Life After Soccer: Staci Wilson

For me, this series would more appropriately be titled, “Is There Life After Soccer?” As a player I thought I was a well-grounded and developed individual who just happened to play soccer, but the reality of it was that I truly was a player and in my heart identified myself as such. It took at least 6-7 years until I started to achieve peace with the change of life and identity. I didn’t predict it would be such a difficult transition.

My take on “life after soccer” really only applies to players who over years and years put in blood, sweat, and tears. It applies regardless of end level achieved, however, the now abundant everyone-gets-a-trophy players who participated because, well, they could, will not feel the same as I or the players who truly invested in the process. Players who invested and competed with greatness, the type whose parents had to pull them off the field, this type of player, will find a pretty major void of sorts once their competitive career is over.

Competing at soccer provided me with a unique enjoyment and euphoria. This made the dedication, hard work and sacrifice effortless. Nothing gave a better feeling to me as a youth than running, making a killer tackle, or scoring a goal. The game was a tremendous outlet where I could pour my energy and see positive things in return… That is a pretty powerful presence to have in one’s life, and I think that is the overall challenge in transitioning from a “soccer player” to an “ordinary civilian”. Once competing at soccer was over I needed to identify a new passion and the best life path to carry it out. I had to figure out the people and things within “life after soccer” that could ignite my heart enough to fill the enjoyment and euphoria void.

I searched long and far and wide and… (drum roll, suspense)… ended up coaching soccer. I love the game, every single aspect of it – the technical mastery, physical training, tactical strategies, psychological warfare, teamwork, bonding, goal-setting, etc., etc., etc., so coaching turned out to be more of a calling over time than a decision. I never actually planned to be a soccer coach, but somehow chose jobs that kept me connected to training soccer players or teams (i.e. wellness instructor, strength coach). Eventually a friend asked me to coach her daughter’s team, which was about to implode with a couple of dad coaches. Before that I would only train teams. I trained four different teams once per week, but would not coach because I enjoyed the lovely, drama-free existence of not having to deal with parents or clubs. As a favor, I went ahead and took the plunge and committed. It turned out to be a life-altering decision that changed the trajectory of my existence. I discovered what could be shared through coaching and mentoring a group over time. Perhaps equally enticing was the noted fact that I could play into scrimmages way more as a coach. ☺

Most players that decide to coach after their playing career has ended have a desire to share what the game has brought them. Whether it is self-pride, or confidence, teamwork, focus, or whatever, there tends to be some noble reason or purpose that keeps most players in the game. In college, Anson often gave speeches about “giving back to the game,” which stuck with me. I admired him taking the time with us to discuss deeper issues than how to win. He was teaching us to not be bigger than the game but rather to connect with it… I can say that soccer has afforded me many opportunities, and, in giving back what soccer has given me, my company motto has been for years and will remain “*Empowerment * Achievement * Excellence*” with a mission of “helping female soccer players achieve goals and reach dreams.”

Considering that I stayed in a sports training environment for many years, the necessary lifestyle adjustments were minimal at first. I was in the weight room for hours each day teaching, thus able to maintain a lot of my fitness effortlessly. As the job demands became more office-related over time, plus outside of work life expanded, I’ve had to put more focus on and effort into establishing healthy exercise and nutrition patterns. I actually have to find time to workout now and I can’t eat whatever I want – the body changes (somewhat tragically) when activity levels decrease so drastically, not to mention throwing age into the equation. The whole “no naps” thing was a hard adjustment, too. I thought being a pampered high-level athlete was tough, but came to see how much harder those that do not have to workout 3-5 hours per day or play in two 90-minute games per week have it… Yes, reality hits through incremental, often ironic revelations during the post-playing career.

Truly letting go of playing has been a lot easier in the past few years because I’ve focused on the benefits that come with not competing at soccer. I take appreciation in the things that I can now do with my time… spending time with my family and friends, enjoying new hobbies like canoeing and boxing, expanding relationships, relaxing at the pool or beach, etc. The reality of old age hits eventually so I also appreciate what I do not have to do with my time. Things like not icing for an hour per day, not stretching for an hour per day, not planning out a week or month training schedule, not having to skip late-night socials, etc.

So is there life after soccer? I found that, yes there are delightful experiences and personal growth that can only be experienced once the competitive player mentality and career has ended. I also discovered post-career, however, the true meaning behind the saying “Soccer is Life” and with that figured out how to positively extend my connection to the game.

Staci Wilson won an Olympic gold medal with the 1996 U.S. Women’s National Team. The former University of North Carolina defender went on to play professionally in the WUSA, winning a championship with the Carolina Courage.