Here is another interview I’d like to share about a young woman’s experiences through life and sports.
Courtney is the Development Academy Events Coordinator at United States Soccer Federation in Chicago, Illinois. She is a graduate of the Ohio University Masters in Sports Administration program class of 2016. As an undergraduate, she played for the Northern Illinois University Varsity Women’s Soccer Team and obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Business.
What sports did you play growing up?
When I was really young, like kindergartner and first grade, I was involved in so many sports. Pretty much everything under the sun. I played softball, basketball, soccer, did ballet and karate.
Did you have a favorite?
I immediately took a liking to soccer. I remember some of my earliest soccer games with my dad as the coach and feeling a sense of freedom on the field.
How did you first get involved in playing sports and how old were you?
I got involved because my parents were pretty active in their own life and grew up playing sports. They always wanted me and my siblings to be as well rounded as possible and sports played a big role in that. At a young age it was social as well, getting to interact with a lot of kids.
Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Naperville, IL, a suburb of Chicago. I have an older brother and younger sister and some of my fondest memories were from random, made up games my siblings and I would play. Growing up, weekends were occupied with soccer games. With my brother, sister, and I all playing club soccer at the same time, we were always on the go. Thankfully, my parents were extremely supportive of our interest in soccer, and all sports and activities really.
What was it like being a female playing sports?
It was difficult to not be viewed as a “typical girl” because the majority of my time was spent on my sport. I missed out on dances, Friday night football games, and friends’ parties due to how much time I spent at practices and away at tournaments. However, the benefits to building relationships on my team has served me far greater. But in the moment, it was difficult to navigate those waters as a young female. In so many ways, it has shaped me to be the person I am today.
Where did you go to college? And why did you choose this school?
I attended Northern Illinois University because of their business school and the proximity to my house. My parents are also alumni, which was a draw for me. Additionally, they heavily recruited me to play soccer.
Did you play sports in college? Why/why not?
I played soccer all four years. Ever since I really started to play competitive soccer in about 4th grade, I always wanted to play in college at the Division I level. I had my sights set high and really knew I didn’t want to play at any other level. I am a very goal-oriented and high functioning individual (even at a young age), so once I began to see a path of soccer in front of me, I only wanted to play at the highest division I could.
What were the tough decisions you had to make when choosing where to go to school?
It was a really tough decision to consider all the factors of a school. When you’re looking for schools, you have only ever lived with your parents so it was difficult to picture how each school exuded its own lifestyle and feel. I had considered DePaul University in Chicago, a very different setting than Northern Illinois University, about 80 miles outside of the city, that is very centered around the school’s athletics department. The type of school is going to dictate how you live your everyday life (i.e., riding the train to class everyday vs. driving, as was the case for me) so having all those factors weigh in made it difficult. Also, finding a school with the right major. I actually started in Accounting before switching to Business Operations but finding a school that has what you want but also a variety of majors if your taste changes over the course of your schooling.
What was your major in college?
What did you do after college?
I attended grad school at Ohio University to get my Master’s in Sports Administration.
Any aspirations to take sports further than college?
I considered continuing to play after college, however, after four years playing in college, I got burnt out and needed to rest my body and mind after my final season. I took time to consider my future career and realized I wanted to focus on that instead of continue playing. I think I’ll always regret not going for it and playing a few more years. I’m thankful for the time I had, but ask any retired student athlete and I’m sure they miss playing.
Any type of graduate school or continued education? How did you make that decision?
As my soccer career was coming to an end, I became conscience of how present sports had been in my entire life and I wasn’t ready to give that up. I truly believed in the social power of sports but wasn’t sure what that looked like as a career or what possibilities existed in the sports industry so I decided to go to grad school. I knew I wanted to go to grad school because I wanted to pursue a master’s and to learn about the industry. I also knew I wanted to get the best education possible which led me to Ohio University, a program consistently ranked #1 for graduate sports administration programs. Not only was it the most positive learning experience in my life besides playing soccer in college, but it exposed me to a one of a kind culture of family that I will bring with me in my future career.
What are you doing now and how did your current situation come to be?
I currently work at the United States Soccer Federation as the Development Academy Events Coordinator. I run all the events for the elite youth clubs across the country from U-12 to U-18. I’m really excited to get the Girls’ Development Academy Program started in the fall of 2017.
I got to my position now from an initial connection from one of my Ohio University grad school classmates who helped get my foot in the door. I was able to get brought on to work some U.S. Soccer events as temporary staff. I got to know the full time staff and get a feel for how things run. I keep in contact with those people and as there was a new position created I was immediately a candidate. No doubt the initial connect was key to open the door but while onsite working events temporarily, I took advantage of the opportunity to impress the people I worked for and showcase my talents and attitude. Without both of these components I wouldn’t be where I am today.
How do you feel sports has impacted your life and are you still active?
I am constantly reminded of how much sports has impacted my life. I was taught at a very young age tangible skills that most people learn in their first job. Answering to a coach, being a reliable teammate, timeliness, time management, and work ethic have been deeply instilled in me through sports, which sets me a part – not just in my career but in my life. I’m able to access situations differently and have confidence. I’m still active now playing in some rec leagues and thankfully our office is fully of soccer players so we play quite a few staff games but nothing will replace that feeling of playing at a higher level.
What was your transition from playing sports to what you’re currently doing like?
It was a relief at first. Finally, my body and mind could rest. I could be more social and enjoy my spring semester of my senior year since my soccer career ended at the end of the fall semester. Once it started to settle in, it was a tough transition – no doubt about it. I was someone who so deeply loves the game and the thrill of competing that not having that in my everyday routine took a toll emotionally. I was not prepared for a lifestyle change but that’s really what it was. Grad school at Ohio University was a huge help. After graduating undergrad, I was thrust into a group of 25 people who were similar to me and very passionate about sports so the community I built helped me cope with my transition. It was really hard to be patient with myself since I was used to being at the top of my game. In the real world I had to learn how to be at the bottom again and work my way up. Thankfully, because of sports, I was able to draw on so many experiences from being on a team so that I could learn fast. Additionally, sports allowed me to build everlasting friendships and mentors who were a huge part of my transition. We leaned on each other and supported one another as we dealt with this new lifestyle.
Now, for me, it’s about balance and finding different avenues to be creative and use as an outlet now that I don’t play as regularly or at that high level. That has been key in my transition from student athlete to career woman: balance. Realizing that you are not a student athlete anymore is truly like having a void in your life but it’s temporary and the friends and mentors you’ve made are there to help you through it.
What are your future aspirations and where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
In 10 years, I hope to still be at U.S. Soccer, making an impact on the growth of the sport in the country. There is a bright future for soccer and I want to be on the cutting edge of it, whatever that looks like in 10 years.
What advice do you have to people trying to figure out their next steps after college or looking to make a professional change?
It is imperative that you set aside time to do it. Take time to critically think and consider your future. With no constraints in the world, time, money, education level, etc., what will make you happen? And if you don’t know this answer or don’t feel like you even know what is out there (a totally normal feeling), ask those around you!! Start small but simply ask people what they do and how they got there, and what a typical week looks like for them. From gathering this type of information, you can start narrowing down the industry or job you’d like. It’s going to be so easy to say “I’ll do it later” or “There’s too much out there and I feel overwhelmed even starting to think about my future,” but you must consciously set aside time (like you would for training or time with your coach) to think about your future.
Lastly, my advice is to build a network and use it. The skill of networking sounds daunting too but it’s all about being yourself and building relationships. Realize that everyone who is in a great position likely didn’t get there on their own and being able to have a circle of people around you, who care about you are going to help propel you into your first or second or third job.