By Greg Bach
The soccer fields that Alex Kraemer traversed throughout her youth – from elementary school through her teen years on the Olympic Developmental Team – transformed her life.
And showcase the life-altering impact of sports for kids.
“I credit my drive, my passion, my everything to playing soccer in my youth,” says the New England Sports Network (NESN) broadcaster. “It sounds silly to some people who say it’s just a youth sport, but it’s not. It’s so much more than that. It literally gets me worked up because it really did develop who I am today.”
Soccer grabbed her heart early. She remembers watching Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, stars of that epic 1999 World Cup-winning U.S. team, and wanting to be like them.
“I wore my soccer clothes to school every day,” she says. “I lived and breathed soccer.”
And the life lessons she picked up along her journey still resonate.
Her first big tryout for the Olympic Developmental Team was accompanied with the crushing disappointment of failing to earn a coveted spot.
“I was so nervous that I actually got sick on the field,” she says. “I was terrible.”
But she didn’t bail on the sport. Or allow her confidence to dip.
Instead, she turned to her coaches in a never-ending quest for more feedback on what she needed to do to raise her level of play. “I would set up meetings with my coaches and ask them, ‘How can I improve?’” she says. “I had an internal drive and hunger to always feel like I had to prove myself and I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be.”
Just how influential are volunteer coaches in young lives? Kraemer vividly remembers those who cared deeply about helping players learn and develop.
“It’s the ones who truly and honestly believe in you,” she says. “It’s the ones who will take that extra 60 seconds, or that extra two minutes, to pull you aside and really explain something to you, because they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t believe in you and think that you could do it.”
The words those coaches delivered to her mattered. And still do all these years later.
“I remember every coach that I ever had,” Kraemer says. “Every single one of them. They really can develop kids.”
Kraemer understands that kids take setbacks and disappointments hard, because she’s navigated those challenges, too.
After all, games rarely go as planned. And performances fluctuate throughout the season.
She wants young athletes to keep trying, and volunteer coaches to keep encouraging them and working with them, because it matters not just for the sport, but later in life.
During one season Kraemer recalls that they had to show in front of the team that they could juggle a soccer ball, which is where players use their feet to keep the ball in the air for an extended period of time.
“I couldn’t do it and everyone was staring at me,” Kramer shared. “It was awful. I felt like the worst player on the team. But you just have to prove to yourself that you can do it because if you quit, I feel that you are always going to regret it. You’re always going to look back and say ‘could I have done more? Should I have kept at it?’”
She wasn’t going to take that route and be burdened with a lifetime of what-if questions.
“I went home and every single night I juggled and juggled until I was the best juggler,” she says. “It’s a cliché, but no one likes a quitter. I was proof that hard work really does pay off at the end of the day.”
Her dreams of competing in college, and beyond, were ruined when she tore her MCL at age 17. And then tore it again after her return.
Still, she’s thankful for all the seasons she enjoyed. The friendships that were forged. And the life skills that were picked up along the way.
“I feel like growing up playing soccer at an elite level has developed basically who I am,” Kraemer says. “It has touched every single aspect of my life, whether it comes to working with people or managing your time. Soccer pushed me to my limits physically, mentally and emotionally and I deal with that all the time in my career.”
And because of those experiences on the soccer field – the good days and the bad – she’s been fully prepared to take on any challenges that come her way.
“Soccer showed me perseverance,” Kraemer says. “With my sports reporting I critique myself and hold myself to a high standard because I know that I can always be better the next day, and that’s how I felt in soccer.”
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