me at that moment.
You’re so much more than what you do.
What you do or have done is amazing, but don’t let that define you. When it’s all over, celebrate it and the accomplishments you’ve made, the relationships you’ve formed and the lessons you’ve learned. When things have settled down, continue the conversation with people, check-in with someone, get plugged in with something you think you may be interested in, or volunteer your time!
Continue to find ways to practice your creativity or the thing that made you love that sport or job. Just because something is done, doesn’t mean there isn’t room to practice that passion somewhere else.
It took me a little bit to figure this out. And by a little bit I mean, a called off wedding, a move across the country for a month, and an interesting job in the hospitality industry. I finally landed firmly on my feet a couple of years later and was able to come up for air. I started to rebuild myself and my relationships. I finally started rebuilding my identity, or rather, figuring out what was there all along. My passions and love for people and initiatives were what life was about…not a certain sport or accomplishment.
I thank God everyday for a family, friends and an amazing husband who have showed me that the things I’ve done, whether amazing or incredibly disappointing, don’t define me. Those are just experiences that have helped shaped who I am today. And I’m so appreciative for that!
And man… I’ve made some amazing friends during this journey. I have even better stories. (Which true teammates keep on the DL…or else 😉 )
Relationships matter. In the grand scheme of things, focus on that…not the job or task or external accomplishments…that doesn’t define you. No one will remember that in 25 years anyway. But they will remember who made an impact on their lives. I choose to focus on that these days.
LoKing, Eibles, Irie & me in Germany. 🙂