People often ask me what I did when I was young that helped me become the soccer player I am today. I often think about this question and always come back to the same answer when I think about my younger years and that answer is "playing with freedom."
Playing with freedom is putting yourself into an environment where you are "playing and no one is watching." Where you can let the mind and body try different things with freedom! Where there is no coach to evaluate and no teammates to get in sync with.
I spent almost all my free time growing up playing freely with the ball. When I think about what made me a successful youth player, my mind always goes back to the time spent "playing with freedom."
Now that I am older and able to reflect, I think about how I would come home from school and head straight to Vermes Field in Delran, to play with and against neighborhood boys and girls. At the field when "no one was watching," I was also able to play with freedom.
Unconsciously, as a young girl playing at this field, I was experimenting with different skills and being adventurous with the ball. There was no coach to tell me to play a certain way. I just played with freedom and developed my game sense and skills through the game.
When it was dark out and I was unable to go to the field I would take my ball to the curb at the front of my house and once again "play with freedom." I would spend countless hours passing the ball up against the curb and pass it back in all different ways, working all my touches and creating new ones. I can honestly say that the curb built the foundations of my first touch and passing.
I also used to play against my brother in my back yard - and never let him win. He was younger than me, and I was able to freely try different things on him when we played oneon-one.
I would also play with my brother and sister in our long, narrow upstairs hallway. We used to turn the lights off and play with a soft ball and go at it. Sometimes we would break things and sometimes one of us would get hurt, but we had fun with it!
In addition to my at home freedom of playing, I also joined a club that had a playing style that suited me and nurtured my skills. With the Medford Strikers I was also allowed to play with freedom. Our playing style was to possess the ball and hold on to it for long periods. This allowed me to put my skills into the game.
Being a part of a club that really focuses on improvement was the icing on the cake. I was building my skills through playing with freedom, and then playing for a club that is a true producer of quality players!
Now that I am older and I get to look back and have gotten to know other world class players, it is evident that they also had their "playing with freedom time." I know Heather Mitts used to play against her older brother growing up and Hope Solo played with boys at a local park when she was younger.
Today I still play with freedom. I very often play four-on-four with the staff of Universal Soccer Academy in Lumberton, N.J. In an indoor basketball court, we play like we are young kids in the park. I have fun and still enjoy the freedom to try new skills and I still play like no one is watching.
"Playing with freedom" is the main factor that helped me build my base as a youth soccer player, and it still is today. The game becomes the teacher!
I hope this piece inspires young players to find ways to "play with freedom."