Life After Soccer

Life After Soccer is a blog series featuring former professional and national team players from around the world, talking about taking the next step in life after their playing careers are over.

Life After Soccer By Christie Welsh

You can take the player out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the player.

Soccer has always been the center of my life. I used to walk around thinking I would play forever or at least into my late 30s. I couldn’t imagine not being part of a team, getting up every day and going to practice. What could possibly be better? Whenever I was asked what I would do after soccer I was always stumped. I couldn’t see beyond my career. I knew nothing else and didn’t want to. I feared the day I wouldn’t be able to play anymore. The idea seemed foreign to me.

I felt it creeping up slowly over the past few years. My first step becoming slower, my body not recovering as fast, and then there was the back pain. Sometimes the sight of a turf field made me cringe. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed without rolling off and pushing myself up. For years I was able to play and get through it, but for some reason this past offseason was different. I have spondylosis and spondylolisthesis, which makes my spine look like a mess, and even the simplest action like a sneeze causes me pain. I have good days and I have bad days, with no rhyme or reason, but that seems to be the case with most people who have this.

In any case, over the past few years I knew an eventual retirement was coming. I just wasn’t sure when. 2009 was both an exciting and disappointing year for me. Six years of waiting and hoping for a professional league to return to the U.S. was finally here. For the first time in my life though, mentally I wasn’t there. Physically, I did everything I could and gave it my all, but at the highest levels you need both your mind and body on the same page.

I went into the 2010 WPS season with the mindset to enjoy every second and make the most of it. I had the most positive attitude I have ever had as a soccer player. I was hell bent on having a good year and making up for the one I had squandered. And despite a rocky season with the Freedom, I was as happy as ever. I think about all the ‘what ifs’ throughout my career… what if I had made an Olympic Team I so desperately thought I deserved? What if the WUSA had continued during the prime of my career? But the ‘what ifs’ mean nothing, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without the course I took. Ask US National Team player Lori Lindsey what it’s like to have it all taken away, to have to wake up at 4 a.m. to train clients at a gym and then drive 45 minutes every day to practice for a W-League team that doesn’t pay you a cent; to take 12-hour bus rides to Ottawa, Atlanta, and who knows where else to keep your career going because you LOVE it. Not because you get a fat pay check. Those were, to be honest, some of the best times of my life. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of my best friend for making her way back to the top. The future of women’s soccer in this country scares me. Where is the passion and drive to play for the love of the game and not for other means?

I recently read a blog by Chioma Igwe, and it was so much of how I thought just a few years ago. But after reading it, I thought about how so much has changed for me. I still wonder if I will ever love doing something the way I love playing soccer. I don’t think it’s possible. Then I think about how lucky I am to have found something I am so passionate about. Some people search their lives for it. Before you feel a sense of sadness reading any of this, let me just tell you to stop right there. I’ve accomplished so much and not even for a second can I let myself feel sad. I’ve played 39 times for my country. I’ve traveled to over 14 different countries. I’ve been a part of three National Team residencies and been an alternate for an Olympic Team. I’ve played and lived overseas in France and Sweden and have had an incredible eight-year relationship with Nike. And let’s not forget four unbelievable years playing for The Pennsylvania State University and an amazing college education I received there. Not to mention the invaluable friendships I have made along the way, which to me are the most important of anything I have received. I’m lucky and I know it.

What’s next? Who knows? But I can tell you this. It’s time for me to give back. It’s time for me to pay it forward for all the unbelievable opportunities soccer has given me. And to thank all the amazing coaches, family, friends and fans (all two of you) I have who have supported me throughout my entire career. I know I will always be involved with soccer on some level. It’s given me too much for me to give up on it.

I am currently coaching club soccer in the Washington D.C. area and hope to pursue collegiate coaching in the near future. There are other things in life I have been exploring, and to be honest, I am really enjoying myself. It’s funny how your mind works, and many days I have to tell myself it’s OK I didn’t kill myself working out.  With coaching, I still feel a part of the game, and with so many friends still playing, I make every effort to watch them play and hope to attend WPS games this summer.  What I’ve come to realize is although I am not out there every day playing, soccer is still a huge part of me. It has just taken on a new form and it still makes me happy. I don’t know if any moment will ever feel as great as some of those game winning goals or championships I’ve been a part of but I can tell you that seeing the joy on a kids face you’ve worked with when they finally get what you’ve been trying to teach them comes pretty darn close.

Christie Welsh played for the U.S. Women’s National Team, and in her first full season with the team in 2000, she scored 11 goals in 15 games. A MAC Hermann trophy winner as a junior at Penn State, Welsh later went on to play in both WUSA and WPS. She also played overseas in France and Sweden.