For me, soccer wasn’t part of my childhood, it WAS my childhood.
I honestly never really figured out that balance thing, so every waking moment that I wasn’t at school, you could probably find me chasing a soccer ball.
As a result, most of the friends I have today came from that same walk of life. Talented college players like Allie Hess, Jordyn Knox, Mackenzie Pfeiffer, and Brooke Salisbury were the ones learning with me every step of the way.
One of the people that helped us on that path, was my club coach, Coach Vlatko. But for us, he was more than just a coach, he was a mentor.
As you can imagine, keeping a bunch of teenagers focused and motivated was no easy task. We may have been talented, but we were anything but disciplined. So Vlatko taught us to respect and love the game so that we could learn how to stay focused on the sport to reach our dreams.
But with recruitment starting in 8th grade, focus was often something tough to come by.
Growing lines of recruiters at every game and every move of mine scrutinized, I began to feel the pressure to perform. And at the same time, I was extremely excited to see that playing at the next level was an attainable goal.
By my Freshman year, I thought I’d seen every school, so I was ready to choose the University of Nebraska. After going to a camp and speaking with my parents, I didn’t think there was anything that could stop me. I was also excited to get the process over with.
But then I got a call from an assistant at Arkansas, who convinced me to take one last look in Fayetteville.
I really thought Nebraska was the place for me, but I figured I was still so young, so one visit couldn’t hurt. And then it all changed when I stepped foot on the Arkansas campus.
Immediately falling in love with everything about the vision the coaches had to change the program, the community, and the school, I now had a tough decision to make.
And I was only just starting high school…..
Ultimately, I chose to commit to Arkansas because of the vision the coaches had to change the program. I could feel the determination and belief in the locker room, and I wanted to be apart of that.
I also knew that Fayetteville was a place I could call home.
But now that the decision was over, I had to regain my focus on my career before college.
As a 13-14-year-old girl trying to compete at a high level, it was extremely challenging. With all of the distractions and being forced to quit everything that wouldn’t contribute to my future in soccer, the game lost some of its joy for me.
Playing with two club teams, it was always one practice to the next, every day, every weekend. Instead of going to Friday night football games and events with my friends, I was losing those nights to training with my team.
But I was losing more than just my nights. I was losing my passion.
Did I really want to keep playing? Was I being pushed too far?
I didn’t really know the answers.
Around this same time of self-doubt, I experienced something that changed my life forever. At the beginning of my junior season, I tore my ACL in the championship game of one of our biggest tournaments.
The game was almost over, but now so was my season.
Devastating as it was for my season, I now was more scared what my coaches at Arkansas would say. I had heard stories where scholarships were taken away after an injury, and I couldn’t imagine not being able to compete for the Razorbacks.
But with one call, all of my fears were washed away. The support and confidence my coaches gave, made me want to push even harder to come back better than ever.
Now, all I wanted to do was be back out on the field with my teammates.
Watching from the sidelines, I began to remember what I loved so much about the game. It was humbling to have it taken away from me and the time I got to spend watching from afar, I realized this was still my future.
Soccer was all I had, it was my identity.
And without it, I felt like I had nothing. So I turned to my Bible to guide me out of it all. Reading Proverbs, one verse really stuck with me and helped me understand the process better.
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding.”
I couldn’t help but be angry about my injury, but reading that, I realized it was all part of my plan. My identity didn’t just lie in athletics, but rather my identity in Christ and my purpose in life. I needed this injury to get me back on track.
And by focusing on that, I found a new clarity in life and a new found love for the game.
Since coming back from that injury, there have been obviously ups and downs of my career, but I will always be grateful for the process of regaining my love for this great game.
So when you feel like the game is becoming more of a job and less of a passion, maybe it is time for you to refocus and look at your priorities. Remember why you are going through the process and you’ll find your passion once again.
Jessi Hartzler | Contributor