A testimony of perserverance and faith

Sports

A testimony of perserverance and faith

Reggae Girlz player/coach Whitehead recalls struggles on road to the top

SHERDON COWAN
AT THE CONCACAF WOMEN'S
OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS
In Texas

Sunday, February 02, 2020

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EDINBURG, Texas – Growing up Alyssa Whitehead saw herself as a promising footballer with the world ahead of her.

So, though she was told that she wasn't good enough to make it big in the sport, Whitehead refused to accept that as her fate, and as a result, became even more determined to prove her doubters wrong.

Whitehead, who started in football as a 12-year-old striker, was later forced to take up goalkeeping duties because of her distinct height advantage in an all-star team. While she was initially devastated about the switch, she eventually grew to love the position.

But it wasn't until she started attending Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2008, that the 6-foot-3inch tall Whitehead really honed her skills between the sticks.

As a freshman with little experience, Whitehead was eager to learn and apply instructions to improving her game.

That willingness and persistence overtime saw Whitehead become a dominant goaltender, whose speed and agility gave her a chance to make a save even when the odds are against her.

“I definitely love being part of a sport that's like, bigger than myself. So, the reason I picked that school is because I just knew the coaching staff cared about me as a person because I was very raw going into college.

“So knowing that they cared about me as a person and were willing to invest in me from like a technical and tactical standpoint was a great fit,” Whitehead told the Jamaica Observer.

“I felt like that school was the best to get the best of both soccer and academics, and they definitely helped shape me as a person, you know, both from a physical, mental, and even faith standpoint, because Sanford is a Christian university,” she added.

By the end of her four years at Samford, Whitehead not only left with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and a minor in biology, but also left an indelible mark on the school.

The 30-year-old, whose mother Sonia is Jamaican and father Joe an American, then branched out into the professional arena in Sweden where she began another chapter in her football career.

During three successful years playing in Sweden, Whitehead also put her faith to work by doing sports ministry, before returning to the States, where she not only got inducted in Samford University's Hall of Fame, but was introduced to the coaching profession.

After doing three years on the sideline at Samford, Whitehead spent a year-and-a-half coaching at University of California Davis, before moving to Florida International University (FIU) where she is currently the women's assistant coach.

“So yeah, so it's been a cool journey of where soccer has taken me because I'm from Mississippi originally, not many people from Mississippi get to go out and venture out into a whole new world like I did.

“So, I am definitely grateful for soccer and how it's impacting me, and now this opportunity to come out of retirement and help out the Jamaican Football Federation and give back,” Whitehead shared.

Whitehead, who views her role in the senior Reggae Girlz team here at the Concacaf Women's Olympic Qualifiers as a show of appreciation for her mother's sacrifice, is optimistic of also making a long-term impact on aspiring players in Jamaica.

“I would want to help Jamaican girls who have a dream to play soccer, you know, how can I impact them, and I think I have a unique position because not only do I coach but I can play, so I can also show that if you want to do both, you can do both.

“And I think being on the team right now, is neat because I think I am the oldest player in the team, and so just tell them my stories if they want to hear about my experiences and help them to make decisions I wish I'd made in soccer so they can avoid some road blocks,” Whitehead reasoned.

She continued: “Coming retirement is a little rough, but it's been enjoyable, you know, definitely missed the grind of constantly working out, being a part of a team and everything. It switches a little bit from when you're a coach, you know, it's like you're a part of a team.

“But ultimately, I just want to continue to help with coaching, hopefully in the future, that's one of my goals because I've always had this desire to help people and I think soccer is a great way to just love and help people.”

With that, Whitehead had words of wisdom for players who are now possibly in a similar position to her when she was starting out.

“For young girls who have this dream, never give up. I think if you look at the cards of like where I grew up in Mississippi, it's not a soccer state. I had coaches growing up when I was around their age who told me 'hey, you need to give up you're not good enough for this'.

“I think one of the unique things is when I was done with college and I started coaching we [would] go out and recruit [at] club soccer tournaments and stuff around the US and running into coaches who were there when I was playing saying, 'We made a mistake, we didn't want to take a risk on you, we didn't think you had what it took, but you were really good, we just weren't aware of that yet.'

“So if you dream and you want something just go for it. You might not have all the resources and stuff that you want, but if you can just be creative and find ways to get your fitness up, to train and find ways to watch the sport. Also find ways to just connect with people who believe in what you believe in, even when others are telling you, you can't do it,” noted Whitehead.


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