I wrote this blog from the comfort of the library at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri where I was settling in after arriving on 2nd August to begin an exciting a four year Student Athlete Soccer Scholarship.
I was inspired to write it after reading an interview with Mollie Rouse in the summer on the She Kicks website. It was really interesting to read this interview and see how hard Mollie has worked to get to where she is today as an England U-20 international, winning a bronze medal at a world cup while (like many of her Young Lionesses team mates), undertaking a soccer scholarship in the USA.
This is especially pertinent to me because I really enjoyed the challenge of playing against Mollie two years ago at a Sports Recruiting USA Showcase event where we were in opposition in centre midfield.
I totally agree and endorse the message that I took from her interview of ‘hard work paying off’ and it was good to read about some of Mollie’s journey in football.
It made me think about my own journey so far which has been different to Mollie’s, even though we are both realising a dream of playing in the USA.
As well as the ethos of #hardworkpaysoff which is often a phrase used on social media and hash-tagged the world over, it made me think of other motivational quotes which others may also identify with or be inspired by. One of those is about ‘Daring to dream’. (Or #DaretoShine like the #FIFAWWC2019 slogan – SK Ed!)
I say this because like many others in the sport we love, we often experience ups and downs on a journey where things do not run as smoothly as we would like, opportunities may not work out in the way that we wished, while some may feel that opportunities are very limited and/or non-existent and give up on their dreams.
It is here that another quote I have often seen on social media which I think is important to keep in mind when things don’t go well is ‘setbacks pave the way for comebacks’. For me, along with the other motivational quotes already highlighted, i think can be reflected in my own journey so far.
‘setbacks pave the way for comebacks’
Without doubt, nothing successful has happened without hard work. This can be in the form of commitment to your sport, education and trying to improve to be the best you can be.
Being the best you is an on-going journey that takes discipline, sacrifice and effort which many of my peers will know well.
My journey began playing football almost as soon as I could walk because my parents and older brother had a big passion for the game. I used to love playing in the back garden when growing up, where we had plastic goalposts.
Our garden fence was ruined due to the amount of times the ball used to smash into it over the years but my Dad refused to replace it knowing it was only a matter of time before my brother and I would ruin it again if he did.
We used to have to move the goalposts around to different parts of the garden so we would spread the damage out around the whole of the fence.
I remember training with a grassroots boys’ team at the age of 10 years old and I encountered much of the stigma that many other young girl players have had in this situation.
I remember things being said by boy players like ‘why have we got a girl playing with us?’ and on occasions some boys refusing to go in pairs with me for training drills saying ‘she is rubbish, she is a girl’ even though I was better than most of them.
Looking back now, it is quite cringey thinking about how the coach used to try and manage these situations, looking awkward with some of the parents of those boys obviously being in agreement with their sons as they stood back watching in disapproval at my presence.
I would like them to see me now. Maybe they will see this article and realise that ‘this girl can’.
I was fortunate to be spotted by a Leicester City Centre of Excellence Coach who came into school when I was aged 10 and I signed up with Leicester City Girls Centre of Excellence (COE) after going along to a trial. I really enjoyed attending this for a year but it was unfortunate that both my parent’s work circumstances changed and they were no longer able to undertake the 50 mile round trip twice a week to take me to training.
This meant I could no longer attend. I was absolutely gutted at the time as I loved it so much but I remember having to get over this and move on quickly.
I then played girls grassroots football in and around my hometown for the next three seasons. While I really enjoyed this and I do not regret the development I gained from this in getting lots of touches of the ball and playing all the time, at the age of 14, I felt I wanted more and I still used to think about when I could not attend Leicester City Girls Centre of Excellence anymore.
I wanted to achieve something more than playing for a grassroots club in my home town. I believed in my ability and I knew I had the right attitude to play a higher standard of football.
I spotted an advertisement for Northampton Town Player Development Centre (PDC) on the internet and I showed it to my parents. I was really worried that they were going to say it would not be possible to transport me there. However, my parents said that potentially this was a distance they may be able to manage between them. At this point it was only once a week.
While the Northampton PDC was not a COE of Leicester’s standard, it was still an opportunity to get back into football with a league club, develop and hopefully progress further. More crucially, it was a programme that my parents said they could commit to travelling.
At 14 I then played for their U15s team and at 15 I then progressed into their U18s team. It is here where I started to get the bug for wanting to become a student athlete in the USA. This was because the Northampton Ladies team would often play against SRUSA Women’s Soccer in Northampton and I would go and watch. I was able to see that a couple of Northampton Ladies players went to the USA, and from their social media they seemed to be having a great time being there. I started to do my research from this point on.
I realised that this could be an opportunity to really achieve something in the game as well as doing something that looked really exciting and different. In addition, because I was not at COE (now usually called a Regional Talent Club or RTC) or at ‘big club’ on an elite pathway, I thought it was probably going to be my best route into playing a higher standard of football.
