T he Players’ Tribune has partnered with Chase for a special edition of “Letter to My Younger Self,” a series where athletes reflect on their biggest lessons learned, from finance to relationships and careers.
Dear seven-year-old Alex,
I know you’re still really little, and that you’re probably too busy kicking the soccer ball out in the yard to pay me much mind right now, but I want you to take a second to look around at what’s happening at home every day.
If there was ever a perfect example of a family functioning as a team, it’s Mom, Dad, and the three Morgan girls — Jenny, Jeri and little Alex.
Everyone is pitching in and doing their part right now.
Mom is the family’s very own version of Wonder Woman. She just started taking night classes to earn her MBA so she can continue to help provide everything you and your sisters need. (Some nights, when she’s not around to make dinner, Jenny, who is all of 13 years old, fills in … and she’s become a really great cook! You’ll love her chicken enchiladas.) Mom has virtually no time off. Monday through Friday, she’s either working or going to school. So her only breaks are on the weekends. But you know better than anyone that she’s not using those days to sleep in or relax. She’s sacrificing her Saturdays and Sundays so you and your sisters can participate in sports.
From the time you started playing soccer two years ago, she’s always been the team mom. And not just any team mom — she is, like, the greatest team mom in the history of soccer.
It isn’t only that she never misses a game. And it isn’t just the orange slices and strawberries she brings for halftime. She’s doing everything she can to make sure you and your teammates are having fun. In fact, Mom just finished making hair ties for everyone on your team — she even used glitter glue to put each girl’s uniform number on her hair tie. How cool is that?
And while Mom is transitioning between homework and hair accessories, Dad has been busy learning everything he can about your sport.
He’s always been a baseball guy; he didn’t know the first thing about soccer. But when you told him a few months ago that you’re really starting to love the game, and that it was important to you that he watch you play, he got serious. Fast.
Pretty soon he will sign up for referee classes, and he’ll ask you to join him. You’ll have great fun spending time with him and bonding over the sport of soccer. You’ll even get your own whistle and ref some youth games with him.
Then, in a few years, Dad will move on to taking coaching classes. He’ll coach you when you’re nine, and, like Mom, he’ll go way beyond the call of duty. He’s going to be out the door every morning at 5:30 to work at his construction company, but he’ll always — always — be home in time to take you to practice. And you won’t ever hear him complaining about it.
When you’re 13, Dad will do something that you’ll remember as long as you live. By that point, you’ll have developed into one of the best rec players in Southern California … and you’ll have done it in hand-me-down cleats. You’ll be O.K. with that. But, make no mistake about it, one of the best feelings of your life is going to occur when Dad comes home one day from work and tells you he wants to buy you a brand new pair of cleats.
Trust me, you have no idea how cool it will be.
He’ll take you to the sporting goods store, walk you back to the shoe department, find a salesperson and then say to that guy, “Can you bring us the very best cleats that you have?”
Your mouth will drop when you hear those words. You’ll think you might be dreaming. But it’s going to be real, Alex.
And get this: The cleats that salesman comes back with are going to be $320.
When you see the price tag, you’re not going to know what to do. You’ll be thinking about all the things your dad could’ve bought for himself with that money — some new pairs of jeans, or replacement tires, or his own pair of top-of-the-line shoes. So you’ll kind of freeze there for a second.
“Well, what are you waiting for, try them on,” he’ll say. “What do you think?”
You’ll love them, of course. But …
“Dad, they’re sooooooo much money.”
He’ll look you in the eye, and smile, and then say, “Let’s get ’em!”
And at that moment, if it wasn’t clear already, you’ll realize just how much your parents are investing in you. Honestly, those cleats won’t look much different than a $100 pair — which, of course, would’ve been fine. And that’s the thing. That’s what will make it so amazing. The ones he buys you will have nicer leather than all the others, but the average person wouldn’t know they were special.
You and Dad, though, the two of you will know.
He wanted you to have the best. And that will mean the world to you. When you wear them, do everything you can to make your parents proud, Alex.
They’ll be proud of you anyway, no matter how well you do, but you know what I mean. Show them how much you appreciate their support, because you’re going to continue to rely on them as you get older.
Things aren’t always going to go your way.
For a while there after you get the fancy cleats, it will seem like you can do no wrong. You’ll continue to improve for the next few years, but heading into your senior year of high school — very soon after you get called up to the Olympic development program for Southern California and commit to play at Cal — you’ll tear your ACL.
It will be your first major injury, and you’re going to be devastated, Alex.
But your parents will pull you through. Right after the injury happens, they will mobilize on your behalf. They’ll call around and find you one of the best knee doctors in the entire world to perform your surgery. Then, for the next five months, they will help you in every way possible as you rehab the knee.
They’ll leave work to take you to physical therapy, then go back to work, then come back and get you, then take you over to soccer practice — and, yeah, you’ll still show up to every practice, even when you can’t play.
Initially, Mom will take several days off work so she can take care of you and help you with your exercises.
This will be a running theme throughout your life, Alex. Both Mom and Dad will use up all their vacation days to be with you or to watch you play soccer. Every year, when December rolls around, there will be no vacation days left for them to take an actual vacation.
But you know what, that will be O.K. with them, honestly, because they’ll see how skilled you become as you get older. They’ll take so much pride in your accomplishments, and they’ll be there for you, in the stands, as you experience your finest moments on the pitch. When you score your biggest goals and turn around, you’ll always see family members … jumping up and down, going nuts, showing you love.
That’s special. Don’t ever take that for granted.
When you score that huge goal in 2010 against Italy in the 94th minute to help ensure that the U.S. would advance to the World Cup, it will be a moment you always remember — the first time you are a real difference maker for the national team. That will be the point in time when you know for certain that you belong among the best players in the country. And, of course, Dad will be there, in Padova, more than 6,100 miles from where he lives because … of course he will. He’s going to be at every game you play, Alex, no matter where it’s being played.
You still aren’t going to be a starter on the national team at that point. But almost two years later, in Manchester, England, you’ll make it clear to the entire world that you’ve earned your starting spot with the team, and that you’re among the best soccer players on the planet. At the London Olympics, you’ll score the biggest goal of your life to send the American team on to the gold medal match. That goal will come in the 123rd minute, Alex.
And you’ll be happy to know that your whole family is going to be there to celebrate with you.
Alex, take my word for it, this sporting life you’re about to embark on is going to be incredible. In addition to the gold medal, there will be a World Cup championship in your future. And as a professional, you’ll play before passionate fans in Rochester, Seattle, Portland and Orlando.
All along the way, your family will be there for you. Know that you can rely on them. I realize you’re only seven right now, but look closely, Alex. Things are already moving in a wonderful direction. Sure, Mom’s working a ton, and Dad doesn’t yet know how the game of soccer works.
Plus, get this: You’ll win the gold three days later.
But just you wait.
They’re about to become the best soccer parents a girl could have. And all that you will achieve, you will owe to them.