My whole life I have seen myself as an athlete. From the days that I can remember to the days that I live today, it has always been as an athlete. Playing it for so long is something that has defined the person that I am today.
In this blog post, I will talk about the life after Division 1 athletics and things that hinder the growth of many college soccer players around the nation that lead to giving up on the sport.
Being an athlete particularly a soccer player was easy because not only did I love playing but I always was pretty good at it. What I didn’t plan for was what would happen to my identify if I didn’t play soccer anymore.
In high school, soccer became more important to my identity than ever. Being a freshman, I played soccer and ran track as well.
All the way to my senior year, I was recruited to play Division 1 soccer. All the hard work I had put had finally been paid off. The whole time I would play, the thought of being able to play Division 1 soccer was the whole goal.
Everyone on my club team strived for the same goal…..to play at the next level. Sports had mattered to me for so long that whenever getting that opportunity to play in college meant that is was well worth it.
My schoolwork was important as well but I never really pushed myself to do better than the requirements. I personally felt that I couldn’t find an identity in the classroom. I never really like going the extra mile, studying, and sometimes even doing homework due to soccer being a priority over school. Don’t get me wrong, I was a good student that received good grades, but yet, my mind most of the time would be filled with thoughts elsewhere.
After having different considerations, I chose Appalachian State would be the best fit for me in athletics and academics. I liked the scene in Boone and the mountains are what made it for me.
The Start of College Athletics
When I started this whole “college athlete” back in August 2016, I had many competitive factors involved, but in my mind, I was determined to work hard. I would push myself but found myself finishing near to last in many of our training.
The thought of doubt once again worked its way into my head. I began to think “why can’t I see success in something that was important to me?”
With having struggles finding success on the field, the coaching staff was everything but helpful in my situation. Instead of going for a sense of motivation and feedback, I was given very negative and pessimistic views.
It seems as, in collegiate soccer, the level of coaching goes down and coaches only focus on the factors that DON’T make a good soccer player. Training would focus on fitness levels rather than technical drills. In my honest opinion, yes you do need to have a strong fitness level but it is a waste if you have good fitness but can’t even complete a pass.
I was some of the few players that had a strong technical ability but as fitness was emphasized the most than any factor, I began to face struggles in the long run.
There was not one moment on the field that I did something good or was making strides to our ultimate goal. It was always negative and as a player, you get discouraged.
I face this struggle amongst other players that have been in my shoes. The misfortune of not finding joy in the game that you have always loved and played was beginning to fade for me.
I no longer saw joy in playing and every morning the thought of training was seen as a daunting task then an event I would look forward to in pre-college years.
Although I was faced with loads of adversity, I knew that I could not give up that easily on my goals.
Throughout the season, I had been making strides on my fitness, technical ability and my overall winning mindset that was engraved every minute of the day.
I noticed huge changes in my fitness and style of play after a working season at Appalachian. The time came for the 1-month off-season of winter break and I knew this was a huge opportunity for me. There was only one goal the whole break and that was to achieve the holy grail of our fitness test, the 2-mile, 1-mile, 1-mile.
Fitness Test of Utter Death
Our fitness test consisted of
- 2 miles under 12 minutes
- 6-minute break
- Another 1 mile under 6 minutes
- 6-minute break
- And Another 1 more mile under 6 minutes
Boy, was this a nightmare!
Now think about the physical and mental capacity you need to have to accomplish this. It’s nuts! Comment down below if you are able to run this today. I’m curious to see who is able to do this if there is any Jake Chasteen’s reading this right now.
During the pre-season, I finished with a 12:52 two-mile, 6:45 mile, 6:39 mile. These were pretty good results but they weren’t enough to compete at the Division 1 level. During our winter break, I knew this was the chance for me to come back stronger.
Working on fitness every day and making huge improvements on this test, I knew coming back on the first day of the off-season was up for grabs.
First day back, I was so determined and ready to push myself to reach the holy grail of making the desired times for the test.
