The Olympic gold medal-winning soccer player details her path to success, from her childhood in California to her time on the United States' National team.
Author of a best-selling middle-grade sports series, the Kicks, the Olympic gold-medal-winning soccer star Morgan shares her own life story in this YA memoir. In a conversational tone, Morgan narrates her journey from a kid whose dad would have preferred she played softball to college soccer star at UC-Berkeley to the youngest player on the U.S. Women's National Team. Along the way, Morgan experiences challenges-unanticipated changes in coaching staff, balancing academics and sports, and riding out injuries-but she does so with a positive attitude in a way that makes her a natural role model for teens, particularly teen athletes. Each chapter ends with a life lesson based on Morgan's experience, which can be a bit much over the course of 57 chapters, and the narrative is sometimes repetitive. Still, tween and teen soccer fans, particularly those who watched the recent U.S. women's victory in the World Cup, will be eager to get their hands on anything with Morgan's name on the cover. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.
I was doing things my own way even before I was born. After having two girls, my parents wanted a boy. Not that having a third girl is a bad thing; they just wanted something different. But I had my own set of plans, and when I was born on July 2, 1989, there I was: a little baby girl.
With each child my parents had had an agreement. If they had a boy, my dad would choose the name, and if they had a girl, my mom would have the honor. My mom settled on the name Alexandra for me. I can only guess that’s because my dad had chosen the “boy name” Alexander, and my mom decided to allow him just the smallest bit of influence.
What’s so funny is that even though my dad doted on his girls, he had a real vision of how he would have raised his son, if he’d had one. He once said that since I was the third girl, “he was going to make a boy out of me somehow.” He was joking, of course—he loves having three girls and wouldn’t trade us for anything—but I think he had certain hopes as a father. My dad grew up playing baseball, and he dreamed of a son playing it, living out what he’d loved most as a little boy.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Way before my dad helped introduce me to athletics, I was just a little kid growing up in Diamond Bar, California, about twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles. Diamond Bar is a nice suburban community—quiet, sunny, and generally happy. I liked it there. Mostly everyone knew one another, and I was able to walk to elementary and middle school.
But there wasn’t very much going on in Diamond Bar. It was a huge deal when we got a Target, and we didn’t even have a chain restaurant until I was fifteen or so. It’s the kind of place that you’re happy to grow up in but also happy to get out of once you come of age. I think so much of my youth revolved around sports precisely because not much else happened around me.
My parents basically grew up together. My dad was best friends with my mom’s older brother, and he’s as close with my mom’s siblings as she is. In fact, he probably sees them even more than she does! My parents starting dating on and off when my mom was eighteen or so, and they got married and had my eldest sister when she was twenty-three and he was thirty-four.
My dad owned and ran a small construction company, and my mom worked with him until she decided to get her master’s degree when I was about six. My two older sisters, Jenny and Jeri, were my best friends. Jenny is six years older than me, and Jeri is four years older. I was very close to Jeri, experiencing intense ups and downs like you do with your friends, and Jenny was a little more of a mother figure to me, especially when my mom went back to school at night. She happily dove into a caretaking role and began cooking for the family and organizing things for us while our mom was at class.
I was always in their shadow. When you’re the third kid, it’s just like that. You’re considered “the baby.” And my mom always got us confused! When she’d call me for something, she’d say, “Jenny! Jeri! I mean Alex!” She definitely valued us as individuals, but three girls can be a whirlwind!
My parents were stricter with me than they were with my sisters. Even though I was kind of sweet and shy and not at all a troublemaker, they held me to a higher standard. Maybe they knew my potential, or maybe they wanted to do everything right for their last child.
I remember we used to play so many games. Family games on Wednesday nights were always a big deal, especially with my dad. We’d play gin rummy or Monopoly or other board games, and they were really competitive. That’s where I got my fighting spirit; competition was a positive thing in our house, not a negative one. There were always winners and losers, though—nobody would be handed a win out of pity. My mom was actually the only one who wouldn’t laugh in your face when she won. If it was just me and her, the outcome of the game really didn’t matter. But not my dad! He would literally do a dance around the house after he won. It was extremely annoying.
Like I said, competition was all in good fun, but I’m not sure how fun Jeri thought it was when I first beat her in a footrace. I’d always been one step behind her in everything, but when I was nine I realized I was pretty fast and I might have a chance at doing something better than her. I’d stopped thinking my name was “Jeri’s little sister” instead of Alex, and I was going to assert myself!
“I’m going to beat you! You’ve got no chance. I’m going to win,” Jeri yelled at me as we were about to race against each other at the school across from our house.
“Just you watch me,” I said as I took off running.
Jeri couldn’t even keep up—I crossed the finish line way before her. I’m sure she’d deny it to this day, but I remember it clearly. I totally killed her.
My dad really wanted us to be athletic, and we all played different sports when we were little. I played soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball, and even participated in local track meets, which I loved.
I was probably three when I really learned how to catch a ball, and that was when Dad decided I was destined for softball. My sisters had been playing in a softball league for years, so I’d seen lots of their games. I remember holding on to the fence outside one of their games, poking my nose through as I cheered them on. Dad signed me up for a team as soon as I was old enough, and from then on I played softball more often and more intensely than any other sport. The first team I played on was a T-ball team called the A’s, and it was, of course, coached by my dad.
Jenny and Jeri were really good at school, but I took to athletics a little more than them, so I think that’s when my dad started pushing me harder than them. It wasn’t in a bad way—he just nudged me to do something I seemed naturally inclined toward and that I liked.
We would go to Anaheim Angels baseball games all the time. My dad had season tickets for a few years, and every time we went, he made sure that I brought my glove just in case I caught a foul ball. It was always so fun going to games, but now that I’m so into soccer, I look back and think, Wow, baseball is boring. Why did I enjoy it so much? Maybe it was just because I liked making my dad proud.
One day when I was about nine, though, I decided I’d had enough. I’d been playing soccer since I was five, and I’d realized that it was the sport for me.
I turned to my dad and said, “You know what? I don’t like softball.”
“What?” I could see the shocked look on my dad’s face. I was so good! How was it possible that I didn’t like it?
“I like soccer. I like to run.”
Dad’s face visibly softened. You see, he just wanted me to be happy and to chase my dreams. His goal—for me to love softball as much as he loved baseball—wasn’t the most important thing. He just wanted me to follow my passion, whatever it was. And it was clear that my passion was soccer.
Pushing Moves You Forward
There’s probably someone really important in your life who pushes you toward a goal—it could be your teacher, your mom, your grandfather, or someone else entirely—and you might disagree with them sometimes. I disagreed with my dad all the time! But I think you still need to value their place in your life. If you listen to them and let them in, they will probably nudge you just a little harder to find your passion. I’ll always thank my dad for doing that for me.