So Caroline, tell us about how you found soccer, was it always the dream to reach pro level?
“It was the only dream I remember having as a kid. My family and I are from Oklahoma originally. I’ll be honest, I don’t even think there was soccer when I was growing up! We moved to Missouri when I was four-years-old and someone suggested putting me on a boys team. At that young age I was yelling at the other boys and pushing them around. Shortly after, some of the boys parents kindly suggested I started playing with girls! But I can remember the dream really flourishing when I was about eight-years-old. I daydreamed of being a forward like Abby Wambach. My mum says as a kid I was always muddy and bloody, a bit of a rough-houser. So I can remember Abby being the first female athlete that I felt like I actually could look up to. She played with such relentlessness, such courage. She broke so many barriers. That’s when the dream truly began. and let me tell you, people laughed at that. I was voted “Most Likely to Play for the Kansas City Wizards” in third grade. The boys got mad because they said it was impossible for me to play for the Wizards since girls couldn’t play professional. I was determined from then on.”
Did you always want to be a keeper, or were you just not very good out field?
“I love that assumption! Actually, I was always a forward. I was a very good forward too. I was much stronger than most girls my age, and despite the goalkeeper stereotypes, I was extremely fast, still am actually. But I played multiple sports and was just an overall athlete as a kid so they started throwing me in randomly. When I was about 13 our goalkeeper broke her thumb and the coach tossed me in for State Cup. We ended up winning and that’s where it seriously started.
The man, the myth, the legend has risen! Thank ya JESUS! pic.twitter.com/lLheeRktWs
— Caroline Stanley (@CarolineStan) March 27, 2016
I played half here and there the next year. Before I knew it I was fifteen and my parents had hired a goalkeeper trainer for me. Dave Weibengea, a local high school coach. He spent hours upon hours with me. I remember getting so frustrated sometimes and crying on a field in the rain. For hours, diving in the mud over and over, with him yelling that I could be better. I owe that man so much for who he moulded me to be on and off the field. He never let me play the victim, never let me make excuses, and was always straightforward. He was extremely tough on me, but he always reminded me that God has a plan. But for a plan to unfold, I have to go to work.”
Tell us a bit of your faith story, how did you come to know God for yourself?
“So I actually grew up in the church, I grew up a Pastor’s kid. Yup, a crazy PK! (pastors kid) Kidding, I never hit that hardcore rebel stage where I didn’t believe God was real. I definitely had moments of turning my back on God, but I was extremely lucky to have the family I did. My parents ingrained in me at a very young age what some folks like to call “good Christian values”. I felt His presence at a young age, and was baptised at seven-years-old. I remember having this unwavering faith as a kid. I just knew, no matter what, that Jesus was always with me. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that childlike faith, and completely re-surrender to my Lord and give Him every aspect of my life. To live with open hands.”
You have recently signed for Sky Blue FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, how excited are you for the next chapter ahead?
“I am incredibly excited! It’s still surreal to me. I have to remind myself where I am, and how badly I wanted to be in this position! I never want to get stagnant or take advantage of this opportunity that I always dreamed of having. It’s a great year for me to get playing experience and be a part of a club that has seen some tough years. One of the coolest things about this team is the group of women we have. We have a great core of believers, and I feel constantly pushed in my faith life. It’s easy to get hyper-focused on soccer in season, so having true sisters and accountability partners has been a fulfilling experience so far.”
Do you see playing soccer as a form of worship to God?
“This is something that I have thought about incessantly this last year actually. Growing up I think I struggled with my identity, and trying to find who I was. If you asked me who I was my first answer would have been “soccer player.” Now, after so many years of deepening my relationship with Christ, I can say that description falls much further down the list.
— ThriveU (@ThriveUAthletes) April 24, 2016
A friend of mine was discussing a story she heard about a track athlete who use to say he continued to run because when he ran, he felt God’s pleasure. Since hearing that story, my prayer has been to feel God’s pleasure. I want to use the talents and personality traits He’s given me to glorify Him. To make my Father in Heaven smile. I think that Tim Tebow has always been a unique example of this. He played with such aggression and physicality. Many people argue that watching him play you wouldn’t think he was a Christian. But, I think the opposite! God made him that way. If you suppress the talents and qualities God gave you, then you’re not glorifying Him. That shifted my own personal opinion on worshipping God through the way I play. By playing as aggressive, loud, and devoted as I can.”
What’s the best thing for you, when you look at the development of the NWSL and its growing popularity?
