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The “B” Team

Orlando, FL - Wednesday June 27, 2018: Dani Weatherholt, Orlando Pride vs Houston Dash at Orlando City Stadium.

People assume that most professional athletes began as child prodigies, that they were the kids who started training as soon as they learned to walk, and then were the star of every youth team they played on. And some probably were.

I wasn’t.

I couldn’t even make my youth club’s “A” team.

Instead, my journey began with the “B” team of the Southern California Blues. And there it seemed to stall. Year after year, I watched as my fellow teammates got called up to the “A” team, while I was told that I was still too small, too slow, and just not good enough. These rejections never got easier. Each year, I was left heartbroken.

I started to doubt myself — it’s difficult not to when you’re told the same thing over and over again.

Throughout it all, my dad’s advice never changed. After each annual disappointment, he said the exact same thing: “You just have to work harder if you want it. Give it 110 percent, and dig deeper than everyone else on the field.”

My dad was my #1 fan. Before every game, he always had a Snickers and a banana ready for me. He didn’t really know soccer, but that didn’t matter. He knew enough to be able to tell whether I was playing my heart out. All of his feedback focused on my effort, rather than my skill. The only thing he cared about was that I left it all on the field.

That focus — that emphasis on effort above all else — became central to my approach. I realized that I couldn’t control my size, and that, once a tryout was over, I couldn’t control what team I was on. But I could always outwork everyone else on the field. Every practice. Every game. I could always be the most relentless.

And finally, after six years — six years of being told that I wasn’t good enough and six years of working every day to prove that I was — I made the “A” team. And not only did I make the team, but after our first training, I was named its captain.

I thought it must have been a mistake when I heard my name called. I still hadn’t even wrapped my head around the fact that I was finally on the same field as these girls, and I had just been picked to lead them. I was shocked.

What I hadn’t realized at the time was that, through all those years on the “B” team, I had been growing as both a player and a person, even when it seemed like I was stuck in place. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to play on so many amazing teams, at college, professionally in the NWSL, and abroad — and I have loved each and every one of them. But the most impactful chapter of my soccer journey — when I learned the most important life lessons — was my time playing for the “B” team of the SoCal Blues.

It was there that I learned to be accountable and to always push myself. I learned to pour all my energy into the pursuit of excellence, rather than worrying about any specific outcome.

But above all else, I learned to derive my confidence from within. No matter how many times I was told I wasn’t enough — not fast enough, not strong enough, not good enough — I always came back to my dad’s words. The confidence and life he spoke into me made me feel like I could achieve anything. My dad never told me I was the best. He told me I could be the best if I wanted to be. It was completely up to me and how hard I was willing to work for it. No matter what others thought, I had to rely on my belief in myself.