What Happens at the Next Level?
Katie Ponce I June 17, 2015
I’m a new college graduate who was forced to put those days behind me, quickly, if I wanted to excel here. Professional soccer is a completely different level than college soccer and there was a lot to learn in a short time. While this blog is about my experiences, the real inspiration for this piece came from my host mom. Her daughter is going through her transition from middle school to high school next fall, and there are a lot of questions she had for me about my experience. I still don’t think I have all the answers, but we were both intrigued by the fact that what her 14-year-old daughter was facing was shockingly similar to this stage in my life.
Everyone from the first team to the reserve team were some of the best on their college teams, the one everyone was counting on. Once leading goal scorers, or shot stoppers, now we all play together and no one cares what you once did, but what will you do now. On the reserve team alone there are five girls, including myself, who all competed against each other for four seasons in the Colonial Athletic Association, (CAA). When we all put on our Breakers gear though, the accolades from our days in conference play don’t define us anymore. One of my past rivals, Sam Lofton, noticed her time at James Madison University may have landed her a spot as a third round NWSL draft pick this year, but didn’t mean professional life would come naturally. “Transitioning from being a college four-year starter and two-year captain to being a rookie fighting for a limited number of roster spots was hard. When you make it to this level, everyone was the star of their respective team, and it was tough to maintain the same confidence when your role on a team changes so drastically,” Lofton said.
This time of transition can be seen at any stage in a player’s career. From going to recreation soccer to club, high school to college, college to professional, pro to national. The same physical and mental transition can be seen at any level and the sooner someone can face it, the sooner their abilities will be seen. Physically, at each level the game keeps getting quicker. Something all good players eventually learn is that players will catch up to their talent. At some point talent is no longer enough and to make it at the next level, and demanding attention to master individual skills is required. Many of us though already know that improving our physical game is a necessary to see results.
However, what is probably even more important going forward is the mental transition. I will admit when I first got here, I knew how good everyone was, so when I was playing at the bottom of the pack I thought that was where I belonged. I didn’t start really pushing myself until I stopped worrying about everyone else around me. Only then did I gain the confidence to believe that I could actually compete here. Looking back four ago, I see how I did the same thing entering my college preseason. You think I would learn my lesson, but I found comfort knowing I was not alone. After entering preseason camp with the Boston Breakers, Sam Lofton also saw her mental game being tested. “Definitely the focus that it takes to play pro soccer is a huge step up. The transitions (offense to defense and vice versa) are infinitely faster, and if you check out for a second the play passes you by.” Lofton continued “You have to find confidence in yourself. Pro soccer offers a lot less praise than other levels, and you have to believe in yourself more than ever.”
(From left to right: Lulu Echeverry from Hofstra University, Katie Ponce from Towson University, Paige Burnett from Northeastern University, Sam Lofton from James Madison University, and Bianca Calderone also from Northeastern University)
Still for me the hardest part of this question about transition is how you get through the mental change. I could tell my host mom what it was going to be like for her daughter, but not how she should go about tackling it. Trust me I know that actually working my hardest and being confident in myself each and every day is way easier said than done. In my opinion, some of us are luckier than others when it comes to these things. Just like speed, strength, or endurance, mental toughness is another talent that some athletes are born with. There’s no secret formula to staying confident, while being coachable, to being competitive, but still having a good attitude all while there’s a soccer ball at your feet. In recent years sports psychology has shown the importance of confidence when it comes to an athlete’s game. But what comes first, playing well or having the confidence to do well?
Like the chicken or the egg, the question will continue to be debated, but undoubtedly both are needed in order to peruse the next level. My advice is the chance to be your best is a choice. At every new chapter of my soccer life, I am the one moving forward. I am the one who faced every personal victory, every struggle. Just like anything in life it isn’t easy and sometimes it has felt like walking away would be easier than to keep pushing through. But what I told my host mom, and what I want to share with all of you; no one is making me be here. After every bad touch I am the only one that decides if the next one will be better, and that is something that cannot be coached.
So whatever comes next is up to you. As Sam Lofton fights between the first team and the Breakers reserves, she tells fans, “no matter what level you are reaching for, commit 100 percent to it. All the great players started at square one. If it's something you're truly passionate about, never settle. There's a place for anyone who is really willing to work hard enough.”
I hope you enjoyed this week’s read and will look out next week where I talk to Breakers girls about their #WWC2015 predictions. And as always, the #BreakersFamily asks you to check us out Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube. Found out how you can be a part of the Breakers’ experience.