DURHAM, N.C.-- As I go into the NCAA Tournament, I have had time to reflect on my career here at Duke and what I’ve done for my teammates and the program. You will rarely find me on the stat sheet considering I have one goal and one assist over my entire Duke career. I’ve never received any player of the week type of awards and I’ve never even been interviewed after a game. I’ve spent a lot of time on the bench, and an outsider could think that I am one of the more irrelevant players on the Duke soccer team, but I will tell you how this is not even close to true.
If I could be a genie, wave my wand and redo my entire career to be the leading scorer each of my four seasons, I wouldn’t. Why? Here are some lessons I have learned while riding the pine- things that I don’t believe I would have learned if I had been a superstar.
I was told recently that your legacy is based on how you influence others, and that excellence isn’t an event. Through being on the Duke soccer team I have learned how to connect with people. I embraced my role on the team and focused on how to make my teammates better. I learned personalities, strengths and weaknesses. I can tell when people need to be motivated or cheered for and I made that my job. I want to win and I help the team win because I know what the individuals on my team need in order to perform at their best. At a program like Duke, we recruit extremely talented freshmen, but naturally they come in hesitant and nervous. It is my job to help them settle down and give them confidence so they can be excellent.
For example, Cassie Pecht, currently a sophomore, is someone I feel like I influenced the most her freshman year. She is a girl with unbelievable speed and skill with the ball, however I could tell she was intimidated by the college game. As a player, Cassie is a game changer. She is one of those players who go into tackles and the ball magically bounces out right into her path- some skill I never learned. She has the ability to dribble entire teams, so that’s what I would tell her to do. During games I would see her start to fade and shy out of the spotlight- not play poorly, but not be the spark I knew she could be. Any second I could I would pull her aside and say, “Cassie, its simple. Just take the ball and dribble it into the back of the net.” Now any coach would kill me if they knew I was telling someone to be a “ball hog,” but Cassie understood what I was telling her. It’s not about her trying to dribble an entire Division I, top-five-in-the-country, soccer team (our typical opponents), its about taking the complexity and pressure out of what Cassie was feeling and give her a chance to settle down, laugh, and simplify everything that was going on around her.
How do I know that I influenced her and that my pep talks worked? Besides seeing the improvement in her play during games, Cassie and I reconnected again this season. Instead, however, Cassie was there to support me. Out for the season with an injury, Cassie has always been the first to approach me before I go into a game and tell me “Avery, dribble the entire team.” Being a defender, both of us knew that she didn’t mean literally. Cassie got my message just like I got hers. She was telling me, “Play with confidence because I believe in you and I support you.” It is moments like that that I know that I have made a difference.
If I were an All-Star on the team, I don’t know if I would have forced myself to find a different way to make an impact. The feeling I get when I know that my teammates have learned from me, been inspired by me and respect me is way better than any feeling I could have gotten from scoring a hundred goals. My legacy in the Duke women’s soccer program will be left in the way I have influenced others and hopefully those younger than me will be able to do the same for years to come.
Shout out to the others out there playing left bench because if you make the effort, you can mean more to your team than you think you do.