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Life After Soccer: Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak

Life after soccer comes calling to every player at some point. Some of us have the good fortune of leaving the game on our own terms and others of us are ripped away by injury or circumstance. In either case, there’s some serious soul searching that follows. I’m sure every athlete deals with the transition differently, but for me it took some time and a little help from some friends. I think my story is typical. The windy road of international and professional soccer led me to realize it’s all in the journey and not the destination.

As a kid, I spent my summer nights in the driveway getting peppered by my older brothers’ slap shots, or playing touch football in the street, or soccer in the yard. I was a tagalong to my three older brothers, and in a way it was an introduction to a life long love of sports. I tried everything, and tried my best, because I wanted to be good enough to be the first pick when the teams were divided up. I think that was the origin of my competitive spirit. It’s as simple as that.

The 1984 Olympics had one of the greatest impacts on me of any of the events in my life. It was the first time I saw strong females role models. They were amazing athletes competing to be the best in the world! At that moment, I knew I didn’t just want to be the best in the neighborhood anymore. I was nine years old, and my dream of being a world champion was born.

From that day on I focused every fiber, every part of my being, on achieving that goal. I focused my life around growing as a soccer player and as an athlete. I sought out the best guidance, the best training environments, and connected with countless people who helped keep me on my path and propelled me further along. Years passed. And in the end, it happened. The dream came true for me. The gold medal, the championships, the wins, that final PK! It is literally impossible to adequately describe the explosion of emotions I have experienced. But, that was years ago. Poof! That life is gone now. So what is left?

Leaving behind that life has been one of the toughest things I have ever done. I struggled with how much of my identity was tied up in my life as an athlete, and honestly I struggled to recognize that next big goal to chase. I’ve always been goal oriented and I always had those lofty soccer goals to chase. But for me, the uncertainty didn’t last long. I quickly discovered my new purpose.

A few years ago, I was serendipitously reunited with many of the most influential coaches I’ve had in my life. It took place one afternoon at a banquet event and the lunch conversation quickly turned to what I was going to do with my life. The people at that table knew me better than I knew myself at times. They had been such a part of my life for so long. They weren’t just my soccer coaches, they were my mentors and they have shaped much of who I am today. I will be forever grateful for the push they gave me that day. Their insights led me to a career in college coaching. Since that night I have dedicated myself to being the best coach, mentor, and leader I can be. I want the people in my life to experience what I had. Good people who always looked out for me and taught me the essential skills to becoming successful.

I have also started a family with my husband Tim. We have two young daughters who have fulfilled my life in some many ways. I always knew that I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to expose my kids to the world and to different people and experiences the same way Carla Overbeck and others on the national team did during my career.

Tim and I also work together. We are coaching a team. It’s fitting since we met on the training field years ago at The University of North Carolina. He’s a soccer guy too, a former MLS Pro, so we ‘re perfect compliments to one another. We are co-head coaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, where we’ve run the women’s soccer program for the past 5 years. I never thought anything could compare to my life as a player, but in many ways what I do now is much more fulfilling. I love the relationships I have with the players and would do anything to help them. Our program is truly a family. The wins and loses are still important to me too. I get just as nervous for the conference final as I did for the World Cup final. I want them to succeed, the soccer is the medium while they’re at VCU, but my hope is that what they take away carries over to all aspects of their life.

The mentoring part has become a real passion of mine and I’ve really be blessed with the opportunity to do some work with the US State Department of the past few years. The Sports Diplomacy Envoys have taken me all over the world and I’ve gotten the opportunity to teach life skills through sports, and grow personally from the influence of the amazing children I’ve met.

I can see that it has come full circle for me. I love teaching on and off the field. I want to be there for people that need my assistance. I want to lead by serving.

It has been some years since I last wore that US jersey. I know now that it all comes and goes so fast, but it’s the people that remain. Your coaches, your teammates -those bonds and friendships last forever. We’re a family. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about the positive impact that one person makes on another person’s life. That transcends the soccer and has been my mission. I feel I’ve gained a lot over my career as a player but the real value is in the lessons learned, and those would be squandered if I didn’t commit myself to teaching others.

Life After Soccer: Danielle Fotopoulos

“Life After Soccer” Wow! I do have life after soccer, however, it still involves the game that has helped me along my path of life I am now a wife of a soccer coach, a mom of three, almost four, soccer players, and for my career path, I have become a head coach at Eckerd College!

So, I have continued my life, however, it is far from soccer. I am into soccer because it is not what I choose to do; it is part of the culture of my family. We love soccer and breath it every day, because it is part of our family!

We love Christ first, and our family is United in Him! However, we are also members of the Tampa Bay United soccer club, too. So, in short, I have “Life After Soccer”, but soccer and life are not two different things for me, because soccer is not just what we do as a family, it is how we share Christ with others and we see soccer as an opportunity for unity and hope for all people!

Thank you for the opporutnity to share my life with others!

Peace and Blessings,
Danielle Fotopoulos
PS Go Coaches!

Danielle Fotopoulos (Formerly Danielle Garrett) was a forward for the U.S. Women’s National Team from 1996-2005. The Pennsylvania native was a member for the historic U.S. team that won the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In college at the University of Florida, she led the Gators to national championship in 1998. Fotopoulos played with the Carolina Courage in the WUSA and won the Founder’s Cup with the Courage in 2002.

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.

Life After Soccer: Angela Hucles

Life after soccer…is a different life. Well, it has been for me at least. Most people talk about the identity tied to being an athlete and the transition after no longer being associated with a team or playing the game anymore. I retired from professional soccer two and a half years ago after playing the wonderful game for more than 25 years, and honestly, I feel like I am still adjusting to the transition.

After reaching a certain level, everything in your life as an athlete is so structured. What time you need to wake up, a set time for meals, training and lifting, doctors visits, travel, time-off, meetings, and downtime. Many arrangements are made for you so the primary focus as the athlete can stay on training, competing, and evolving as a player and as a team.

So what happens after that all disappears and you enter the “real world”? Of course, every person’s answer is different based on individual personality and circumstance. I was fortunate enough to retire of my own choosing and not because of an injury or coach’s decision. When I left soccer, I pursued an interest that I had in real estate. When I was on the road I would read lots of books on real estate, renovating and construction and became fascinated with it. That seemed like the logical next step for me, so I got my real estate license and worked for a residential company and then moved to a commercial real estate group. I was excited to experience the corporate world, trading in my cleats and sweats for pumps and suits. However, I began to realize the world in which I previously left in sports was still calling. While I knew I was finished playing soccer, I began to realize that there was still more being asked of me to stay involved in the sports world.

After some soul searching, conversations with friends and family, and support from advisors, I left the corporate world, recently moved across the country from Boston to LA, and have shifted my focus on motivational speaking and conducting workshops on empowerment through sport as well as sports commentating. Sports has enriched my life in so many ways and made me into the person that I am today. It is what I am truly passionate about and I’m enjoying the discovery of the many forms that it can take.

No matter what your involvement in sports are, life can show you times to reinvent yourself. What sports has offered me is the courage to accept challenges in those times, create concrete goals to achieve them, and to know that win or lose, the journey is what offers the greatest rewards whether it be in the game of soccer or the game of life.
Twitter: @angelahucles

Angela Hucles played for the U.S. Women’s National Team, won two Olympic gold medals, and played in two Women’s World Cups. The former Boston Breakers midfielder in both the WUSA and WPS, Hucles was honored in 2009 by U.S. Soccer, receiving the USSF Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Life After Soccer: Danielle Slaton

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.