In the past three weeks of my soccer life I have conceded more goals in training than I have in three years. I have also dislocated a finger, received a nice (large) fluid sac on my shin from a tackle and quickly realized that the only skill I have when playing FIFA on PS4 is scoring on my own goal. Despite these downfalls, my confidence and excitement about where my development is going is higher than ever. I feel myself getting quicker, I’m seeing the ball earlier, my hands have become stronger with every save and this is all because of making mistakes, and a lot of them.
For me, these mistakes are my how I improve, how I make those 1% gains elite athletes make at the peak of their career. If I am not making mistakes, how am I supposed to improve? If I wasn’t performing in every single session, every drill, every small sided game, I know the guys would let me know. And I mean, LET ME KNOW.
Being apart of this squad has been an eye opening experience. I have come to experience what true face to face accountability means, seeing how on field banter, demands and competitiveness, really does bring out the best in people. I have witnessed how to not take things personally and how passionate shit talking fires people up. This is my kind of environment. I love feeling confidence, I love having a bit of an ego and I love the way these guys light a fire in each other. It lights me up. They call each other out in the moment for not doing their job, no matter how “obvious” it is and don’t take anything personally. They simply do their job better next time or face the consequences again. No one wants to be yelled at twice, so you better do your job! And when that final whistle blows and we step off the field, we know we have bettered each other and ourselves from who we were yesterday.
From my experiences in my previous environments this ‘straight to the point’ feedback has been lacking. We are too fearful of pointing out the obvious, of telling others to simply be better. Some players feel when they’re having an off day that everything seems like a personal attack, emotions come into play, and it can take hours, days, unfortunately even years for some players to get over that one comment in training. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. How many times have we heard that? But why? Why do we need to think about how we are saying something when we are in the heat of the moment. It’s a tie game and you don’t make that recovery run, are sloppy in your marking, or miss an open goal chance and end up losing. Why do we need to filter how we tell someone that it’s not good enough? Why do we have to worry about hurting someones feelings? Instead, why can’t the person filter the information they’re receiving and recognize the passion that is being projected onto them and feel that desire to be the best and to win at all costs. Hear the information, feel the passion and filter the tone and the fluff.
I can’t say enough about this group of guys. I truly feel like they treat me like one of their own. They added me to the players private chat if that says anything. The staff and club opened up their door to this opportunity and made me feel so welcome.
I have given it my best fight and feel myself fitting in, but unfortunately not everyone is as open minded about this situation. After inquiring to the league, The PDL’s initial response was that as per the rules “The PDL is a men’s league” and “given that the PDL is a gender based league, women are ineligible to play”. Other sources have also stated that “because there are women’s professional, Pro-am and amateur equivalents, there is no mechanism to challenge”.
While I partially understand the league’s stance on this, it is still unsettling. There are moments that stick with us for life, and I believe this is one of them for me. We let others tell us what path we can or can not take or we find a new one on our own. This may be the first road block, but hearing “no” doesn’t mean the end, it just means we have to find a diversion around the problem.
“The club is looking into ways around this to support Steph staying. Based on Steph’s ability, she has shown she can play with us. Whilst this door maybe closed for now, we are looking at other windows of opportunity to stretch Steph’s game. As given the short season length, any appeal would eat into valuable playing time. So whilst we get creative with a solution, the club well and truly considers Steph a part of the team.” - Tommy Wheeldon Jr., Head Coach.
Whether it is for me or for a young girl who has followed my journey and one day dreams of forging her own path, I will join her fight. Because no one should ever have an opportunity denied solely because of their gender.