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.