This is because it often feels for many players that if you are not in the system of bigger clubs and their COE / RTC at a younger age (which I actually originally was when with Leicester aged 11) then the chances of you getting noticed and selected are reduced as they often stick with the same players they have already.
The USA route into playing a higher of standard of football looked like the best route for me and at the age of 15 I still had belief that I could play top level women’s football and go onto play international football – I believe this even more so now.
The way I see it, I have already achieved one of those things, which looked highly unlikely while playing football in my hometown at 14. While I am not an international player yet, I do not believe I have been fully noticed yet either – although I have been contacted by the Scottish FA recently, who will monitor my progress while I am in the USA.
I am eligible to play for both England and Scotland and so this at least doubles my chances!
It should be highlighted that players such as Rachel Daly, Leah Galton and Mollie Rouse have come through and are coming through the USA student athlete route along with many others now. In my opinion this shows what is possible.
When I finish my Soccer Scholarship at the age of 22, I aim to be a much better player than I am now. I am told by coaches I am technically excellent, read the game very well and that I have a lot of potential yet to fulfil.
Physically I still have a lot of growing to do and having done my research about Soccer in the USA then I believe this route is perfect for my developmental needs as well.
After many discussions with my parents about the student athlete route aged 15, I decided that I wanted to sign up with SRUSA and did so at the age of 15 (I was born in May 2000). It was my target then at 15 years old to become a student athlete in the USA. It has without doubt been one of the best things I ever did signing up with SRUSA.
Jon Maloney (above)and his staff have been an excellent form of support and have really helped me improve as a footballer, student and professional person over the last three years. The motivation of playing in the USA becomes an incentive that has kept me massively focussed on top of the drive and focus I already had.
Throughout my time with Jon and SRUSA, I have always felt that I am much more than someone who is just being helped by them within a process. There really is a family feeling to the way things are done and I have made some great friends through SRUSA also.
It has been great to be coached by some excellent coaches and role models such as current Manchester United and England player Leah Galton who herself like Jon has been a student athlete in the USA. They are able to pass on advice and invaluable guidance.
I attended training camps with SRUSA while continuing to play for Northampton u18s and when I turned 16, I was then promoted up to the Northampton Ladies team. It is here where my development and recognition began to go up another level.
It was fortunate that the Northampton Ladies Team played in the same league as Leicester City Women’s development team and I made my debut against them in which I played in the sweeper position. I am fundamentally a central midfield player who can also play as a sweeper.
I think I must have played well as the opposition soon after put in a transfer request in for me. Again, I was fortunate that my parents’ work circumstances changed around that time and were again able to transport me to Leicester (something they could no longer do when I was 11 years old).
However, despite this extremely disappointing experience aged 11 and being absolutely gutted by that, I had in essence, still managed to get signed by Leicester City Women FC even though I had not come through the usual pathway.
So, I had actually got to where I wanted to be from the age of 11 but got there by taking another route. I think this is a credit to Leicester City Women FC as a club for looking outside of the usual pathways.
Jamie Vardy automatically springs to mind here so perhaps it’s a Leicester thing!
I think it is important at this point to recognise that while pathways are important and I support Elite Pathway programmes, those pathways also ought to be broad and wide-ranging, and have a degree of flexibility, in a sport that is still growing.
This is because there is some great talent out there which has not been picked up yet and clubs, coaches should be open-minded and flexible about how they find and nurture this talent.
If you have ability, attributes, potential and talent then you ought to stand a decent chance of being recognised whether you are in an RTC or not.
This should be a similar notion used by the recently formed Advanced Coaching Centres (ACC) at Local Football Associations which promote player involvement with them as the best opportunity to play international football even though many within the game know that not all the best players are involved with an ACC.
Is this really the best or only way to unearth the most natural talents and nurture them?
I recall being told by a coach that if I wasn’t part of an RTC or ACC then I would never play international football.
After Leicester City Women FC put a transfer in for me I played the majority of the season starting games for the Reserve Team (aged 16) with two first team 3rd and 4th round FA Cup call-ups where I was an unused sub. I was absolutely itching to get on in those games and this gave me a taste for first team football.
However, even though I didn’t get on in those FA Cup games I really enjoyed the experience of being in and around the first team management and senior players. I wanted more of this.
I was also fortunate the following season to gain great experience with another midlands club in the Premier League Nottingham Forest Ladies. I learned quickly and I realised that at 16/17/18 years of age, development is massively important and there are many things as a player where you have to take responsibility for yourself.
I have come from playing grassroots football in my hometown of Corby aged 14 to having played for a league club, two Premier League clubs, had contact with Scottish FA coaches and received numerous offers from Universities in USA aged 17. Therefore, ln reflection, I have come a long way in a short time, given I did not come through the conventional Elite Pathway.
I hope this shows others what can be achieved if things do not go to plan or circumstances that are beyond your control derail your opportunities and progress.
