Chapter 3: THE BUBBLE – ROOKIE Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer
When I was seventeen, I couldn’t wait to get out of my house and on to college! I was obsessed with the idea of sweet freedom – the chance to set my own rules and be my own person and drink from the cup of independence! College was going to totally rock! And believe me, it totally did.
If you have a similar outlook on college, let me tell you a little secret that I wish someone had told me: College is a lot smaller than you think, especially if you’re an athlete.
College is a bubble. It’s a sort of parallel universe that you get to inhabit for four or five years with hundreds or thousands of others, and regardless of how many others share your bubble, it’s a bubble nonetheless, and that means all the inhabitants are in some way connected. And in that bubble, word travels, and it travels fast. Very few secrets survive inside the bubble. Remember that.
You are an athlete. That makes you high-profile regardless of the sport you play and regardless of the success of your team. You get to enjoy a certain double-standard. You’ll get some free clothing and some nice meals and the chance to travel. You might even get an athletic scholarship. But most and best of all, you’ll get to represent your university in the throes of competition. People will watch you and cheer for you. You’ll be a celebrity inside that bubble. Plenty of people will know your name, and many people who don’t know your name will simply refer to you as someone who is on the soccer team. Soccer player will become your identity. Some people will love you for it and others will dislike you because of it, but everyone will be talking about you if you give them the chance. This is the price of your celebrity.
Incidentally, don’t kid yourself that the bubble only applies to schools of a certain size. I’ve coached at a school of 600 and I’ve coached at a school of 35,000 and I assure you, even big schools are small.
You have only one reputation and it is one of the very few things that is 100% yours. Take care of it. Protect it. Guard it with pride and honor. As an athlete you live at the top. The view from up there is much nicer, but the fall hurts twice as much.
And while we are speaking of your reputation, let me remind you that social media shrinks the bubble even further. Many college athletes will attest that social media is not your friend. From here on out, every status update you post or message you tweet represents far more than just you. You are now representing your teammates, coaches and your university. Something that is funny to you might not seem so comical to the athletic director or the university president. And once you put it out there, you can’t get it back.
If you’re having a bad day and need to vent, there’s no law that says you must do so in a public forum. Have the maturity to exercise good judgment. The world doesn’t need to know about every one of your perceived injustices, so find another way to blow off your steam.
There are parts of your life that are better kept private. Don’t risk social media suicide because a week later you’ll realize how stupid and trivial your declaration seems in hindsight. Coaches and administrators aren’t very forgiving when it comes to social media, so handle it with caution and care.
We live in a time where everyone has a camera in their pocket. Keep yourself out of compromising situations and your worries will be fewer. Pictures of you dancing at a frat party won’t do you any favors. When it comes to pictures, perception becomes reality. What actually happened takes a backseat to what appears to be happening. And just to give you a heads-up, if you’re photographed holding a red plastic cup, your coach is going to assume that it’s filled with alcohol. So will everyone else. That’s just the way the world spins. It’s an argument that you will never win, so you’re better off just avoiding it altogether.
There are all types of landmines inside the bubble. Navigate them with care. In the end, you really just have to ask yourself if you want to be taken seriously as an athlete. If you want others to take you seriously, then you have to first take yourself seriously. In short, get past the party. The sooner the better.