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 Vanja Stefanovic
I started to play with other girls when I was 13 years old. Before that, I played just with guys on a local team. I can still remember the first soccer training. Since that, soccer has been the center of my life. Everything came really fast for me. My first senior game at the top level was at age 16. National team was at17. When I look back, it was an amazing journey. I lived my dream every single day. I felt that the field was the place where I could express myself, all I am, (and) my love for the game. I lived for that moment when you put the jersey on and let the show go on. That passion, excitement, and most of all, self-accomplishment, is something that gives another dimension to life. In 1999, the war started at home. Everything stopped. Our dreams, hopes, everything was taken away, but not the passion for the game.
Despite everything, we had training nearly every day. We would come all worried and with hard stories to tell, but when we stepped on the field, we were in another world. We still enjoyed it. We trained as hard as we did before … and we lived our dream still. We hoped it would all get back to normal soon and that we would be able to compete again. When I look back to those times, I know that I will carry that burden for the rest of my life, but despite everything, I can still get something good out of it. I realize how soccer wasn’t just a game for us; it was lot more than that. It was the passion and desire for the game, to be able to get better and to enjoy it no matter what. It wasn’t about how much you got paid and what you got out of it. It was a simple and clear love for the game. In those days, the field was our place where we still had our dreams.
That passion led me through my whole career, which lasted for 17 years. I played semi-professional in Iceland for FC Kauer, Breidablik, and Valur for six years, and then two years professional in the Toppserien in Norway. Before moving to Iceland, I played with my home team in Serbia. I played for the national U-18 team where I was captain, and also our national team, where I had 54 caps and again was captain.
You know in life there are always ups and downs, but the soccer field was my “safe house.” I enjoyed every part of my long career. I met friends for a lifetime, traveled through the whole world, and I learned to appreciate what is given in life and to enjoy it. What’s next? I still live my dream. I work as a coach for the Norwegian team Stabæk. It’s different, and yes I do miss the game. I miss the adrenalin during the game. I miss the game; I really do miss it. I had few good years left to play, but I had made my decision. Now I still live my dream through young girls that have same dreams as I did a long time ago. And it does make me happy to help them to reach their goals. The life outside being a professional player and playing every day, going every day to training is very different. But I know that I did my best and that I loved every minute of it.
Vanja Stefanovic played for the Serbian Women’s National Team. She also played as a midfielder for both Donn of Norway’s top-flight league, Toppserien, and for Valur in Iceland’s highest tier of soccer, Úrvalsdeild, as well as FC Kauer and Breidablik. She now coaches Stabæk in the Toppserien.