So You Want Your Child to be a College Athlete, Part 1
As a parent, you’ve guided your children through a myriad of development stages so that they could succeed in life. Like me, you probably have big dreams for your children. Hopes and dreams range from independence and grit to confidence and values. Ultimately, we want our children to live a healthy and well balanced life. In this three-part series, we’re going to explore what we need to know as parents and coaches to help our kids either begin or grow their own personal athleticism, become a college athlete or simply move better in life.
We have a resident expert and former college athlete, Fitness on the Run (FOR) instructor Erica Morales to serve as our tour guide.
Erica has the bona fide credentials. Her journey can help you apply valuable lessons to your child’s cruise down the river of their “movement life”. In 2012, Erica led UVA to victory in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Women’s Soccer Championship and was named to the ACC All-Tournament team. She boils down her success to three components: discipline, support and sacrifice.
Those can easily be glossed over in today’s culture, but without them athletes like Erica are not made. Erica was introduced to soccer at age 4 and somewhere between ages 8 and 12, it clicked with her that this was “her sport.” Really, soccer was her life.
Her talent was evident from the start and with her drive to work hard, it blossomed. She devoted hours (often with her dad) in their cul-de-sac juggling, working on headers, passing, and trapping the ball.
In high school, commitment to her sport didn’t waver even though she became more aware that it brought along trade-offs. She missed school dances, birthday parties, vacations and sometimes couldn’t hang out with friends. She felt the sting of sacrifice, but her love of soccer was more intense. Baseball great and World Series MVP Derek Jeter addressed similar choices in his own career, “There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”
The commitment was not Erica’s alone. Her parents and sister shared it. In fact, Erica followed her elder sister, Eva, into soccer. Their parents offered love and encouragement regardless of how they played or the score of the game. The sisters cheered for each other. Their parents put family resources toward hotels and flights to soccer tournaments in support of their daughters’ passions. Kids know when their parents have their backs. Eva went on to play at Eastern Kentucky University and still plays in an adult league in Florida where she lives with her family.
On and off the field, Erica had an insatiable appetite to improve. She had the discipline and drive to focus not only on the skills of the sport but on her nutrition and ultimately the determination to overcome set backs and disappointments.
As a high school sophomore, she began taking her nutrition seriously. Through trial and error, she discovered a path between how she ate and how she practiced and played. Like any athlete, she was always hungry and could eat anything she wanted. However, Erica recognized her performance on fitness tests were unparalleled when she drank lots of water, ate eggs and oatmeal. She respected and committed to that critical window for fueling her body properly before practice and games.
Following graduation, it was a dream come true when Erica moved to Division 1 collegiate soccer. But, her mettle was quickly tested. A tackle from behind left her with a severely sprained ankle. She’d imagined that first practice as a college athlete: she would prove herself, showing her coaches and teammates what she could do and build camaraderie with her teammates. Instead, she wore a boot and was going to the rehab facility twice a day.
She began to fight through the physical and mental hurdles. She deciphered the small but critical distinction of “pain versus discomfort.” She credits “self-talk” that helped her get through those times of discomfort. She found that so much of it is mental and reminding yourself why you’re doing it. Erica says, “You have to experience some level of discomfort in order to grow and get better. Knowing and embracing that is key.”
The day finally came when she was cleared to play. Her first game was a huge one against Penn State. UVA was down 0-2. Her team came roaring back. Erica scored the fourth goal, and UVA went on to win. This was a confidence boost for Erica in her freshman year. As Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street – another top athlete who has dealt with injuries and setbacks – puts it, “To uncover your true potential you must first find your own limits and then you have the courage to blow past them.”
Today, Erica works with a lot of aspiring athletes. Her experience motivates them, but also cautions them that “it’s not a straight shot to the top.” Her advice to kids is to “not be so hard” on themselves.
She hopes parents of young athletes will take a page out of her parents’ playbook. Erica says her parents treated her no differently when she won or lost. She describes her mom as “a very positive person” and reveals with a smile that it could “get annoying” when she was younger. But she never doubted her parents’ support and love which was the foundation on which she built her impressive soccer career and her happy, fit life.