A few people mentioned that a chapter of Briana Scurry’s new book, My Greatest Save, is about me and the competition Bri and I had during our college years at the University of Massachusetts. We were both goalkeepers fighting for the starting spot. Obviously – she ultimately won - with World Cup Championships and Olympic medals!
I finally went to pick up a copy of the book today, scanned the chapter quickly, and found myself fuming with anger in the checkout line. There were some mischaracterizations and accounts of conversations I don’t remember having with my head coach....I felt like I was made to be weak, overly emotional, and unstable. I felt like she portrayed me as someone scared and unsure of myself.
And then, suddenly, the anger I felt towards Bri for writing this chapter about us turned into a rush of vulnerability overwhelm - a sense of panic came upon me. My heart started beating faster and my mind started racing. She literally introduces me in the chapter with the statement: “There was only one teammate I had a hard time figuring out. Her name was Skye Eddy.”
There couldn’t be more truth to that statement. It would be impossible for anyone to understand me, because at that time in my life I was so incredibly lost, misunderstood even to myself.
My freshman and sophomore year in college, documented in her chapter – were the worst years of my life. And while it certainly is uncomfortable to be broadcast in a book you can buy at Barnes & Noble, many of Bri’s characterizations are true. I was overly-emotional, unstable, scared, unsure, and weak. It was the hardest time of my life.
I was a 19 year old athlete who had been “everything” up until going to college: A 2 time State Champion track athlete, a youth All-American soccer player, captain of teams and presidents of clubs – all while working a job and regularly volunteering. The year after I graduated from high school they started presenting the “Skye Eddy Award” to the over-achieving senior at Herndon High School.
I don’t generally allow myself to feel regret because I see the lessons learned and the big picture. The worst, and possibly the best, decision I ever made was to go to the University of Massachusetts. While I am positive my playing career would have been much different had I chosen a different college - with a coach capable of supporting me through my difficult moments – I know I am sitting here writing this in a state of strength, clarity, confidence, and power that is likely only afforded to me because of all the difficult moments. And so, while I know my playing story and career could have been different, I also know life for me unfolded just as it should have.
While sport almost destroyed me, ultimately - sport is also what saved me.
I arrived to the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 1989, already struggling with my identity and worthiness, desperately wanting friends that would care for me and a team that would love me. I was struggling to understand who I was behind all my accomplishments and found myself in a state of self-esteem crisis. I was met with a difficult playing environment – competing against a Senior goalkeeper for a starting spot. I found myself unconfident, scared to fail, afraid to not be perfect.
To be clear – my real issues were not with sport. My success in sport and my unrelenting desire to do more, work harder, run faster, get stronger, receive more attention, have more newspaper articles written about me - all of this was simply the outward manifestation of a desire to be heard.
We need to remember that behind every athlete – is a human being. Behind every insecurity and fear, poor decision, and reckless behavior – is a child. There is a history, a reason, a backstory. The story is not the sprint down the final straightaway to win at the finish line, the save made in extra time, the goal scored, or the medal won. The story is about the human being. And for me, my story – what drove and motivated me – was an unrelenting and unhealthy desire to be seen and heard. Had I not been gifted with my athleticism, I would have found another way to be heard: drugs, dangerous behaviors, excelling at something different.
When Bri arrived to campus during my sophomore year, I was already a mess. In my desire to find a loving community, I had joined a church on campus my Freshman year after being invited to a Bible Study by the captain of the football team. While the church was a refuge for me, it was also a manipulative environment where I spent an unhealthy amount of time, never quite believing in the narrative – but relishing in the fact I was wanted and belonged somewhere.
The details of why I needed so desperately to belong, be seen, and heard are inconsequential to this story. I have reconciled those events in my life. But importantly, others have not. High school athletes everywhere struggle to understand the difference between the outward support and admiration they receive from playing and the self-love and compassion in which they need to root themselves in order to live a healthy life.
What I experienced in 1990 continues to play out. Athletes are struggling with identity issues, self-esteem, and lacking in coping mechanisms and support. When I needed a coach in my life who could support me, care about me, and provide me with the resources I needed – I was given an emotionally manipulative coach struggling with his own demons. One of my teammates described my relationship with Jim Rudy, the head coach at the University of Massachusetts as: “JR preyed on you back then. He sought out your weaknesses and exposed them. I remember watching it and feeling it but not being able to digest it. I think it made him feel better.”
I was bullied with micro-aggressions. Emotionally manipulated. My coach had so many opportunities to help me, but instead – it felt like he gave up on me when I needed him most. I was a 19 year old kid begging for help.
How did I cope?