Until leaving for USA at the beginning of August, I had always continued to regularly attend training camps with SRUSA because as well as trying to gain footage for my highlights video, I really enjoyed going as it was excellent for my development and meeting friends old and new.
Most importantly, it was good fun and I enjoyed the work ethic and environment. I still attended many camps around the country even though I had already signed and sealed my letter of intent with CMU. Again, I think it’s important to evaluate what is helping you develop and your contribution to this.
To give an insight into offers received while working with SRUSA, within the last 18 months, I received many offers from universities in NCAA D1, NCAA D2 and NAIA D1 and I imagine like many other players in the same position, I went through them all with my parents one by one, did the painstaking research, had the skype calls with all coaches in order to finally make a decision based on various different things;
Type of university, course availability, standard of team, playing style, ethos, religious affiliation, weather, location, costs and lots of other different things! My parents were quite stressed at times going through it all but Jon at SRUSA was different class.
It is worth highlighting here that this period can be quite a busy time for a player also. As well as the above, players around this age and period will be undertaking GCSEs, SAT Exam (USA education entry exam), applying for a visa, A Levels, learning to drive as well as travelling to training and matches.
So, while many of my friends were beginning to embark on their adult social lives, I simply did not have the time for parties! That said, this is not my scene anyway but it does highlight the sacrifices that are made for many in the same boat.
In assessing the right university and best offer, I feel fortunate to have made a gut instinct connection and rapport with a coach and university that felt right for me and ticked all the boxes previously highlighted and my parents felt the same.
This connection was made nearly a year ago now and after all of the communication in between with this coach, senior players and university, I feel very comfortable and sure I made a great decision.
It is worth noting here, that when considering what is the right university and team for you, that you are taking a holistic view of the bigger picture. For example, it is not just about signing up with a team that plays in what is seen as the highest league as the college and university system works in a much different way to the UK and across the leagues and conferences, there are many variables around the levels. So, doing your research on this is well advised.
Furthermore, it is also worth realising that the season in USA is much shorter than it is in the UK and therefore your decision cannot solely be based on football.
As I have often heard Jon say ‘there is a reason why the word student comes first in the term ‘Student Athlete’.
I have been very fortunate to have had some great support from coaches and senior players in settling in. CMU is the right place for me. One senior player from England has been massively supportive since an offer was made from CMU as has her family and this has been an excellent support and made a huge difference to me.
I learned when I was at Leicester City Women FC the importance of advice and guidance senior players can give you and I hope to give this back to younger players in the future when i am more experienced player.
The whole experience so far since signing with SRUSA when I was 15 and accepting an offer with CMU at 17 and settling in here has been one of a support and inclusion. The Staff at SRUSA and CMU have been different class.
We have a great mix of nationals here. It is great to mix with other players who come from different countries and cultures and getting to know each other.
Training is intense but fun. We train every day at least once and twice on alternative days. We have classroom sessions, strength and conditioning sessions and pool sessions. Rest and recovery is structured in.
The team have some quality players and the coaching is as good if not better as I received in the Premier League in England and I have had some excellent coaches and coaching there. The Heart of America is considered to be a tough conference.
I have no doubt I will have to work hard to help us defend the Heart of America conference title they won last season but I am looking forward to the challenge. More importantly, from my experiences and journey so far in football, I am looking forward to making development a priority for myself and being a great team player at the same time. I believe that if can do this then rewards will come in the end for us all.
In my first couple of days here I was given an excellent and friendly welcome. I had lunch with my coaches and was invited on a road trip to St Louis with senior player and her family and another senior player. I also got to meet lecturers for the Physical Education Degree I will be undertaking. I thought this was different class and gave me an even further sense of team work, inclusion, identity and belonging.
As previously mentioned, we have a structured daily pre-season schedule which incorporates field, pool, gym, strength and conditioning and classroom sessions. We also undertake community service and team building exercises some of which are with the men’s team. We also eat together as a team.
I don’t think I can fail to come back to England at the end of my time here a much better player and person and this is what I intend to do. I am enjoying every minute of it so far and I aim for it to continue.
My accommodation is a shared room in a building that is for freshmen only and there is a family feeling to it.
The players who are already here know how it feels to be new and are massively supportive in helping with everything you need. This is something I will carry forward next year.
From this blog / article, I hope the message that comes out and reaches any young players out there who for whatever reason have had setbacks or who have not come through the regular elite pathways, is to not give up on what it is you’re trying to achieve.
I think in my own experience I have had mixture of unfortunate and fortunate luck. However, in taking risks, making choices, standing by decisions, learning from positive and negative experiences then setbacks only pave the way to comebacks when the hard work pays off.
For this reason, I would encourage any young player who has not come through the elite pathway route and may be thinking of giving up then still ‘dare to dream but do not be afraid to fail’.
This is a message that I do practice what I preach as I pursue my ambition of playing international football. I am hopeful and quietly confident I can do this as I have achieved everything I set out to do so far.
Good luck and keep believing and next I will update you on how my freshman season is progressing!