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From age 11 through my early adulthood, I played soccer. The game was my passion, the field was my home. I never planned to play professional soccer, so I knew after college, my time with the game would end. Soccer taught me many life lessons. What I did not realize, was the lessons learned on the field would carry into my life and my legal career. Yet, I know I could not be the lawyer I am today without the lessons learned from soccer.
My first legal lesson in persistence came quick. After graduation, despite my greatest efforts, I could not land a job. All through law school, I focused my energy on becoming a sports lawyer, at one point clerking for the Tampa Bay Lightning (which really kept the dream alive). I did not know it then – but sports law does not exist (a point my husband loves to bring up when we banter). Unfortunately, I graduated during the legal profession’s brutal job market. Despite decent grades, I could not get a job – let alone a coveted sports lawyer job. After graduation, and after admitting defeat, I moved back home with my parents with my tail between my legs.
There were moments when I wanted to throw in the towel, after all the legal profession benched me right away. At times, I thought maybe I didn’t make the team at all… but, I persisted, the way only a soccer player can. I did not give up despite the fact I was faced with terrible odds. I kept applying, networking, and looking for jobs. Eventually, I found a job. It was not the job of my dreams, and it certainly was not sports law, but it paid my salary and allowed me to move out of my parents house! It was a great first step. Eventually, I found the job I loved at the public defender’s office, where I devoted 100% of my practice to criminal appeals representing those that could not afford a lawyer.
At first blush, it might not seem that my soccer career led me to the career I am passionate about, but it did. There is no way I could have practiced the persistence in finding my niche without the persistence learned from soccer. Only in soccer, do you practice the same move, the same stutter step or cross-over move, billions of times, hoping one day it will pay off when you face an opponent perfectly situated between you and the goal. And during your practice, you may try it and fail, and fail a lot. But, you keep at it anyway. Had I not been a soccer player, I may have quit and tried for another profession.
Whether in sports, your career, or anything else in life, it is hard to hear that you are not good enough. It hurts to hear that you aren’t the right size, that you did not make the starting line up, or that you just do not have what it takes to be part of the team. I heard all of those things during my soccer career. In soccer, you are confronted by criticism, by the coaches, team members, and parents. Should it stop you? No. Soccer taught me to reject the criticism, and trust in my own abilities.The only person who understands my true potential, is me. But at the same time, it is up to me to show the world my potential. The same applies to my legal career.
Learn how to take a loss
My grandmother used to tell me after I would lose a game, “You can’t win them all.” She was right of course, but it took me a while to understand what she meant. I naively thought growing up, that I was supposed to win every game. The game forced me to accept defeat. There were times when we were the better the team, we played better, yet we still lost. Those losses hurt. That’s the game. Cases are the same way. You can pour your heart and soul into a case, and still lose. It hurts. The law and the facts can both be on your side – and you can still lose. It hurts worse. That’s the game. You can’t win them all.
Teamwork (More Like ‘Get Along even with people you do not like’)
Of course teamwork helped me become a better lawyer. But not necessarily for the reason you might think. I can work efficiently and purposely with my worst enemy. It is a strange but necessary skill learned from soccer. I loved some of my teammates, but it is nearly impossible to find 17 other women that I consider my best friends. When that whistle blew starting the game, it did not matter how I felt personally about my teammates, we needed each other to win. We had to trust each other. We had to have faith in each other. That’s a skill that has carried me through working with others in law. Some colleagues I worked great with, asking them questions, coming up with litigation strategies, and workflow generally just came easy. Just as on the soccer team, I can’t say that I cherished my friendship with every officemate. But, I can work with any of them.
It is hard to excel in sports, or in lawyering, if you do not enjoy competition. At times you compete not only against your opponent, but against your teammates. You compete for the starting position. The same happens in law. You have to compete against both your opponents in the case and against your colleagues for billable hours. It is hard to know if I loved competition as a child or it developed later. Regardless, soccer provided an outlet during my youth. As an adult, the law provides that same outlet.
Composure under pressure
I learned from soccer to compete at my highest level for “the big game.” It was not always like that, there were times I crumbled in big games. It was later in life that I learned to compete at a high level during tough moments. This helped tremendously in my path to becoming a lawyer. To even become a lawyer, you have to do well in the LSAT’S, then you have to do well in law school exams, and finally, you must pass the bar exam. I never doubted my abilities to perform my best at any of these moments. Each time I walked into an exam room, I knew the most important thing was to maintain composure. The ability to maintain composure originates from my time on the soccer field. As a lawyer, I find that skill to be invaluable.
I do not play soccer anymore. I had to say goodbye to the sport because of injuries. The sport taught me so much about life. It was a hard goodbye, but I’m thankful for the amount of years I was able to play. It made me a better person, prepared me to be a lawyer, and it taught me to trust in myself.
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