Sydney Neal during her freshman year of high school soccer.
I have been playing soccer since I was in the first grade.
I was introduced to the sport while attending a private school. My parents signed me up to play on a little league team that was provided within the school. I fell in love with the fact that soccer was different from any other sport that I had played.
After my family moved, my parents tried finding another soccer team for me to play for. A family friend introduced my parents to a club team in Canton that would love to have me. I eventually started attending their team practices. I was taught the technical skills I needed to know to play at a higher level.
I spent close to five years playing with the girls on my club team. The girls became my close friends, more like family. After my eighth grade year, I made the decision to further my soccer career and join a travel soccer club in Plymouth. Switching teams was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. It ultimately helped me further my skills and made me a better player. I am now going onto my third year playing with this team.
While switching teams can be stressful and challenging, this year has been the hardest in my soccer career.
In the month of March, Salem High School’s girls soccer season started as usual. I went into the first week of March preparing myself to try out for the Junior Varsity team, as a sophomore year. When tryouts rolled around, there was speculation about my school possibly being shut down due to coronavirus. Just a day after finding out that I made the team, my school was shut down due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
Many of my teammates believed that we would only be out of school for a few weeks, and would return back to our regular season. No one expected that we would not be able to return to school — and not have a spring season. Losing a whole season was extremely hard both mentally and physically. I have never gone a long period of time without playing soccer, let alone five months.
As summer went by, I began to worry about what would happen to club soccer. The virus was still active and many parts of the state stayed closed. Eventually, soccer training classes opened — virtually.
But there was still uncertainty about what would happen to the upcoming fall season. As time went on, we were able to start having small in-person practices outside. As our club started to open up again, the chances of having a fall season started to grow. More recently, practices have started to increase and games are being scheduled. With permission from the governor, we are now allowed to play games. And I am adapting to a new normal: playing with a mask on.
This whole experience taught me how to train, and push myself to be the best that I can be. Without the presence and pressure of my teammates and coaches, I had to push myself into getting better while I was in isolation. I have started learning to train by myself and hold myself accountable for how I choose to exercise.
Now that we are back together, I have carried that focused mindset into practicing with my club team. I am hoping to carry that commitment into the spring, and my junior year at Salem High School.
Sydney Neal was an apprentice at the Free Press this summer.