Bess is 23 years old and graduated from Wake Forest University in North Carolina in May 2010 where she played Division 1 soccer all 4 years. Soccer helped her find out who she was as a person and how valuable fitness is in life. Her blog BessBeFit.com follows the journey to staying fit after a lifetime of playing soccer.
At what age did you start playing soccer and how/why did you decide to get involved?
I think I started playing soccer when I was about 3 or 4 years old..you know, the kind where the kids just run around in big clumps on the field and kick the ball in random directions. I have played as long as I can remember because I played lots of different sports when I was little. I took ballet, tap, and jazz, and then I played basketball and soccer. I tried gymnastics for a while and some other sports but dance, basketball, and soccer were my main sports.
What is all involved in a typical soccer practice?
A typical soccer practice really depends on the coach. My club soccer coach from when I was in high school believed that playing was the best way to get better, so for that team, we pretty much just played 4v4 soccer to big goals (on a smaller field) the whole time. I loved that. In college, we always did passing drills and a lot of “walk through” stuff that was based off of which team we were playing next. We would learn how they played and who the key players were so we would be aware of it. We worked on foot skills a lot as well as “set pieces” which are things like corner kicks and free kicks. We would normally end practice with some playing/scrimmaging.
What are the different positions in soccer and what position did you play?
There are 11 people on the field per team at one time, and those positions can be set up differently depending on the style of play a team wants. There is one goalkeeper. For example, in college we played either a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. This means 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 2 forwards, or 4 defenders, 3 middies, and 3 forwards. You can set it up in any way…you could only have 1 defender if you wanted to! But that probably wouldn’t be the best idea…you’d get scored on a lot 😉 I played every single position in college at one point except for goalie but my true position is a center midfielder and I did that the most. I love it because its both defense and offense…but a lot of running up and down the field!
What is the most important lesson soccer has taught you?
Soccer taught me how to be a fighter and how to never underestimate the power you have. There were times when I had to dig deeper than I knew I could whether it was in practice or a game. Often times our practices got even more intense than games! That is what made us so successful overall as a team. We would go out and kick each other’s booties so then game time we were ready to kick someone else’s! It also taught me to be confident in the skills that I have. Sometimes not starting a game or not playing the amount of time you want can be a serious blow to the self-esteem…but you have to stay true to who you are and confident in yourself.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of the sport?
My least favorite part was the conditioning. It was a necessary evil but it was awful sometimes. The amount of running and sprinting that we did at times was pure pain. Sometimes I felt like I’d actually die. But I know it made me better. My favorite part is just playing! That is happiness to me. And scoring goals is always fun! Celebrating a goal with your team is awesome.
Did you have any game day rituals? How did you prepare for a game?
I tried not to be superstitious but I did have a couple of handshakes I did with a couple different teammates of mine right before the game started. We always had a pre-game meal so I just tried to eat something I knew would give me energy but not weigh me down!
How did you diet change once you started playing soccer as a collegiate athlete?
My freshman year I gained about 20 pounds. I didn’t get much playing time in the games that year and I would eat a LOT in the cafeteria. It normally would have been fine but I just wasn’t burning it off like I would have been had I been playing more. The weekend drinking and late night taco bell runs didn’t help either! That summer I focused on getting healthy and dropped the 20 pounds. It wasn’t hard because I just cut out most of the alcohol and didn’t eat crappy foods. Luckily I played much more my sophomore year and then in every game my junior and senior year (minus a couple I was out for injuries).
What is your most memorable soccer moment?
My most memorable moment was when I scored the game winning goal against The University of South Carolina in the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It was the first time Wake Forest had ever been to the Elite 8 in school history. The ball literally crossed the line as the time ran out. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFrXVTceDrs
What would people be surprised to learn about soccer?
The girls are much more girly girls than you would expect! Of course there are exceptions but my team at Wake, for example, was a group of girls that would kick your butt then go get a manicure! I loved it. We went shopping and got our hair done as much as anyone.
What are five exercises that your could recommend someone doing to condition their body for the sport?
You have to be in running shape obviously. 120’s are a common sprint to do to get in soccer shape (it is a sprint the full length of the field, usually in about 17 seconds, then jog back in 30. Times 10)…also, having strong legs is a must so squats are great. Core exercises like planks and abs are super helpful because you have to have a strong core to be able to stay on your feet when someone runs into you to take the ball from you. It helps you have balance, which is incredibly important. I also think its important to have strong shoulders because you will put your arms up to keep other players off of you and to shield them from taking the ball from you. Shoulder presses are a good exercise to increase strength in that area.
How have you seen yourself benefit from soccer, mind, body and spiritually?
I know that I never could be the player that I am without the grace and blessing of God. I will never stop thanking Him for blessing me with the skills to be able to play in college. Going to Wake Forest and playing on the soccer team introduced me to some of the best people in my life and I wouldn’t change it for a second (even though at times it was so challenging I wanted to quit! I’m so glad I didn’t). My body has changed more since I have stopped playing soccer. I dropped about 10 pounds after I stopped playing but I know it was mostly muscle mass. I was much more bulky when I played than I am now because I didn’t always have control of the workouts that we did. We did a lot of olympic style lifting (hang cleans, power cleans, deadlifts, etc) that I don’t do now that I don’t play.
During long practices or games, what was your motivation to keep going?
My love for the sport was what kept me going at times when I needed motivation. Honestly, in games or practices, I never had that much trouble keeping going. It was the being exhausted after practice or waking up at 5am and getting practice out of the way before class. I always thought it was funny how students who didn’t play a sport would complain about how tired they were and how they couldn’t get their assignments done on time. I couldn’t imagine having all that free time without soccer! I would be able to sleep in! I didn’t have the option of going out and partying on a random Tuesday night. Since soccer is a fall sport, my senior spring I didn’t have soccer. It was my only semester of college when I got to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It was extremely nice, but only for a semester. I would have gotten so bored of that for all 4 years! I played soccer my whole life so I know that its one of the only things that can keep my attention without me getting bored 🙂
Question: Have you ever played soccer? What is something you learned from this Athlete in Real Life with Bess?