What I Gained From Youth Sports

Samantha Janus – Lake Zurich, IL

As the middle child of two brothers, I constantly oscillated between being a girly girl and a tomboy. I loved fancy dresses and curling my hair, but I also never missed an opportunity to tag along with my brothers. Whether it was rope climbing, playing on the monkey bars, or participating in a game of capture the flag or 500, you could be sure I was there.

I started playing youth sports as early as I possibly could, because that's what my brothers were doing, and tried everything I possibly could. From tee ball to AYSO soccer to basketball at the local sports center, I quickly fell in love. I continued playing multiple sports through middle school and was a three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball, and volleyball, while also participating in club soccer year-round. By my junior year of high school, I realized soccer was the sport that came most naturally to me and decided to drop volleyball and basketball to focus solely on the game I loved.

When I look back on the countless hours, months, and years I invested in youth sports, I believe that it helped lay the foundation for who I became as an adult in both my career and personal life. Soccer brought discipline, structure, and routine into my world. It taught me how to be a leader amongst my peers while gaining the humility to absorb constructive feedback from teammates, coaches, and other authority figures. It emphasized the importance of working with others towards a shared goal, not only because of what the sport in general offered, but also because of the specific position I played as a center midfielder.

I was never the hot shot goal scorer, or the strong, unstoppable defender, or even the ultra-fast outside wing; but I did have fire. I possessed the ability to control the game from the middle of the field and was good at distributing the ball, keeping my teammates motivated, and anticipating my opponent's next move. Even at a young age I understood that my role wasn't to be the superstar, but rather to highlight the exceptional skills of my teammates for the greater good of the team. My position required me to be versatile enough to help on both ends of the field wherever attention was most needed.

But the most important thing I gained from youth sports, my most cherished takeaway, are the friendships that I harvested early on and still maintain to this day. Playing soccer surrounded me with highly motivated, intelligent young women who worked hard on and off the field, teammates who inspired me to succeed as a young player and into my adulthood. I’m honored to say that after 20+ years of friendship, many of them are still major influences in my life and even attended my recent wedding. Not only were these women incredible motivators on the field, but they went on to become admired and successful doctors, attorneys, dentists, mothers to their own little ones, and accomplished individuals in so many other amazing career paths. I’m forever grateful for the skills and people that soccer brought into my world. I'm not sure where – or who – I'd be today without them!

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