“I think what’s most exciting for me is seeing the entire country getting more excited about Women’s Soccer. The World Cup definitely shifted the way people see the women’s game. They finally see how chalk-full of female talent this country is. I only hope that the leagues popularity will grow and women who aren’t on the National Team will also become household names. There are a couple hundred females working everyday, maximum effort with minimum pay for this dream. If I haven’t made it abundantly obvious, we don’t play for the money. It’s for the pure enjoyment of the sport. To have the ability to live out a dream of playing soccer everyday, even if the earthly rewards aren’t what we would hope.”
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Is it hard to stand out and show your faith in the culture that team sports create?
“I think it was a lot harder in college actually. I felt the pressure to conform in college. I went to the most culturally and religiously diverse college in the United States. I think where I am in my life right now, I just don’t even care what people think about me to a certain point. It might sound arrogant, but bare with me. I have been so entirely focused on seeking my identity, my confidence, and approval from my Saviour, that people’s opinions or jabs just don’t sting as badly as they once did. I was judged and condemned so harshly growing up that I used to lie about my dad being a Pastor. Shameful, I know, but I think at the professional level, you’re so free to be yourself. We live in the land of the free, and that’s how I feel. Free to be me. Of course, people will always have something to say about the way you talk, walk, and live out your life. And there will always be moments when I falter, and my feelings will get hurt. But ultimately, I am called to stand out, and be bold for Christ. And I surely hope I will continue to do that despite how difficult it may become.”
Who is the best player that you have ever played with or against?
“Hands down without a doubt that would be Hope Solo.
I had the privilege to play behind her last year (which was my rookie year.) Her work ethic, her drive, her focus… it’s second to none. There is no one who is even close to touching her. She’s incredible to train with. I will always respect her and look up to her for the way she treated me and for all she taught me in such a short amount of time. She’s also an incredible human, she fights for what she believes in and protects the people she loves.”
How do you deal with mistakes between the sticks, when ultimately most of them will cost goals?
“This is something I am definitely still trying to manage. I like to call it short-term memory. My mistakes can lead to goals. Bottom line, mistake need to be few and far between. If I do make a detrimental mistake, I have to bounce back and be ready to make an amazing save right after. There’s no time to dwell on mistakes. I have to constantly remind myself that the mistakes don’t define me, just as the successes don’t either.”
On top of club responsibility, you have represented the women’s national team, what’s been your best moment thus far?
“I haven’t represented my country in about five long years. But, I would have to say one of my best moments with them was in High School when we played Costa Rica. We were up 1-0 and there was probably about ten minutes left in the game. We fouled in the box and they were awarded a PK. I remember this overwhelming feeling she was going to serve the ball to my left. So just as she stepped up to kick the ball and started moving left and parried the ball wide of the goal. She followed up and we collided, hard. I came out with the ball though, and we ended up winning. I think that was the moment I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “you are going to make your dream come true one day, you just have to truly believe in yourself.” Even if five years goes by, ten years goes by…never stop believing the dream that the Lord has put so strongly on your heart.”
How does God feature in your match day routine?
“A hope I have, and something I am continually striving for is to make Him the center of it all. I usually wake up and immediately turn on praise music. I like having a big brunch that’s usually followed by reading and praying. I like to stay pretty relaxed on game days, so this really puts me at peace. Just talking to my Father God. My roommates all join in on the singing praise and worship while we cook also, it’s a really unique situation that’s given me amazing friendships.”
What would you prefer, to save a penalty to win the match for your team or to score a goal when you go up for a corner?
“I would much rather save the penalty! That’s my job. I’ll leave the scoring glory to the attackers. I like the idea that forwards have a hundred chances in a season to be the hero, while a goalkeeper has a hundred chances to lose games for their team. It’s a unique type of pressure…maybe that’s why they say all Goalkeepers are crazy!”
Do you have any fellow Christian soccer players that you connect with?
“Yes! There are so many women in the league that are following Jesus. It’s unbelievable. One of my favourite parts of game days, no matter where we are, is that there’s always a pre-game prayer with the other team. Sometimes there are one or two girls from a team, and then other times you get about twelve girls walking out from each team. It always gives me chills! I mean, gosh, at the end of the day what is soccer to an almighty God? It’s nothing! He loves our passion for it, because he gave us the talent and the love for it! But He is much more concerned with our heart and souls can do for him, than what our feet are capable of doing. However, I know it gives him endless joy to see such a beautiful picture of his daughters coming together and rejoicing in His name and acknowledging Him. To acknowledge and pray that no matter the end result, our identity is in Him, not in our stats, our minutes played, or anything from the world. We are defined by His unwavering love and mercy, and when we truly believe that, we feel so free The comfort, the love, the protection, the confidence and the freedom His grace has given us washes over me ten-fold when I talk to Him. I just feel Him. That’s what I love the most about talking to God.”