People sometimes forget how important the mental side of a game can be. As a game moves into the final minutes, players tend to get tired and move away from the little details. Remaining focused in these critical moments can help players find great success.
When I first started playing soccer, this mindset wasn’t quite imprinted in me yet. At 6 years old, I started playing in our local town association, Smithfield Youth Soccer, with my twin sister Maddie and we loved it from the start. We always had a great partnership on the field, which made playing soccer that much more fun. Growing up, we also played basketball, softball, and track; driving from one sport to the next on the weekends.
In middle school, our love for soccer translated into joining a club team. After playing for the Rhode Island Rays for some time, we decided to switch teams and play for the Scorpions Soccer Club in Braintree, MA. This team offered a challenge and a very competitive environment that really helped improve my game and shape my mindset.
At this point, entering my freshman year of high school, I had never considered playing college soccer. I loved soccer for its competitive nature, the friendships, and the unpredictability. However, playing club soccer at the highest level in the USYSA national league and the Elite Clubs National League exposed me to college coaches at an early age, so I was forced to start considering my future.
Maddie and I began visiting colleges during our sophomore year of college. Our first visit was to Boston College in February of 2010. We were also considering UVA, Georgetown, Harvard, and Yale, but ultimately chose to attend BC when entering our junior year of high school.
We were both excited to play for a top tier program in the ACC while attending a great academic university that was close to home. Familiarity with the coaches was an added comfort as well, as they had been able to attend many of our local games. Though it was certainly exciting and a bit relieving to verbally commit to a college so early, it motivated me to work even harder so I could make an impact when I attended school two years later.
After my commitment, I was fortunate to be named the Rhode Island High School Gatorade Player of the Year my junior and senior year. This award certainly gave me confidence that I could continue on to be an impactful player in college soccer, as I recognized the great names of other players who won the award in their respective states.
In June of my senior year of high school, I was invited to my first U-18 national camp. I was definitely nervous going into the week of training out in California with many of the top players around the country, but I was comforted when I recognized many of the girls from playing against them. The camp was a great learning experience and opened my eyes to a higher level of soccer that I would soon be seeing in college.
My freshman year of college was certainly a transition, as the speed of play and the physicality of the game was definitely an adjustment. In addition to the increase in competition, there was a whole new mental aspect of the game.
I did not have many expectations coming into that year, as I knew I would have to prove myself to my teammates and coaches in order to get playing time. My primary goal was to contribute to the team in any way that I possibly could. After a successful season, I was surprised but honored to find out that I had been named to the All-ACC Freshman team.
In January of 2013, I was really excited to be invited to a U-20 National Camp, which would begin the next two-year cycle in preparation for the U-20 World Cup in the summer of 2014. I was grateful that I had the prior experience of the U-18 camp because it gave me familiarity with many of the players and with the structure of the camp.
We traveled to Spain the following month to participate in the La Manga tournament, though our performance wasn’t as great as we had hoped. My national team exposure that spring combined with our college offseason really helped me to improve my game, and gave me a lot more confidence heading into my sophomore year.
My sophomore year is definitely my most memorable year as a BC Women’s Soccer Player so far. Our season certainly had some ups and downs, but we learned and grew from it, ultimately making it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. For me personally, I think I grew the most in between my freshman and sophomore year, as I really wanted to solidify myself as an impact player.
As a forward, I knew my role was to contribute as many goals and assists as I could in order to help the team win. In order to fill that role, I had to look at the small parts of the game, always making sure I mentally was in the game.
After winning the U-20 CONCACAF Championships in the Cayman Islands in January 2014 with the U-20 national team, I trained with the team for the following six months, eventually earning a spot on the final roster for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada in the summer of 2014. The training consisted of the 1-2 week training camps from January to July in preparation for the tournament, with a slightly different group of players each time in order to find the right mix.
Like the rest of the team, I left the last U-20 camp in Seattle to go home for a few days before departing for the World Cup in Canada. I was so excited for the tournament, with a lot of anticipation for the coming few weeks.
Unfortunately, while I was at home in Rhode Island, I tore my Achilles in a freak accident when a mirror sliced open my Achilles. I was devastated, as I could no longer attend the World Cup and would have to miss my junior year season for Boston College.
Rehab was not an easy process, but it allowed me to focus on different aspects of the game. With the ability to still travel with the team during my Junior year, I could still mentally monitor the game without actually taking the physical reps. The challenge of recovering from a serious injury definitely fortified my mental strength.
As the next year came around, I was starting to feel much better. It took some time to feel comfortable playing again in games, but as soon as we hit the halfway point in our ACC schedule, I was feeling confident. This confidence led me to score my 39th career goal, making me the all-time leading soccer at Boston College. It was an amazing feeling, as I had overcome my injury.
Now in my redshirt senior year, I am excited to make the most of this season. We are in conference play in the ACC and focused on taking one game at a time so that we can finish as high as possible in the ACC standings.
This season has also led me to break our school record, with my 18th game-winning goal. People ask about how this happens and I can greatly attribute it to staying focused for the full 90 minutes of the game.
Those small details can make the biggest difference, whether it’s finding the right place to be on the field to give your team an advantage or analyzing the game and knowing how to exploit the other team’s weaknesses. During the critical points of the game, when the pressure is the most intense, focusing on the small details of the game helps to alleviate the pressure and ultimately helps your team succeed.
McKenzie Meehan | Contributor