Competitive soccer teaches you more than just the 17 laws of the game. You also pick up values and tools like mental agility and the ability to work in a team that prepare you for life’s other events.
SMU Snapshots caught up with Joey Cheng, former president of SMU Women’s Soccer, to learn about the lessons that she takes off the soccer field into her personal and professional lives.
Streets to the soccer field
Joey had her first brush with soccer at 13 years old, when she would join the boys at the futsal court – much to the dismay of her mother, who felt that soccer was too masculine for girls, and steered Joey toward joining the school choir instead. It was only later that Joey put her foot down and pursued her love for soccer; competing through her last year of secondary school, junior college and with external clubs.
“I started formal training late, so my peers who started earlier had more skills and experience. I was always this kid that was trying to learn and understand. Playing soccer out in the field, compared to the street court, was a completely different experience. The first time I kicked the ball out in the field, my technique was all over the place and it felt really weird.”
Trainings were especially intense when Joey first started. Her coach would tease her with comments like: “can you not look like you’re running on the beach?”. It was a test of mental strength as Joey spent a lot of time improving her form and endurance.
Off the field, Joey was also picking up teamwork values.
“We learnt to put our teammates first, before ourselves. We were encouraged to do things like help our teammates wash their bibs, or help to clear the cones. It was never explicitly asked of us, but became a good habit once you realise that everyone is just looking out for each other.”
Building a close-knit team
When Joey joined SMU, it was natural that she continue to pursue her love for soccer. She became the vice-captain in her first year, president in year two, and captain in her third year. These leadership roles allowed her to put into practice the servant-leadership lessons that she had learnt as a team player.
“I was so lucky for an understanding exco and helpful vice-president. They did a lot of things behind the scenes that people don’t see. Then of course, you also have the people who are always there to help when you’re struggling. When one person helps another, that person begins to help someone else, then the momentum kicks in and the kindness spreads. I think this is how we get our family culture. We also hang out outside of soccer trainings.”
Hard work and perseverance
There was no lack of learning during her time with SMU Women’s Soccer. “Everything that I am, I learnt from playing soccer,” Joey describes how the sport has shaped her. One of the big lessons that she has learnt from soccer is endurance.
“Our trainings definitely challenge us physically, but it also takes a certain level of mental strength to push through all the intense running and drills. Especially when you have to repeat the same thing every other night. I’ve learnt how to keep fighting for what you believe in. If the one that thing you can do to achieve your goals, is to work really hard, then that is what you should do.”
Joey is especially inspired by the work ethic of NBA basketball player Stephen Curry. His drive. His willingness to work. His courage in the face of failure. When he first started out, people thought he was too small for the game. Yet, he defied the odds and worked hard to overcome his weaknesses, and went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2014-2015.
The importance of communication
As a central midfielder who often sets the direction for the game, Joey is also learning everyday how to become a better communicator – a critical skill for keeping the team together and moving forward both on and off the soccer field.
“We constantly have to talk to the people around us and be conscious to not shut off. That communication is especially crucial in high stress environments where all you want to do is get it over and done with. Besides communication, patience and endurance are also key values here.”
Now in her last year in SMU, Joey looks back and realises that even though situations might have seemed challenging at the different points in time when there were struggles and things were not going her way, there are always learning points to be taken away that make the experiences worthwhile.
With the many traditions and good habits that have been passed down from the team’s predecessors, Joey’s hope for SMU Women’s Soccer is that the teams keep up the good practices that have been passed down while forging their own identity.