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The Women’s World Cup may only come around every four years, but each time that it does, I seem to get more emotional about it. This year’s World Cup was particularly special to me, not just because the U.S. won, but because I was fortunate enough to cover it.
In addition to live tweeting the final match between Japan and the United States for TODAY, I attended the historic ticker-tape parade for the U.S. Women’s National Team. As a former soccer player, seeing little girls who are just starting out and learning how to play the amazing game, made me seriously nostalgic.
Nostalgia aside, I am now starting to realize that soccer gifted me with crucial life lessons that helped me work my way up the career ladder to my dream job.
It all traces back to four small words: “Get on the line.”
These words may seem harmless, but they’re enough to instill fear into current athletes and haunt the dreams of former players like myself. For those who don’t know, “get on the line” is code for “prepare to sprint your heart out.”
And though my days as a competitive soccer player are behind me — I’ve since traded my cleats for a cubicle — I can now see that those dreaded four words were also the best preparation possible for the real world.
Every day, I wake up and find myself back “on the line” at work. It’s a different kind of race to prove my worth than the one I grew up training for, but the values remain the same.
Here are the four skills I learned from life as a competitive athlete that have helped me find success! For parents weighing the decision (and dangers) of having their children play team sports, I’m here to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my 15 years on the field.
When I started playing soccer competitively, I was terrible. But I didn’t let that stop me.
To make up for my lack of skills, I began attending extra practices every week. It took a few years for me to learn moves and pick up speed, but eventually I earned a starting spot on a team that went on to win five state championships.
Likewise, when I made it my mission to work for TODAY, I had to start small. First, I landed an internship in college at a local TV news station in Knoxville, Tennessee. At the end of the internship, the station hired me on part-time, and I worked a few jobs there until my last semester of school. Eventually, I got my “big break” with a summer internship at CNN in Atlanta, which led me to an internship in New York City (my dream, almost!) Sadly after finishing my NYC internship at CNN, I did not find a job and had to move home after graduation. Leaving New York City was the worst feeling in the world, but working my way back after feeling like a failure became the greatest feeling ever.
The point of my struggle to make it in the Big Apple is that I never gave up, thanks to all of those extra practices I endured when I was 12: persistence!
Athletes are some of the most hard-working people you’ll ever meet. They wake up before the sun rises for two-a-day training sessions during the summer and somehow manage to squeeze in time for homework once school rolls around. I spent so many Sunday nights doing school work on car rides home from tournaments.
At many of my internships, I worked overnights, which meant the alarm went off before 1 a.m. in order for me to make myself look somewhat presentable before my shift began at 2:30 a.m. Soccer may not have fully prepared me for crazy shifts, but it did teach me that you have to work as hard as you can in order to get what you want.
Staying late at the office is practically a job requirement for journalists. Athletes understand the importance of practicing late until a craft is perfected. When it comes time to enter the real world, they’re more than prepared to stay late to finish a story or project without thinking twice.
Balancing a sport, academics and a social life is a juggling act all competitive athletes partake in. In high school, I started to take advanced placement courses which basically meant I punched a ticket that guaranteed me at least two hours of homework every night. I had to develop a routine for myself and stick to it. After school and 2+ hours of soccer practice, I scarfed down dinner between 6:30 and 7 before I even cracked open the textbooks.
In any job, especially one in news, time is of the essence. If I mismanage my time and start slacking, a domino-like effect would go into place and all of the amazing people I work with would suffer because of my mistakes.
Finally, there’s the one ability almost everyone takes away from dedicating her life to a sport, the ability to work with other people. Team sports truly do teach children how to work well with others. A teammate’s a teammate, and even if you’re not particularly fond of someone, you eventually learn how to respect them and work with them both on and off the field.
Once it came time for me to enter the workforce, I encountered so many different people and personalities. And while at times it can be hard to work with some individuals, thanks to years of playing alongside a group of teammates I now consider my sisters, I would like to believe I know how to work well with others: a simple yet necessary trait in any professional environment.
Maybe I would have made it to the TODAY show if I didn’t play soccer, but I honestly do not think that I would have. Even though I spent most of my high school weekends traveling across the Southeast, I wouldn’t trade my soccer years for anything. To all the parents and kids possibly questioning the value of full-time sports, don’t.
The real payoff happens once your kid retires her cleats for good.