There has been one decision in my life that has drastically altered the course of my existence. It was a choice I thought when I first made it, I would live to regret for the rest of my life. I was sitting next to my parents some 4 odd years ago, looking down at a piece of paper that was in front of me. This piece of parchment was littered with sentences I could hardly understand or interpret at the time, but what I did comprehend were 2 very simple words, “Athletes Signature”. I sat utterly terrified as I picked up the pen and began to sign my life away, or so I thought. Pictures were taken, hands were shaken and I was still in disbelief I was about to become a college soccer player. What happened next over the following 8 semesters would alter my perception of reality so significantly I would leave college a changed man. Choosing to play college soccer was one of the greatest decisions of my life. Now let me tell you why.
Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or something in between, college can be a difficult place to fit in. You have thousands of young testosterone ridden individuals tightly compressed into an undersized campus, with an unlimited amount of freedom and an abundance of drugs and alcohol. For the average college student it can sometimes be overwhelming to make new friends in such a chaotic environment. I was fortunate I did not have to endure the formidable task of making new friends my freshman year. My friends were in essence already chosen for me the exact same moment I signed on National College Decision Day.
When you commit to a college to play soccer or any sport for that matter, you’ve automatically created a band of brothers that will literally go through thick and thin with you. No matter the situation, no matter how much trouble you may be in, you’ll have a group of people that will support you at all costs. I remember my freshman year a bunch of the seniors went out to a bar 2 days before a game when our coach specifically told the lads not to go out. Of course coach finds out (like a coach always does) that a half dozen of the guys drank before the match. He also somehow managed to uncover a few of the freshman also went out. I kid you not, we did 70+ full field runs a day before a match because no one would snitch on who the underage drinkers were. You’re not just going to school, living in a dorm, and playing soccer with teammates; you’re grinding day in and day out with a family.
The comradery that comes from playing college soccer is undeniably one of the best feelings you will experience in your 4 years. Having said that, playing soccer at the next level takes a serious amount of work ethic, focus, and sheer determination. Let me take you through the average day of a college soccer player.
This is a brief example of what my freshman schedule looked like when I attended the University of Memphis. Normally you’ll be required to attend study hall your first few semesters of college. Study hall is essentially a set amount of time you need to be in a proctored location doing homework. Depending on your major, and your academic standards, freshman year is full of easy classes and you absolutely have nothing to stress over. During my first semester of college I was extremely worried I wouldn’t be able to balance both school and soccer. Let me be honest with you, freshman year at most colleges is easier than the work you were doing when you were a senior in high school. You can usually study for less than 1 hour a day and still achieve satisfactory grades. It’s not until your junior year when you begin to take your major classes that you need to start focusing less on soccer and more on school.
After class would finish in the morning we would practice in the afternoon, pending what time the women’s team trained (majority of college men’s and women’s soccer teams share a field). Normally we would lift in the gym as a team at least twice a week before we practiced on the field. Our sessions in the gym ranged from explosive and dynamic, to static and stationary depending on when our next game was scheduled for.
From the moment pre-season kicks off in August, to when the last whistle sounds in December, your schedule is riddled with nonstop activities. Time management is one of the biggest skills you will learn to master whether you complete your education or not. I was a stickler for procrastination in high school and it never failed to amaze me how much work I would have to complete the day assignments were due. I eventually completed all my tasks and goals for the day, but you don’t want to have that kind of pressure in college. Staying up all night to complete a midterm paper is not conducive toward athletic excellence on the pitch. Finding the balance between athletics and academics is one of the most valuable skills I acquired while attending college.
When I was a kid I always rejected back up plans as I felt like they distracted me from my main goal. I hated thinking about what could happen and instead focused my attention on what was happening. However, you can only live so long in the present moment before the past starts to catch up to you. My parents always instilled upon me that soccer will eventually come to an end and I would need the fundamental skills off the field in order to succeed in life.
Flash back 4 years ago and you would be talking to a kid who had little knowledge of any subject outside the realm of soccer. I knew nothing about the economy, starting a business, speaking in public, taxes, or building websites. The only thing I had going for me in life was soccer. I disregarded any possibility my athletic career would end earlier than expected. I rejected the idea I would not be good enough to play professionally or succumb to a major injury. In essence, I thought I was invincible. But after tearing my hamstring, and having 2 knee surgeries in college, I’m now starting to see the benefits of have a degree.
You can live ignorant to the truths of this world your entire life and go about your daily routines undisturbed for the majority of your existence. However, you’ll eventually realize, whether today or many years from now, that this world is not all flowers and fairytales. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you’re not prepared. College allowed me to see the world from a perspective I thought I would never have the privilege of seeing in my lifetime. It taught me how to conduct myself in a professional manner outside of the pitch and for that I am forever grateful. Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.