Throughout the course of my soccer career, I discovered first hand that you must take control of our own happiness. I often found myself caught up in the flow of what I was “supposed to be doing.” “I should do this,” “I’m expected to do that.” These were ugly statements. There were so many times I felt a pull to maybe not do what I was “supposed” to do. Taking that big of a step outside of my comfort zone felt nearly impossible. I succumbed to these words time and time again, until I finally had the realization that I needed to listen to my own desires, and be fully in tune with my personal purpose.
Committing To The D1 Dream
In my final years of high school, I was on a high-level soccer team, where 17 out of 18 teammates were committed to play D1 collegiate soccer. College was creeping up quickly, and it felt only natural to do what everyone else was doing. In retrospect, I may have been happier at a lower level soccer team where my abilities would have been a better fit, but I was determined to be recruited by the highest level possible (D1) team I could. With all the showcases, nerves, and panic of being recruited, I never once took the time to sit and reflect on why I was doing this.
Keeping Up With The Pack
Before I knew it, I was playing on a D1 soccer team. “Playing” is a loose term here, as I reflect over my career of 4 years and about 5 games I stepped on the field for. However, at the time, being on this team felt like where I should be. Over time, this decision was showing it came with more sacrifice, hard work, and destruction of my personal self-confidence than I had anticipated.
I found myself constantly trying to keep up with the pack, leading to negative self-talk, and more than anything, a lack of desire to continue playing the sport I had grown up loving. I reached a point where I needed to establish my reasons for continuing––and quickly. It was time to once and for all find a way to align my passion for the beautiful game with my personal growth, happiness and confidence. After much reflection, I believed that the best way to reconcile this was to re-dedicate myself to the sport and focus on working harder than ever to prove myself on the field.
It took me longer than I’d like to admit, but I finally recognized that my reasons for playing were completely dictated by another person’s opinions. I thought that working harder over breaks, spending extra time practicing after training sessions, asking for one-on-one time with coaches, and crushing every controllable scenario (e.g. fitness testing) would force my coach to recognize my strengths––and ultimately help me recognize my own value.
This was was a hard lesson to learn. The only opinions that you can truly control––and the only ones that should ever matter––are your own. Spending my time trying to impress an indifferent coach who ultimately never batted an eye at my efforts, was an exercise in futility, and a poor use of my energy. How could I expect someone else to acknowledge my worth when even I wasn’t seeing myself as deserving of value?
It was not until my final year of soccer that I was able to identify what I could get out of this experience.
My purpose through this final senior season was simple: Make myself proud.
I Am Proud
This meant so many different things. Being proud of myself for having a good attitude after sitting on the bench, game after game. Not letting my coach’s negative comments toward me alter my outlook of the game and, more importantly, my self-image. Balancing a great GPA with a full-time athletic career. Passing my fitness tests and seeing improvements each time. Cheering on my teammates and being excited about their success, even when my own success looked a little different. Finishing four years of a high-level soccer program and ending my 18-year soccer career with a new appreciation for myself, the things my body is capable of, and, even more, what my mind can achieve. All of these things made me more proud than I have ever been. It’s incredible how sports, even when we don’t know it, make us so much more powerful, strong, and amazing.
The moral of my story is that no one should ever be able to alter how you feel about yourself, whether it’s positive or negative. Giving power to the wrong people can leave you in an unhealthy, and potentially harmful place. You owe it to yourself to control your own happiness by establishing your personal version of what success looks like. We all have different gifts, talents, and desires. It would be silly if we all pictured ourselves with the same goals and successes.
While it took me years to learn how to control my own happiness, ZGiRLS can help your daughter discover her happiness and build confidence. No one should feel like someone else is in control of their happiness. Learn how ZGiRLS can build strength, sisterhood, and self-esteem.
Written by ZGiRLS Mentor, Dani Pitaro, DePaul University Division 1 Soccer Player