Abby Wambach is a soccer legend. Olympic Gold Medalist. World Cup Champion. NCAA D1 Champion. And, back in the day, she got to play soccer for her high school.
Today’s soccer players have a new and difficult choice to make.
Like most of her soccer peers, and the “99ers” who paved the way, she played high school soccer. She faced many challenges during her soccer career. One challenge she didn’t have to face, however, was the decision whether or not to give up high school soccer.
That is a difficult choice that most elite American soccer players must make. The competitive level and elite training environment in the US Soccer Development Academy are definite benefits of the DA program. One sacrifice, though, is high school soccer.
An interview with Abby Wambach
Every year, Gatorade names a male and female Athlete of the Year for every state in multiple sports. To be eligible, athletes must compete for their high school in their sport. Gatorade values the high school sports experience and community service, emphasizing the benefits of playing for your school and helping in the community.
At the recent Gatorade Athlete of the Year awards, I had the chance to sit down with Abby and talk about high school soccer. What did it mean to her? Why is high school soccer so important? How did high school soccer help her become the soccer legend and amazing person she is today?
The importance of high school soccer according to Abby
Abby Wambach in her own words:
“I loved high school soccer. It was super important in my life. I know club soccer is becoming more important. High school soccer gives you a unique opportunity to fight for an institution you participate in, in more than just that one sport. Club soccer is your team logo, your team name.”
“Kids start to realize, ‘I’m part of something so much bigger than just me.'”
“When you play for your high school, you’re playing for something bigger than just your sport. There’s a sense of camaraderie that goes far beyond just the one sport. You go and cheer for the other sports, the other activities. It starts to develop a sense of ‘otherness.’ Kids start to realize, ‘I’m part of something so much bigger than just me.’ That’s something that was so important for my development as a teammate, as an elite player, and in terms of striving for bigger goals that I set for myself in my life.”
“Playing for something bigger than myself has actually been the thing that challenged me the most throughout my entire career, from a young age. I don’t know if players who just play club feel that same kind of affinity until they get to, maybe, college. That’s where they finally get to feel like they’re playing for something bigger than themselves, for their larger community.”
“The way you impact your culture and your community matters.”
“Soccer’s swagger in the USA right now is that we can do anything we want to do! And we can do it loudly and proudly. And that’s because the culture has been built on the shoulders of giants who have been fighting hard. And when those giants were young girls, they were playing for something bigger than themselves. They learned to play for their community. They built a culture. The way you impact your culture and your community matters.”
“You can have that impact and learn to play for something bigger than yourself when you play for your high school. I was playing in 8th grade on varsity. I had leaders helping me along. All the athletes in this room have found ways to push themselves, to challenge themselves, to fight for something bigger than themselves.”
“I just don’t know what the right answer is.”
“I don’t know if the DA should let players play for their high schools today. I am so far removed, I didn’t have to make that choice. Back in my day, there was ODP. Now there’s ECNL, and there’s the DA. I just don’t know what the right answer is. I do know that every great athlete has found the way to push themselves and to fight for something bigger than just themselves. And I know high school sports is a great environment for developing that.”
Thank you, Abby, for taking the time to talk with me. Your kindness, positive energy and smile brightened the day of everyone around you. And: AWESOME shoes!