Better than the Boys
By Greg Bach
As one of three girls playing on a boys’ soccer team growing up in Naperville, Ill., Megan Oyster remembers the mean comments opposing players would hurl her way.
But even more memorable – and impressive – were her responses.
After all, the future State Player of the Year for Illinois was really good.
And her play silenced a lot of boys through the years.
“I played on a boys’ team from when I was 7 to 14 years old and we were always getting yelled at or looked down upon because we were girls in the league,” says Oyster, a defender for the Boston Breakers in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) who also plays in the Australian W-League for the Newcastle Jets. “I remember one game specifically where this goalie was heckling me. I was a forward and he just kept yelling ‘you’re a girl, get off the field.’ And the next play I was on a breakaway and I flicked the ball over his head for a goal and I just looked back and was like ‘You still want me to get off the field?’ That just put a fire in my heart and I never looked back from there. Soccer has pumped me up in ways that I never knew that I had in me.”
That passion for the sport, mixed in with a heavy dose of talent, a strong work ethic and confidence produced a spectacular prep and collegiate career: she was a four-time All-State selection and a Parade All-American in high school; and at UCLA she anchored a stingy defense and was a key contributor in helping the Bruins win the NCAA College Cup in 2013 for the first time.
From there she was nabbed by the Washington Spirit in the 2015 draft where she promptly played every minute of every game her rookie season, the first player in the history of the Spirit to do so.
GROWING FROM MISTAKES
Being on the field all season long enabled her to make a lot of great plays as well as learn from mistakes, too.
And like any athlete, she doesn’t enjoy making a mistake. But she understands that if you’re learning and growing from them that ultimately, they are helping you become a better and more well-rounded player.
It’s an incredibly important lesson for volunteer coaches to teach their young players.
“It’s realizing that without mistakes you can’t really grow or become better,” she says. “If I make a mistake in a game or at practice I’ve learned to use visualization as a tool to help me out. If I can look back and remember a moment where I was successful and use that and go to that instead of thinking of it negatively it’s a lot easier to move on and not dwell on it, so I really think of mistakes as a positive thing and remember it and move on quicker.”
Growing up Oyster played lots of sports: basketball, volleyball, softball and even a little bit of track.
But it was soccer that grabbed her heart early and never let go.
“I loved the feeling I got when I learned a new trick and was able to perform it on the field,” she says. “When I scored a goal, and was able to celebrate it with my friends, there’s no greater feeling than that.”
Both her parents were college athletes, but she never felt burdened by pressure or criticism.
It was her time.
And her parents gave her the space to savor and learn from her experiences.
“They had positive insight toward my game and always gave me pointers here and there but I don’t think they ever overstepped their boundaries,” Oyster says. “They just wanted me to have fun with it and they didn’t push me too hard because they knew it was about my personal experience and it was my journey with the sport.”
Oyster has played for a lot of great coaches throughout her career, from the youth ranks through professional soccer.
So, she knows what works with young athletes.
And what doesn’t.
She encourages volunteer coaches to refrain from piling too much on young players just getting familiar with the sport.
Instead, stick to the basics and focus on helping them learn those during practice sessions.
“I think it’s just keeping it simple and not overloading them with a bunch of different points,” she says. “If they can take one thing away from each training session I think they’ll learn easier that way.”
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance