Someone Needs to Do the Dirty Work
I was always a critical player on any of the teams I played on in high school – one of those who stayed on the field for the full 90 minutes. I was the motivator, the battery, the reliable centerpiece. The accolades piled up – NY State All Star Team, Player of the Year, All Conference, All League, and the list goes on. I figured I had perfected a formula: skilled on the field plus leadership equals success. So, stepping onto the field for Amherst Women’ Soccer in August 2013, I figured I could do it all over again, but now on a more exclusive, competitive stage.
I quickly learned that many of my teammates were better than I was. Experience aside, they were simply more skilled. I spent much of my time on the bench, anxious and uncomfortable game after game. I waited patiently for sophomore year to arrive so that I could have a second chance to be the critical player on the field, as I had been for years. As my second preseason came to a close, though, I could tell I would still be spending the majority – if not all – of my sophomore year on the bench.
This rocked me. Minutes on the field had always been my measure of success – who was I as a soccer player if not on the field? I questioned my passion for soccer, I questioned why I tried, whether or not I actually liked my teammates, I questioned everything. I looked to find as many excuses as possible for why I wasn’t playing. Without the minutes on the field, I did not see the value in soccer. Worst of all, I questioned my identity, because soccer was (and still is) a part of me.
I noticed something, though: I would dread going to practice, but as soon as I was on the field playing, I would have a blast. I would feel energized, I would laugh, I would stop thinking and just play. The little kid in me appeared, the one who did not yet know the stresses of competition or fear the judgment of others. I realized that what I was feeling when I stopped thinking were the exact same emotions I always felt as the all-star player. That meant that I did not need the minutes on the field to feel fulfilled by soccer. That meant there was more to soccer than just the goals scored, the awards, and the competition. Turning soccer on its head made me realize all that it really had to offer.
If my place couldn’t be on the field, then I needed to find one off of it, because I was not willing to give up the child-like feeling of complete ecstasy that was simply playing soccer. Had I not been the bench player, I would have never realized this.
I learned to open my eyes, forget my expectations, and roll with the punches. I learned that adhering to a singular standard of success is naïve, because soccer was about serving the team, and being what the team needed at any given moment. That’s just it – success is not one-dimensional and it is not stagnant. Success for me on my high school teams meant scoring the clutch goals, or having superior endurance to outlast any player on my team or on another. But success for me at Amherst meant finding a way to make my best teammates even better. Both are examples of serving the team, both are examples of success.
College soccer taught me that for every goal-scorer, there is someone who lays down the cones; for every point guard, there is someone who catches their rebounds at practice; for every scratch golfer, there is someone who helps them read the greens. Someone needs to do the dirty work, the stuff in the background, otherwise, those in the spotlight can’t operate at their best. I learned that it takes a team, and that every member of the team has a role, and a critical one at that. I learned that everyone is of value, it’s just a matter of finding that value, owning and embracing it, and fulfilling it to the best of your ability. It is about wanting to have an impact and believing that you can.
Amherst Women’s Soccer taught me that embracing our unique values and owning our unique roles gives us the power to control our experiences. It is easy to be upset about lack of playing time, having to fill the water jug, or never reading your name in the headlines. Be upset, that’s okay. That’s called competition. But find your way to excel at something else, find your way to own your role. I learned that mentality is a personal choice, and that if you can buy into being whatever the team needs at that moment, you have transformative potential, as long as you are having fun. Sports taught me to be a catalyst and to spark enthusiasm in others. I learned, above all, that success is not about the individual, it’s about the team.
So, how can we take this out of the context of sports and into the world beyond? Well, if we can see sports as an exercise in sportsmanship and prioritizing the team – whatever the team may be – then we can excel in any setting. In other words, “soccer” is just a placeholder – “soccer” can be substituted with any challenging task at hand. With that in mind, I approached my transition from Amherst to the real world a bit differently than I approached Amherst coming out of high school. Rather than believing I was to be the automatic all-star, I humbled myself and reminded myself to always give myself to the team. I approached the real world as if I were a bench player – ready and willing to make sacrifices for the team, because every team needs their reserves and every player serves a purpose. I prepared myself to pick up hundreds of coffees for my bosses, print thousands of spreadsheets, and spend countless hours at my desk past sundown. But in doing so, I know I am laying the cones down, I am catching the rebounds, I am reading the greens. We, as teammates, know how to be in the background, building for success, or stand in the spotlight when it is our turn. Soccer taught me to bring the gritty, team mentality with me wherever I go.
While I can’t kick a soccer ball down the hallway in my office, I did learn from that soccer ball that I know how to be a great teammate.
Sarah Frohman is currently based in New York City and works as an Account Specialist for Snapchat. Connect with her via Linked