Letters to a Young Player: Havana Solaun

Havana Solaun through the years, from pee-wee soccer to Washington Spirit.
photos: Havana Solaun / Univ. of Florida / Washington Spirit

Dear Little Me,

You will miss a PK. The whistle blows. Your teammates watch as you step up to the line. Something goes wrong. Maybe you’re tired because it’s the end of the game. Or, the pressure of the game takes over and you misplant your foot. Perhaps the keeper makes the save of her life. Or, you didn’t get enough power on the kick. You found the back of the net a thousand times before at training. But, you will miss a PK.

You will get injured. At some point you’re sidelined. You experience overwhelming pain, both physical and mental. Many tears flow behind closed doors and on the bathtub floor as you rebuild your body from scratch. You will wear the scars with pride. The question, “Why me?” repeats in your head. But, you will get injured.

You will lose the big game. You can spend a season, an entire year, four years, training for one game. Your nerves and excitement blend into one. Your heart beats out of your chest as the national anthem plays. The energy of the game takes over. You’re flying high. All of the early-morning running and hot afternoon trainings were all for this moment. The enormity of the loss won’t be acknowledged until later. But, you will lose the big game.

You will sit on the bench. Maybe you’re coming back from an injury. Maybe your teammates out-trained you this week. You will find yourself sitting on the sidelines more than once. You will struggle with watching on the sideline. But, you will sit on the bench.

You will get yelled at by your coach. You messed up the passing pattern. The coach uses you as an example. The coaches want you to succeed but how they show it may not always feel that way. The embarrassment of being singled out will deflate you. You shrink to the size of an infant. But, you will get yelled at by your coach.

You will question whether you should quit or keep playing. Every four years the prospect of a transition occurs: Am I going to play in high school? Am I going to play in college? Am I going to play professionally? There will be many points in your career when uncertainty creeps in. At what point do I hang up my cleats? You have discussions with others in hopes of finding clarity. Countless internal conversations about what’s best for you filter through your mind. But, you will question if you should quit or keep playing.

Havana Solaun as a young player. (Havana Solaun)
Havana Solaun as a young player. (Havana Solaun)

You will feel lost. Soccer takes over your life. When you look in the mirror all you see is the player. Finding separation can be a struggle. Failures on the field become personal failures. Don’t lose sight of the person behind the player. Your identity isn’t tied to the game. Soccer is what you do, it’s not who you are. But, you will feel lost.

You will roll your ankle. Okay, you’ll roll it more than once. The anxiety escalates as you wonder if you’ll kick normally again (without a tapped ankle). Dial down the drama. Your body is strong. You’ll heal and forget the setbacks happened. Until you roll it again. But, you will roll your ankle.

You will be clueless on what college to choose. There are many options. Your mom constantly tells you to make the calls and send emails. The college tours begin. Weed through the forest of soccer coaches. Be grateful for the multitude of offers. The pressure to make a decision by a deadline adds stress. You will have a big signing-day celebration to announce your decision. But you will have no idea what college you should go to.

You will doubt your abilities. The fear to admit your dreams terrifies you. Questioning whether your level of play is high enough haunts you. When someone asks, “So, are you going to play for the national team?” You hesitate. Shyly, you answer, “Yes.” People constantly offer advice, telling you what to do, what is best, and what you need. But, you will doubt your own abilities.

You will watch your teammates succeed before you do. Your best friend becomes the team captain of your club team. Your frenemy will win the local player award. A freshman leads your college team in goals your senior year. You will watch your teammates succeed before you do.

Now, what if I told you despite all the challenges you will succeed. Missing a PK teaches you the true definition of resilience. The countless injuries break you to the point where you become unbreakable. Losing the big game teaches you the importance of humility. Sitting on the bench makes you appreciate every minute playing on the field. When a coach yells at you, a spark ignites a fire within that pushes you to higher levels. Every time you roll your ankle you learn to endure because your passion overpowers the setbacks. Doubting your abilities leads to working harder which creates confidence. Having no idea what college to attend exposes you to the process of making major decisions. Watching your teammates succeed shows you one of the most important life lessons: Life isn’t a game of comparisons, neither is soccer.

Your career is your story. Don’t get lost in someone else’s narrative. You will experience all those moments and you will rise to the top. Don’t allow the fear of these inevitable moments to hold you back.

Soccer is a game that changes your life. Love every second.