Competing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve played soccer since I could walk, and those experiences have helped shape how I interact with others and work as part of a team. Despite having over 20 years’ worth of experience playing soccer with countless teams, the most impactful soccer experience in my life was joining a collegiate program as an unrecruited walk-on.   

My time on the Skidmore Men’s Soccer team did not begin in a traditional way in any sense. There was no recruitment season, no emails with coaches, and no talks of scholarships. Despite being captain of my high school team my senior year I graduated without any prospects of playing in college. But I couldn’t just give it up, so I reached out to the coach at Skidmore to see if I could meet with him about walking onto the team. After a few emails, he invited me along with 9 other hopefuls to tryout a few weeks into the school year.  

On tryout day, I arrived ready to take my shot, but was quickly disappointed when I saw that the tryout was a short practice with the full varsity team. I knew there was no way that any of us would be able to make a strong enough impression with so many people on the field at once. After the session ended, the coach thanked us for coming and said he would be in touch.   

That could have been the end of it.   

I couldn’t sleep that night thinking it over in my head. I knew I hadn’t left enough of an impression to be remembered in a group of 37 players, but I wouldn’t just accept that and move on with my life. I had to try something to get another shot and prove that I really wanted to be there. Reaching out again over email to ask for another chance would get me nowhere. I needed to make an impact.  

I still remember how long the 15 minutes before practice the next day felt as I waited, uninvited and suited up, for the coach to come out of his office. As I watched everyone stroll out of the locker room and past me onto the pitch to begin warming up all I could do was hope that this day wouldn’t shape up to be a huge embarrassment. I had to suppress my urge to sprint over when I saw him opening the facility door.  

“Hi Coach, I know you said you’d reach out to us all, but I figured if you needed an extra body today I’d make myself available. I’d love a chance to play with the team, but if you don’t need me today I completely understand.”  

It all felt like one word coming out of my mouth. I tried my best not to let the nervous energy get the better of me while I waited for his response.  

“Yeah, sure.”  

And just like that, I was in. One day turned into two, which turned into a week of practice, and before I knew it, I had earned a spot on the roster. Although being added to the team was a massive accomplishment, it wasn’t the same as playing. When my freshman season concluded I hadn’t touched the field in a single game. After the season, I had an individual meeting with the coaches and asked for feedback. What did they need? How can I fill that role? Where can I improve personally?   

Over the winter I used their feedback as inspiration. I worked on my technical skills and physical fitness; determined to prove that adding me to the roster would pay off. When I returned to offseason practices in the spring, I outperformed every other player on the roster in the fitness test and scored a goal in our offseason game. My mentality of constant improvement helped me start every game for the next 3 years and earn a captainship as a senior.   

Learning to transition from scraping my way onto the roster to helping lift my teammates up was not an easy one to make. Showing up uninvited and taking a roster spot away from someone else doesn’t exactly make you everyone’s best friend right away, but through the process of leading by example I was able to walk the thin line between collaboration and competition. I learned that as a leader, it is important to set the bar high for those around you, but never prevent anyone from surpassing it.  

Playing soccer in college taught me both how to advocate for myself and how to challenge myself and those around me to accomplish more. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have had a growth experience like the Skidmore Men’s Soccer team in my life.