Aside from the church, Bri details one way I coped in her book. I became overly obsessed with my performance – and Bri’s. I watched her every move. I counted saves and mistakes. I tallied goals against in every practice and monitored every detail of every moment – seeking a moment to say I was better because maybe that would mean I was worthy.
In my work for Soccer Parenting I recently interviewed Jonathan Harding, author of multiple books – his most recent: Soul: Beyond the Athlete. The acclaimed book is a search for the answer to the question: Is it possible to make the absolute priority of our sporting structures to be meeting the needs of the athlete? Can we care more about the soul of the athlete than their performance?
I pose the same question here: Do our sporting structures adequately meet the holistic needs of players?
For all the vulnerable feelings I had while skimming Bri’s chapter about her college experience – the fear and insecurities I felt knowing people everywhere, many of whom I know and interact with on a regular basis in my work would be reading about my worst moments from the perspective of my competitor….I must acknowledge that these moments were real. In many cases, it is who I was at that time. And while I thankfully was able to pick myself up and eventually find my way – too many others are not. They quit playing with emotional scars that last a lifetime. They turn to drugs and dangerous and promiscuous behaviors. They struggle with depression and anxiety. They commit suicide.
Athletes deserve to be in the care of coaches who are emotionally capable of supporting them – who won’t bully, manipulate, and emotionally harm them. Universities must be resourced to support their athletes in their most vulnerable moments such as a transition to college. And we all must look at the pressure youth athletes face and ask ourselves if there is a better way?
Thankfully, I tore my quad during pre-season of my junior year, giving me the chance to take a break from the stress I was encountering and red-shirt the season. As I rehabbed, I started working out with the basketball team at UMass during their pre-season, and then was asked to be on the women’s basketball team. The new friendships, supportive coaches, and new experiences on this team helped me leave the church and restart my athletic journey. When it became obvious I had to move off campus to get away from the pressure people in the church were putting on me after I left, a family of Senegalese soccer players from the men’s summer league team I played on offered me a place in their home for the semester. Their family was exactly what I needed emotionally. I found a loving environment full of joy. I found myself. I found my confidence. I recovered. I found my soul again.
My senior year was a bit of a blur. I was ready to compete, but still struggling with JR and my place on the team. Bri was good, and our competition was fierce. We split games in my senior year for the beginning of the season, but then Bri was named the starter and I played the rest of the season as a field-player.
The summer before my 5th year, I started to work for Tony DiCicco and SoccerPlus Camps. It was here I met some of the most caring, compassionate, fun, loyal and talented people I know. My confidence returned. I belonged to a positive, empowering, thoughtful and caring family of coaches at SoccerPlus. Tony’s motto was “Catch them Being Good” and my heart and body felt good again. When I left SoccerPlus for preseason at UMass, I was armed with a growing sense of self.
One practice during pre-season I found my voice and finally stood up to JR. One of my greatest life-moments is taking my power back and saying “Fuck You” when he started in on me, walking off the field, and ultimately quitting the UMass team. While the urge to not quit was strong, the need to stop being emotionally manipulated was stronger.
JR released me thinking I would never find my way to a team in the final days before school started (the NCAA rules at the time), and I proved him wrong and transferred the next day to George Mason University to finish my last year of collegiate eligibility. It was a magical season where I was surrounded by a coaching staff of Jac Cicala, Paul Ellis and Manu Gaiarin who cared about me as a human being first and then as an athlete. My teammates were fun, we loved one another, and battled hard together. I was finally able to be my best self – confident, capable, happy. I saved two penalties in a shoot-out vs. Stanford in the Final Four Semi-Finals and we then lost in the National Championship game to UNC. I was a first team All-American and Defensive MVP of the Final Four.
UMass also made it to the Final Four that year and lost in the semi-finals to UNC. At the hotel after the semi-final I had to ride in an elevator with JR. He had the audacity to say to me “Good thing they shot to your left,” as we made our way up to his floor. This is a perfect demonstration of his insecurities and manipulation. When he had the chance to congratulate me, he chose instead to remind me of my weaknesses.
A coach should empower and inspire.
Bri’s chapter is written and the book is published for all to read. I don’t agree with all of it, but I understand this is her book and respect her perspective. To her, Skye Eddy was simply someone she couldn’t figure out.
If I were writing a book, it would be a book for the youth athlete who is trying to find their place in the world, competing in sporting structures that do not always or adequately support them. My book would be about worthiness and strength, about standing up and saying “Fuck You” and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you. My book would be a story of gratitude for sport – for the basketball team, the Senegalese soccer players, SoccerPlus Camps, my teammates and coaches at George Mason. My book would be a book about not giving up, about celebrating the process, living your best life, and about the paths we take on our arduous journey to find ourselves.