Ups and Downs: Encouraging young athletes to embrace ALL the moments
By Greg Bach
Abby Dahlkemper’s journey from the soccer fields of her youth to earning her first start for the U.S. Women’s National Team this summer has been punctuated with plenty of really good days.
Plus, some not-so-good ones, too.
And the former UCLA star has embraced every moment of them all.
“There are going to be ups and downs for everyone in their journey,” says Dahlkemper, who played all 90 minutes in her first start for the national team against Norway this summer. “It’s important to just learn from the bad days and really enjoy and be thankful for the good days and know it’s not always going to be a smooth ride – but the journey is something to embrace and to really learn from and enjoy.”
She encourages young players lacing up soccer spikes to take the same approach, and for coaches to help instill that mindset in their players, too.
After all, some games players will perform at a high level and in perfect harmony; and others will be marked by sloppy play and poor execution.
But when you blend all these experiences together they all are instrumental in a child’s development.
“No one is perfect and even at the highest level people are going to have bad games or make mistakes,” says Dahlkemper, a defender for the North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). “But it’s super important and really reveals a person’s character how they bounce back.”
When coaches allow players to drop their heads and sag their shoulders during those frustrating moments that occur during games – rather than focusing on the moment – that’s where performances fizzle.
And bad habits emerge.
“That’s definitely what defines the player and what separates good from great is how fast and how effectively you can bounce back from a mistake or having a bad game,” Dahlkemper says. “Obviously you want to be as consistent as possible but bad games are going to happen and it’s really about coming back from that.”
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Dahlkemper played a variety of sports growing up, including volleyball and basketball. She even gave gymnastics a shot for a year.
But from an early age it was soccer that tugged at her heart.
“I had so much fun and so much passion for the game at such an early age,” she says. “I would say it was love at first sight.”
She credits her parents – supportive, not pushy – for helping her along the way and lending an ear when needed on those post-game car rides home.
“I would definitely analyze games and talk to them about it,” she says. “But they knew their boundaries and stayed out of it unless I wanted to talk about it. They were so supportive.”
She also looks back with fondness, and a huge smile, on the coaches she played for growing up. “I think my coaches were very nurturing,” she says. “I think they made me into a good person and taught me good life lessons as well as fundamental skills.”
She was able to grow and flourish throughout her youth and encourages today’s youngsters to soak up everything they possibly can along the way, because the clock is ticking.
And time moves fast.
“What I would say to younger kids is just to enjoy the moment that they are in and don’t look ahead,” Dahlkemper says. “Seize the moment and enjoy it because that time will fly by.”
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Soccer great Christie Pearce Rampone, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time World Cup Champion and co-author of Be All In, on helping parents raise their young athletes for success on and off the field