As I sit down to write about my life after soccer, I am stirred by the timeliness of this post. Just today, the mailman delivered Sports Illustrated to my apartment. Junior Seau is on the cover. This edition covers Seau’s successful career and tragic death, discussing the idea of post-athletic career depression. I saw the magazine in my mailbox and immediately sat down to read the articles. I felt like I could connect to the feelings of uncertainty and fear and sadness that can sometimes coincide with the end of an athlete’s career. I sit here today as a confident and happy woman, but the road I traveled to get here was challenging at times.
I played professionally and for the U.S Women’s National Team, and my playing career was cut short due to a knee injury. After going back to school to earn my college degree, I became a college soccer coach at Northwestern University. I earned a master’s degree. I now work in the education field where I teach leadership development and design curriculum, tests, and lesson-plans for instructors. I also get to travel on behalf of US Soccer and the US State Department to teach young girls and boys about the life skills that soccer can provide. I have a great network of friends, and I even play on a co-ed recreational team each week. We are decent, not great, but we always have fun! Just this month, I have started to train for my first triathlon. I am very blessed, but for a while after I retired, I struggled to appreciate all that I had.
When I hung up my boots, I had a hard time finding my identity. Soccer had been such a large part of who I was that I struggled defining my place without it. Were the most successful days of my life already behind me? What do I want to do with my life now? Because my career ended abruptly, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about what I wanted to pursue when I finished playing soccer. It took me a few years of reflection and self-discovery to figure that out.
But, after my experiences as an athlete, and after pushing to discover who I want to be in the next phase of my life, these are a few things I know:
1. The determination, commitment, and dedication I learned as a soccer player have served me well in recent years. Even when I am struggling, I know I am strong.
2. My best days in life are still ahead of me.
3. Soccer gave me many tools that I use in my life today: I know how to be a good teammate at work. I know how to fight for what I want. I set goals, and strive for success every day.
4. My transition to a life after soccer taught me many things as well: Giving in doesn’t mean you are giving up. Working harder isn’t always the right answer. I don’t have to be tough all the time to be successful.
Danielle Slaton was a defender for the U.S. Women’s National Team. She played collegiately at Santa Clara University and later played on the professional ranks with the Carolina Courage of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), leading the Courage to the WUSA Championship. That year, she was named WUSA Defender of the Year.