Estimated reading time: 6 minutes:-)
I used to be embarrassed to admit I’ve been on JV all four years of high school.
But now I see what God’s plan was from the beginning. And I want to share that with you today.
Last Tuesday, I played my final soccer game and wrapped up my competitive soccer years. They recognized the seniors after an awesome game, and there were many tears. It’s sad to say goodbye to the incredible teammates and coaches I played with for years.
I’ve learned so many things from playing soccer. But before I share what I learned, I want to share how.
I started playing soccer when I was in 8th grade, so I’ve only played for 5 years. Because my family is so big, we couldn’t all play sports at the same time, so I didn’t grow up going to practice every week. My parents simply couldn’t drive us around that much, and it was far too expensive.
I also never played club, because I couldn’t afford it. And honestly, I no longer resent that fact. I struggled with jealousy for a lot of years, comparing myself to other girls who were better athletes because they played club since they were three. But I realize now that if I didn’t have the freedom I had when I was a kid, I would have missed out on the creativity and family bonds that grew there.
I came to Lutheran with one year of soccer under my belt, and I was awful. Seriously, it was bad. It makes me laugh thinking back! I expected to get on JV because I knew I needed to grow a lot, so when I made the team, I was thrilled.
Sophomore year, I felt like I’d grown a ton. I pushed myself during conditioning harder than I ever have before. I wanted to get on Varsity so bad. It was my dream. And, puffed up by my own pride and blinded by an unrealistic view of myself, I almost expected to get there. The frustration began to build when I made JV again.
Junior year, I felt even more confident. I decided to play goalie so I’d have a better chance of reaching Varsity. My coach would train with me one-on-one a few times, and I felt super prepared for the season. I did the best I’ve ever done in tryouts and scored a swing position for Varsity–and that’s when Covid hit. My season was completely canceled, and I was devastated. Back to square one.
At this time, I was focused on publishing and consumed by rehearsals for our musical this last year, so I wasn’t able to fully train the way I wanted to. I tried out as I have the last three years, and I was put back on JV this year.
I’ve never played a single Varsity game. Not once have I set foot on the field when Varsity was playing. I’ve never even sat on the bench. And that’s something I’ve struggled with for many years.
It’s easy to look at an athletic career and just see the physical stats. How many goals I scored, what team I made, who my coaches were, etc. But I can testify at least 80% of sports is mental. And that’s why I say playing soccer was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
I don’t struggle with self esteem or confidence very much on a daily basis (although it’s obviously still there). But when I step foot on the soccer field, it’s like a war is raging in my mind about my worth, my identity, my confidence, and what I believe about myself. I’ve never felt more insecure than I have playing soccer.
I struggled with comparing myself on the soccer field. How conditioned we are, how tan we get, how well we play. For years, I was consumed in an endless cycle of beating myself up for my mistakes. I would trip up on the field and bash myself for it, then put myself in a bad mental state that would make my performance even worse, and the vicious cycle would never end.
And I don’t say these things because someone made me think this way. This was all me. This was me bringing my own baggage to the soccer field and learning how to deal with it. It’s taken me four years to work through it all.
My parents couldn’t watch many of my games because they had young children for almost all my high school career, so I usually didn’t have anyone to cheer me on. I felt guilty going to practice and leaving my family behind for a few hours every day. Honestly, I struggled with feeling like I belonged playing soccer.
And the biggest lie I’ve believed in for so many years is that no one was proud of all my hard work. No one cared. No one was watching. And nothing I did on the soccer field mattered.
Those are lies.
This stuff is hard for me to admit. Sports come so easy for so many. I still catch myself beating myself up for not being better, not making Varsity, not doing something different. But I want to share this hard, gritty stuff because I know there are others out there who struggle with the same mindset.
And the story’s not over yet;-)
Those are the mental trials I’ve dealt with over the years. But Jesus loved me too much to leave me there, wallowing in pity and guilt and anger and pain and jealousy.
If I’ve learned one thing from playing soccer, it’s who I play for.
Soccer, more than many other things I’ve done, has trained me to reach for God when I’m weak.
When my parents and friends couldn’t make it to games, I would look up to the sky and beg God to watch because no one else would.
When I was conditioning and struggling with comparing myself to others, I would squeeze my eyes shut and beg God for strength.
When all I got at the end of a season (not that I deserved anything) was a participation award, I would beg God to silence the lies screaming in my mind.
When every year I received that email that said I got on JV yet again, I would take a deep breath and beg God to show me how he wants to use me. Why. What His plan is.
And on that last game, when my knee was injured and I couldn’t play, when my coach let me do kickoff, when I knew my last minute of soccer wasn’t a goal scored or something dramatic, when I realized I wasn’t going out with a bang but rather with a whisper, I looked up into that hot empty sky and begged God to help me give every ounce of glory to Him instead of myself.
Because he’s always been there.
I’m not a D1 athlete. I’m just a kid who’s been on JV for four years, a kid who truthfully played soccer for fun even when it wasn’t all fun. I’m not the MVP by any stretch of the imagination.
But God has used even me.
When I didn’t believe anyone cared, when I knew no one was watching, when I felt like no one was proud and I shouldn’t be either, God was singing over me. When my mindset was completely selfish and prideful, God humbled me to shape me into a better person. When I compared myself to my teammates, God reminded me how much He loves me–and them, too.
This year, God gave me peace. For years, I felt so embarrassed to admit I made JV again. And that embarrassment stemmed from a bad place in my heart, because there was nothing to be ashamed of.
My JV coach was the best coach I’ve ever had. She was no JV coach, she was college level. And yet she chose to pour into our lives every. single. day. for four years straight.
My teammates, especially this year, are incredible women I was honored to play with throughout the years. They testify to Christ in everything they do. I am not ashamed of playing with them.
God wanted me on JV. My plans of making Varsity might have been ambitious and exciting, but they didn’t line up with God’s plan for my life. God wanted me here.
My coach is one of the strongest women I know. I’ve never seen her cry at the end of a season. But this year, when we were saying goodbye, we both started crying a ton when we realized we wouldn’t play together again. And I knew then that God had used all of it. That he used me, even me, to touch lives and share the gospel, even if it wasn’t how I expected. Even if I wasn’t the star athlete I always dreamed of being. God had bigger plans.
Here’s a song I listened to throughout the years before games and practices. It helped me combat Satan’s lies bouncing around in my head. It’s a little different than usual (a wee bit intense haha), and a little cheesy (hey, I was a freshman when I got into this;-) but I treasure it still.
There is great comfort in realizing that God will use you no matter what happens. No matter where you go in life. No matter what you do. God can and will use you.
I’m no longer ashamed of being on JV for four years. I’m not only proud–I’m honored. I’m honored God chose to use me then, there, with those people all those years. JV will always hold a very special place in my heart. And I’m confident now: God makes beautiful things, even out of us.