Unfortunately, the day leading up to the test, I had torn my hamstring and was unable to participate. The nerve-wreck of emotions that followed was awful. I felt very disappointed in myself because of all the work I had put in was ultimately put to waste with solely an injury. Constant thoughts of failure were rotating in my mind and I just did not feel the same as a player after this.
Struggling to reach peak form after the injury was extremely hard for me. As small re-injuries occurred and fear of tearing my hamstring again prevented my growth to reach my previous form. With the help of such amazing athletic trainers such as Ben Shabb, I had gotten back to form but with little over a month left of the off-season, it had been too late.
Soccer, which once felt so important to me, started to feel like it was holding me back.
Although still on the roster, I no longer felt like I was of the Appalachian State Soccer Team. As the spring term came to an end, I made the decision to not be an athlete anymore. I was extremely afraid to quit, as I had never quit much anything before especially soccer, but I knew that it was the right decision for me at the time.
Life After College Athletics
The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year of college was extremely reflective for me. With my parents, reminding me constantly that if the decision I made would to be the right one. Friends always asking me if I still play soccer at App State and having to say no was extremely shocking for a lot of people. Due to the reason because everyone knew me because of soccer. It was kind of weird not associating myself as an athlete anymore, to be honest.
For those few months, I didn’t know how to spend my time. There were large parts of my day that I had never had free before. When soccer no longer seemed as important to me, I began to learn that there were many other parts to my identity that I had not yet explored much.
Playing soccer had stripped so much from my social life that the majority of my friends were either soccer players or other athletes. Being tied down to the sport limited me to make other friends.
Many people believe that athletes live a privileged existence, although that may be true to some extent the reason being is that college athletics is more of a job. It’s not this all mighty peak and status quo but it’s literally a job. Logging in more than 40 hours of week is something that I physically/mentally demanding to a young player.
You Are More Than Just an Athlete
It has been over a year since not playing collegiate soccer, and quite frankly I am happier at Appalachian than ever before. I didn’t know if I would like college without having soccer in the equation. It was made clear to me that I am so much more than just an athlete and that Appalachian has way more to offer than just sports for me.
I began to explore the academics side of it. With being an athlete, you don’t have much time to join new clubs, participate in extracurriculars, or even take more courses to get ahead. My whole freshman year was dedicated solely to soccer and taking the minimum amount of coursework. I never went out of my way to join new clubs or to put myself out there as I did in high school where I was a part of 5 clubs in my senior year.
Although in my second year, I was able to join new clubs, meet new friends, and load up my coursework. I started to feel the spark again in nurturing my mind rather than with sports but with school as school can be fun if you know how to balance it.
FINDING JOY AGAIN IN THE SPORT
I got so caught up in trying to be successful in the sport that I forgot why soccer mattered to me so much in the first place.
The best part about not playing anymore is that I was able to play soccer for fun again. After years of obsessive training and competing, it has been such a relief for me to be able to play for fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I still play soccer but it’s not at a high demand as Division 1 soccer was. I still play intramurals with my ex-teammates (pictured below) and club soccer that has given me the chance to meet cool new people that love the sport like I do.
Now, I am able to play with my friends and have fun without having the thought of “getting better” each time I played. Instead, I enjoy what is around me and I live in the moment.
Not being able to play has given me time to reflect on what my image and what I will become without soccer. My whole life I pictured of being a professional in the sport but realistic expectations were otherwise.
I now dedicate my time to improving my academics, networking, and finding other ways to achieve the happiness that soccer once brought into my life. One of those examples is the Life of Pedro blog.
Playing it will still brings joy but being on the competing end and working to reach that goal is like no other feeling. You get a much more satisfaction out of it and the great memories you make on your route to that dream is priceless.
Now I want to make a call to action to all college soccer players that have been in my same shoes, that have faced the adversity and that have realized that soccer wasn’t going to provide a living in the future. I want to be able to meet, talk, and find out what your life consists of without college soccer.
I am a huge believer that college soccer needs to be changed as more and more players quit whenever entering college. College soccer has a way of taking the fun out of playing the sport, but just remember this final though
You are MORE than just an athlete!