I believe there’s a big misconception that in order to go pro or even play in college, you have to start intensely training at a young age. Kids are put into club sports at elementary school age and solely train for the rest of their childhood/ teen years in that one sport. I have nothing against this and the players who did begin playing club sports at a young age definitely prove it on the field/court. However, I believe this isn’t completely necessary if you want to become a professional. Sure, if you absolutely love the sport and know from day one that this is what you want to do, then go for it! Some players dream from the very beginning of going pro. For me, that was not the case but I still managed to become a professional athlete otherwise.
In this post, I’ll share why I believe being a 3 sport athlete growing up actually helped get me this far in my fútbol career. This may come as a surprise because: wouldn’t being a three-sport athlete actually decrease your playing level since you’re splitting up your time and not devoting it to one sport? While this is a very valid question and is true to some degree, I believe, however, that playing multiple sports teaches different skill sets that can be used to increase your all-around playing abilities. Also, playing multiple sports lessens the chance of burnout that many athletes get from playing one sport their entire lives. Lastly, I think playing multiple sports reduces the chance of injury because you are using different muscles in each sport, therefore not overusing specific body parts.
My Athletic Career
Growing up, I played soccer and softball. My time was split equally between the two sports playing soccer in the fall and winter months, then softball in the spring and summer. In high school, I decided to throw volleyball into the mix so then my schedule was broken into: volleyball in the fall, soccer in the winter, and softball in the spring. I was a really talented athlete but never had my sights on becoming a professional or even a college athlete until my sophomore year of high school. I had an outstanding soccer season my sophomore year and it made me realize that I could play in college. That’s when I decided to join the Santa Barbara Soccer Club in hopes that I would be seen by college coaches (up until then, I was playing AYSO and all-star soccer). I was then recruited to play for Cal State Los Angeles my junior year of high school, so I decided to step away from playing volleyball and softball my senior year. This was a tough decision, but I decided it was time that I begin focusing my priority on soccer.
I’ll be 100% honest, nobody was watching me play and thinking, “this girl is gunna go pro” while I was in high school and my first couple of years in college. I definitely had so much to work on to reach the level of my college teammates. I was not as technical or tactically smart as the other players. I was below everyone’s level in those areas because I only had a year and a half of club experience under my belt. In club soccer, you train a lot on technique, possession, skills, and passing which was not emphasized in high school soccer or AYSO. During that time, it was frustrating not being as skilled as my fellow teammates, and I remember thinking I wish I had more years of club experience. But now, I realize it was a blessing.
Even though I started at the bottom, I slowly worked my way up and used the skills I already had under my belt to promote confidence and turn myself into the player I am today. Each year I have gotten better which has made me realize that I can go further and further in my career. When I started college, playing professional fútbol was never in my mind. It wasn’t until my junior/senior years of college when I blossomed into a talented player that I realized I was good enough to continue playing. I knew that I was not even close to playing at my full potential and that my career was just getting started. I couldn’t just stop after college because I felt like I was just getting started with the whole soccer thing. This is what ignited my passion for becoming a professional fútbol player!
Skills that Volleyball and Softball Taught Me
In softball, you are taught at a very young age how to slide into the base. Sliding into the base is essentially slide tackling in soccer (minus the ball and add the base!). This has been a skill that I use while playing soccer every day. I am very good at slide tackling and it’s one of my strongest skills as a defender. It comes as second nature to me now and I believe it’s been ingrained in my head from all the years of playing softball. Slide tackling is something that was never taught to me while playing soccer. I know many players who will never slide tackle because they just don’t know-how. If I was not taught how to slide and didn’t practice it repeatedly for years while playing softball, I genuinely don’t know where I would be in my fútbol career. My slide tackling abilities on the soccer field is really a skill that makes me stand out from most.
Other skills that I am dominant at in soccer are heading the ball and reading the ball in the air. These skills are crucial as a defender because you have to judge the ball correctly so it doesn’t go flying over you and turn into a 1v1 against your keeper. Heading the ball has also made me a threat offensively and I have probably scored 90% of my goals that way. I believe playing softball and volleyball helped elevate these skills because these sports require you to read the ball in the air. In volleyball, you have to read where the ball is in the air so you can time your jump and arm swing perfectly in order to spike the ball or block a hit. In softball, as a center outfielder, I had to judge the fly balls in the air in order to catch them and not let them drop. Although all the sports involve a different ball and two require their hands, not feet, I think the year-round practice of reading and timing a ball flying in the air elevated my aerial abilities in soccer.
Burnout & Injury
Growing up, sports were something I did to have fun. I did them because I loved being physically active and the social part of being on a team. Almost all my best friends have been made through playing sports. I had the greatest childhood and teen years because I had so many groups of close friends due to the different sports I played. Switching between these sports yearly, created enough change that I never got tired of one sport. I always looked forward to the sport I was switching to in the next season and was excited about the new environment. I believe if I stuck to one sport my entire life, I would have experienced burnout– becoming tired of the redundant schedule and practices.
Burnout is caused by continual training that may result in physical/mental fatigue, lower or stagnant play performance, loss of interest, and injury due to overuse. I know so many talented soccer players, many of who were better players than me, who quit early on due to feeling burnout. Many lose motivation and don’t have fun anymore while playing the sport. Even though so many soccer athletes were better players than me, I have gone farther than them simply because I had the stamina and desire to continue my career. Although I have solely focused on soccer for the past 6 years now, my love for the sport has only heightened. My passion has dramatically increased over the years instead of spiking at an early age, then declining. I have yet to experience burnout from playing soccer and I think it’s due to slowly working my way up the ladder. Gradually, but steadily getting to my level has created a positive mindset in which I am so proud of my accomplishments and want to keep pushing myself because this is something I didn’t think was imaginable even 5 years ago. I want to see how far I can go and how good I can get. I whole-heartedly think that playing other sports growing up helped me prevent burnout, and as a result, my desire and passion have persisted for a long soccer career.
Similarly, playing one sport year-round causes a lot of muscle fatigue and over-use injuries. I am so lucky to say that I have never had a serious sports-related injury that has inhibited me to play for a long period of time. By switching up my sports growing up, I was constantly working different muscle groups so I never got injured due to over-use. Cross-training, and playing sports that incorporated my arms and legs also helped ensure that my entire body was strong. This is also something that has helped me throughout my soccer career. I am physically strong all-around which is a crucial asset in being a good defender.
I guess at the end of this you could argue that I maybe could have ended up playing for Barca by now if I started playing club soccer at a younger age. Truthfully, most professional players today probably only prioritized soccer at a young age and learned all the important skills and techniques from only playing soccer. They also obviously have found ways to not get burnt-out and have extremely long and successful careers. Maybe I could have also achieved this if I dedicated my life to soccer from the start. Even if I knew this to be true, I still wouldn’t change a thing. The memories, friends, and skills I’ve made and learned from also playing volleyball and softball are things that I’ll cherish forever. I am so lucky that I had all those sporting experiences and have still managed to get to where I am today.
So, my advice is to younger players is to have fun and take advantage of playing other sports if your heart desires. There’s plenty of time to grow. To be a professional, having the mindset and desire is more important than having incredible physical abilities when you’re young. Hard work, having fun, and passion are what have gotten me this far. At the end of the day, you are the captain of deciding how good you can be.