How I Became Female Athlete of the Year

Ever since I can remember, I was kicking around a soccer ball. I can still picture the exact moment my parents asked me whether I wanted to be on a competitive travel soccer team or dance. That was an easy answer… soccer! I was eight years old… a tiny soccer player who always worked hard and never said a word. I was one intense eight year old. My father saw my God given talents and provided the best training for me as I developed into a tactically and technically inclined player. I was going to my weekly practices with my team, then stayed after to practice with the boy’s team. On my off days, I would do extra technical practices and fitness days. Then, when I didn’t have games on the weekend, I’d play on the boys teams. My parents always instilled excellence. Anything you were doing in every part of your life, you were going to do your best, and in my mind that meant, you always had to be the best. Going into high school, I was prepared to make Varsity and do well, and I did … and this was the start of my identity crisis. My team won two championships my four years and a good chunk of my teammates and I received many accolades. Nothing seemed wrong because my identity was in my success in sports and academics, and all of that was going more than great.

Going to college on a full scholarship and breaking records my freshman year only fueled my co-dependency of putting my happiness and identity in my success. It wasn’t until my sophomore year when I developed a relationship with a Varsity Catholic missionary from FOCUS did I begin to think… there has to be more.  She challenged me in my faith and told me my identity relied solely on the fact that I was a beautiful daughter of God. Developing a daily prayer life, I was getting more convicted about my true identity by encountering Jesus Christ on a personal level. Experiencing this freedom from always feeling like I needed to succeed to maintain who I am, I wanted to share this with my team.

So my sophomore year, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I got the courage to tell my team “whoever would like to pray before practices can join me and stay and pray… if not, you can just walk out to field and we will join y’all in a couple minutes.” Oh man! Although I was a captain, I felt that speaking up like that was the scariest thing I had ever done. The locker room was silent for what felt like 5 minutes, a couple people stood up, then person after person walked out of the locker room. Of about 33 girls, 5 girls stayed. Whew, it’s okay. Five girls stayed. My junior year the missionary challenged me to start a bible study with my team. What?! I barely have people accepting that we pray before practices and now you want me to invite them to a bible study I’m leading?! But just as any other athlete would… I saw it as a challenge.  Week after week my teammates and I grew more as women of faith and sisters in Christ. Our view on why we played soccer transformed from a job, my identity, or something that’s paying for my college to an opportunity to glorify our King by using the talents He gave us. With inspiration from my now fiancé, my senior year I told my teammates… if y’all want, we will be praying before and AFTER every practice and game. So whoever wants to join feel free. More confident in the Lord, I was excited to see what this year was going to bring. My senior year every single girl on my team stayed to pray before practice and probably more than half stayed after. Praise the Lord!

As athletes, it’s natural to be competitive… but we can all admit we get way too competitive sometimes or… most of the time. As college athletes, we all know how what seems like endless hours of practices, games, and film can make our sport we once loved seem like a job. Praying at 5:20 am with my team really checked our attitude about waking up before the crack of dawn and made us realize this beautiful gift we had to play a sport… in college… with amazing facilities… and an amazing team. We began to appreciate every sunrise instead complaining all the time that we literally got no sleep. After a competitive and probably physical soccer practice, praying helped us remember our teammates and opponents are STILL our sisters in Christ and not our arch enemies. After a horrible practice when you begin to question if you even know how to kick a soccer ball anymore, praying helped us remember our true identity and worth relies solely on our Lord. Even after having your most amazing practice of what seems like your whole career of sports imagining playing professional soccer for the rest of your life, praying helped us humble ourselves and remember you are not your sport or your success but rather it is a gift that God gave you to glorify Him.

Throughout my journey in sports and faith, I realized the amazing qualities of hard work, pursuing excellence, self-disciple, and determination that my parents instilled in me from a very young age still are prevalent if not, more meaningful now. By my senior year truly rediscovering where my identity lied, I was free to love and be loved by our Lord. I viewed my talent not as my identity and happiness but a gift God gave me to make His name known more by glorifying Him through it. I viewed the endless running drills in the 150% humidity of Louisiana as opportunities to offer up my sacrifice and struggle for my teammates. I wanted and still want to be the best teammate, captain, friend, sister, daughter, and fiancé I can be. I was able to use my self-discipline to prioritize daily prayer life and rosaries, going to daily mass, and frequent confession. It didn’t matter what state we were in that weekend making Sunday mass was a must. This change of perspective on my sport didn’t hinder my abilities as an athlete but rather heightened it. My faith helped me become a better leader, teammate, and player. I was able to excel in all aspects of my life, and at the end of my senior year, I was honored to open the 2017 Student-Athlete of the Year banquet for my university (the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) in prayer in front of the other amazing nominees and athletic department. Reflecting on how God freed me from the bonds of the world and being able to glorify Him in such a way was surreal. I was blessed enough to be named the 2017 Female Student-Athlete of the Year and was nominated for 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year which will be selected this fall.

The Lord blesses us athletes with a platform to glorify His name. Our talent is a gift… and no gift is perfect until given back to its giver. We are much bigger than ourselves. He has a plan to use us for His Kingdom. Pray big. Play big… And give all the glory to Him.

 

Yazmin is now a Varsity Catholic missionary. She will be serving the student-athletes at the University of Oklahoma. (Varsity Catholic is a division of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.)

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There is 1 comment so far

  • kwat
    5 months ago · Reply

    Great writeup!!! Brought tears of joy…

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