The Reckless Child

Taylor Baucom/The Players' Tribune


You would hear that sound in my house a lot as a kid. On any regular day, it’d just be my typical Colorado family, hanging out together in our quiet little house. But then…..

GOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLL!!! That sound — that word — would come blaring out of the bright-pink, 13-inch Hello Kitty TV we had rigged up in my bedroom.

And not too long after that, it would come blaring out of me.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLL!!! Sorry, Mom and Dad, for leaving so many balls around for you to trip on.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLL!!! Sorry, Mom and Dad, for breaking almost everything you owned anytime an impromptu game broke out inside the house.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLL!!! Sorry, Mom and Dad, for nutmegging you, constantly, and without warning, when you were just trying to relax.

I say sorry, of course, but my mom and dad understood. My older sister, Brianna, too. I didn’t even like the color pink or Hello Kitty (no offense to the color pink or Hello Kitty), but I was just so desperate to watch soccer that I didn’t care what TV it was on, or what language the call was in, when I did it. And I was just so desperate to get out and PLAY soccer — to run around and play anything, really — that I didn’t care what sort of damage I left behind.

Sorry, Mom and Dad, for nutmegging you, constantly, and without warning, when you were just trying to relax.

The scar on my forehead? I got it from — guess what — running around too much. I think I was four or five, and I was at my sister’s softball practice, playing on the monkey bars off to the side. And I’m sure I was challenging myself to try some fancy new jump or trick on the bars. Surprise, I slipped and busted my head open. Apparently I didn’t even cry or scream when it happened. I was just this…… wild kid, and getting hurt was part of the deal.

And that probably should’ve been the end of it — the hospital, the stitches, hugs from Mom and Dad — but literally a week after I got my stitches out, I was back outside: dribbling a soccer ball around by myself at our neighbor’s house.

And then suddenly their dog just started CHASING me.

So I started booking it. I’m talking top speed. Down my street, back to my house, and eventually I made it to the garage. Double-checked to see if the dog (which apparently was a nice, harmless golden retriever) had followed me and BOY HOWDY was it still behind me. I shot off again and started running and — BOOM. Smacked my head on the side-mirror of my parents’ car. Split it all the way open again.

They took me back to the hospital, and the staff there got really concerned about how I had split my head twice in such a short period of time — you know, questioning my mom and dad to see if they were doing anything suspicious at home or whatever. And my parents (sorry, guys) were just like, “Umm…… no….. we just have a reckless child on our hands, who can’t stop playing.”

The reckless child who can’t stop playing. That’s me!

And not much about me has changed now that I’m in my 20s. Well, except maybe that I watch soccer on a real TV in English, instead of a Hello Kitty TV in Spanish. But the rest is the same. Which is to say if there’s a game on, then for real — I’ll literally stop a conversation with someone, dead in its tracks, and turn to the action. I’ll be like, “I’m sorry,” and I really am. But I can’t control myself! I’m simply drawn to it, you know? I always have been.

All my life, to the best of my ability, I’ve just wanted to watch soccer, practice soccer, play soccer — be around soccer.

Things finally started to get serious in 2017, when I found myself with a big decision to make.

I’ll set the scene: I’m 18 years old, and at UCLA on a soccer scholarship. In other words — I’m doing everything you’re supposed to do as a U.S. soccer player. You go to soccer camps, you work hard, you get a college scholarship, and then, after you graduate, you go pro. Simple, right? O.K., maybe not so simple. But that’s the order of things: You start from Point A. And then, if you’re good enough, you get to move to Point B.

For some reason, though, I just didn’t feel right — not at UCLA, and not in general.

I didn’t feel right at Point A.

And then I remember going to bed this one night. I was feeling all sorts of anxious — so before I fell asleep, I prayed. And I just asked whoever is up there, you know, “When I wake up tomorrow morning, can you please….. can you give me a sign?? Can I know what’s right?? Can I know what I want to do?”

The reckless child who can’t stop playing. That’s me! And not much about me has changed now that I’m in my 20s.

And I went to bed that night, and I had a dream.

It made so much sense. Actually, I’ll be honest: It made….. pretty much no sense. No, really: just a total nonsense dream. Not helpful at all.

It was me, by myself, in this dark room? But then all of a sudden — there were these little lights? These little lights, that just sort of appeared, and then formed this one really big light?!

Like I said, total nonsense. (Please don’t laugh at my dream.) But in the strangest way, I swear — that nonsense dream?? It actually showed me what I needed to do. Like, by my own weird dream logic, I somehow woke up feeling like I knew what it had been trying to say to me.

I called my family that same morning to tell them I’d made my decision: I was leaving school. I wanted to go pro.

“We know,” my dad said. “We’re proud of you.”

Kohjiro Kinno/Sports Illustrated/Getty

I have a goal.

It’s for this year, for the World Cup and beyond: I want to be the best at everything I do.

Mia Hamm was one of my biggest heroes growing up, so I’m hoping that I can make a statement at this summer’s World Cup — just like she did back in 1999. I’m hoping to get into one of those Mia Hamm Zones.

I’m getting there.

So you know that Kobe Bryant video, where Matt Barnes almost jerks the ball at him — and yet Kobe just stands there, like no joke stands there, not even blinking, 1000% focused, completely unfazed?? THAT’s the mentality I’m aiming for this year. That mentality where you can throw anything you want at me, whenever you want to, and it’s not going to matter. If I’m in my zone, then you’re not going to be able to touch me. You’re not going to be able to stop me from being the best — you’re not even going to be able to slow me down. You’re not even going to be able to make me blink.

That’s my goal for this year.

But at the same time, let’s also be honest — I’m still only 21 years old. And no matter how tough I talk, or how confident I seem about what my goals are for the World Cup and whatever comes after..…. there’s this part of me who’s still just going to be that O.G. Mal: learning as she goes, and picking up a few scars along the way. The Reckless Child.

I’m hoping to get into one of those Mia Hamm Zones.

There’s a part of me who’s always going to be that child: That kid who has to practice in the house, and race dogs down the street, and settle for any — and I mean any — TV that works. That soccer rat who doesn’t do it for ambition, or recognition, or even the desire to be the best…. but rather because, straight up, she just has more energy, and more spirit, and more love for the game than she’ll ever know what to do with. And she has to let it out.

So thanks for reading my story — I’ll see y’all in France.

Mallory Pugh is coming to win.

The Reckless Child is coming to play.