Growing up, soccer was my life. I played club soccer for more than a decade, as did my three brothers, so we were all constantly back and forth between practice, playing outside in the backyard, or driving across the midwest for regional events. A huge poster of Mia Hamm hung above my bed for years. And when I was in middle school, I got a ball signed by Brandi Chastain.
I worshipped these professional athletes. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was playing soccer everyday with two girls who would grow up to be professional soccer players — Jaycie Johnson and Addison Steiner. By the time we were in high school, it was pretty clear that they were the outliers in many ways, but I never realized the significance of it because they were still my friends I’d grown up playing with.
Following Jaycie and Addison through their college careers in the local paper, and their social media, to their professional careers now, lights up that 10 year old girl in me. I am so amazed with their talent and grit.
I wanted to write an article for Func Bod about what growing up playing and loving a sport meant to me, and how I still feel like an athlete, but I realized it’d be much cooler to hear from some of my favorite pro-footies:
Part 1: Jaycie Johnson
Jaycie is a striker on Seattle Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League. After a record breaking youth career in Kansas City, Jaycie played at the University of Nebraska. She also played for the US U23 National team. Read her full bio here.
We caught up over email, and her answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Did you dream of playing professionally growing up? Who were your soccer idols?
Yes, when I was little I dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player. That was all I wanted to do when I younger. I had 3 big soccer idols, they were Mia Hamm, Tiffany Milbert and Abby Wambach.
I have many great memories of youth soccer and believe a high commitment level to the sport has served me well in life… what do you think were your most valuable lessons growing up playing? What has stuck with you through the years?
Soccer had definitely played a big role and factor in who I have become today. It taught me how to be disciplined with everything that I do in life. With it being on time to a meeting or appointment, or it be getting homework done and turned in on time.
It also has taught me my own strengths and abilities in my own life. How strong I can be, and what I can endure and how much I can push my body to get through obstacles thrown my way.
One of the biggest things it has taught me how to love and enjoy life. Soccer always has given me joy and happiness. It made me enjoy and appreciate all the little things outside of it, like my family, my teammates and the sacrifices made by those to allow me to play soccer.
What is the difference of playing in college versus playing professionally? Both style of play and the fact that it is your job now?
One of the biggest differences from becoming a pro and being in college is the speed and the smartness of the game. At the professional level, everyone is always 5 steps ahead of you and thinking of the next play. At this level everyone is so smart and technical with the game, unlike in college there are gaps between player and the understanding of the game and how it is played.
Another difference is that being a professional and it being my job, it is my soul focus and purpose. It is the only thing that I think about, how to recover my body, what I am eating to help my body and myself out to perform. In college you have soccer, but you also have classes and homework on top of thinking about soccer, so it was not my only focus and the only thing I did day in and day out.
What are your athletic goals and dreams?
I have always wanted to be a professional, and I achieved that. I wanted to play for the National team and I am halfway there. I have played for the U-20 and the U-23 national teams. My last and final athletic goal is to make the full National team!
Other goals? What do you think you’ll do after your professional career?
I want to be able to impact the sports world once I am no longer an athlete. Sports has been my whole life and I have been through and experienced so much, so I would love to be able to give back and try and improve things within the sports world.
What do you think is missing in women’s sports coverage in the media? What is the biggest barrier for female professional soccer players?
I think we are missing a big media platform to cover our games and to get our game out to the world. Yes our women’s national team is the best and gets the some cover, but it does not get the cover it deserves.
We need a platform that will air our games and do segments about players and get the interest of people and show them what we can do and what we go through and give them that player experience.
No one gives us the credit that we deserve. We need more exposure and more insight into what we do. I think that will give us more respect and pique more interest and get more attention.
What advice would you give young girls who want to play in college or play professionally?
I would give this advice to young girls trying to make it… Be open to change. You are not perfect and will never be perfect. If something does not work, that is ok! Be open to making mistakes and trying to get better from that. Use your weaknesses to become a better player don’t hide from them.
I would also advise being as fit and healthy as you can. Your body is your job and weapon. You need it to be able to perform and you have to take care of it the right way. Learn about how to maximize recovery and what to eat and what to do help make the process go faster so you can be ready to go again.