By Greg Bach
Throughout Ryan Gareis’ soccer journey – from falling in love with the sport growing up in Naperville, Ill., to starring at the University of South Carolina, and now playing professionally for the Houston Dash – she has operated with a team-first mentality.
This all-important quality was learned early.
It was stressed often.
And it’s refreshing to see super-talented athletes like Gareis touting its importance to today’s young athletes, while reminding volunteer coaches to talk about it and teach it to their young players, too.
“All my coaches, starting with my first, showed us the importance of being a good teammate and focusing on how you can be your best self to impact everyone around you,” Gareis says. “I think for coaches and for parents it’s important to remind players that it is not just you out there, and that what you do affects everyone else.”
When Gareis stepped foot on the Gamecocks’ campus to begin her collegiate playing days, team-first talk took place often.
And it’s never been forgotten.
“In college we talked about 20 square feet,” Gareis explains. “If you and me are in a room my energy and attitude is going to affect how you are because we’re in this 20 square feet of space. So it’s about how can you bring a certain attitude and a certain positive energy to the locker room, and to games, and to training every day? How can you be the energy that people need? I think I am a very energetic person, so I always try to use that as a strength and try to bring up group environments that I am in.”
That requires players operating with a fast-forward mindset during games. When mistakes happen – and they will at every level – those with a team-first mentality don’t dwell, pout, or allow their shoulders to sag in disappointment.
Those are the behaviors that can sabotage team morale.
And lead to more mistakes while wallowing in a moment that can’t be undone.
“When I’m focusing on my mistakes my play goes down,” Gareis says. “I tell myself ‘next pass’ or ‘next touch.’ You’re going to have ups and downs in any sport, and so it’s just looking forward instead of focusing on the past.”
Plus, consistently bringing positive energy to practices and games enables players to navigate through those tough moments a lot more efficiently rather than sink in them.
“My college coaches always talked about controlling the controllables,” says Gareis, who delivered the game-winning goal to help lead South Carolina to the 2019 SEC Tournament Championship. “So if you have an off day technical wise you can still control your effort, or your attitude, or your energy. So I really try to put all my focus into those things because I know if I have strength in those the rest will fall in place.”
Gareis has given back to the game every chance she gets, finding joy in helping other young players grow and develop.
“I love to do coaching,” she says. “It really means everything because I love seeing their dedication and their love for the same sport that I love, and seeing them want to improve and how much intensity they have for wanting to get better is really inspiring for me. So it’s really fun to see how much they love it and just to be able to help them with their development is a huge blessing for me.”
During her high school playing days she started helping out with summer camps, and she did the same during her college days. When she arrived in Houston, she worked with young players at an area Boys & Girls Club, and has also expanded to offer in-person training in the Houston area, as well as online mentoring where she shares insights about recruiting, skill development, watching film, and more.
For information on lessons email firstname.lastname@example.org; and you can follow her on Instagram @ryangareis and Twitter @RyanGareis.
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
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
Former NFL safety Dr. Myron Rolle, author of The 2% Way, shares the mindset that he uses every day to keep moving forward and how young athletes can benefit from it on their journeys, too