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ACNL in Action
Jersey to Scrubs: Lessons in Soccer and Nursing
By: Elyse Shelger MSN, RN, CCRN, NE-BC
In my life before nursing, I was a soccer player. I started playing the game when I was 4 years old. It shaped my childhood, and taught me more than I knew as a youth player. In high school, I learned from incredible coaches and teammates, and then had the honor of playing for one of the top college programs in the country, Santa Clara University. When you practice something day after day, and you listen to messages repeatedly day in and day out, those movements, patterns, principles, and lessons eventually become engrained in your mind, body and soul. You don’t always notice they are there, because they become part of you gradually, like fine lines, until you are forever changed.
As an adult, I often am reminded of certain guidance my coaches imparted and recognize why I do certain things the way I do. A large part of my mentality, behavior and beliefs have been shaped by the game of soccer, my life-long teammates, and my undeniably great coaches. These are a few lessons that have shaped me as a person and as a nurse, and how I apply them in my world today.
In my new life, I am a nurse. I am not just a nurse when I am working a shift at the hospital. I am a nurse every day, always, at all times. I grew up learning that success comes when you commit yourself fully, on and off the field. I was also taught a great deal about accountability and personal responsibility. Why blame teammates or others when things get tough? We all must do what we can to make a difference. We each have to do our part. When I began working at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, I took an oath to “defend childhood”. As an athlete, the word defense runs deep. Every team needs goal scorers — we need people to take action and move things forward, innovate, be creative, solve problems and think outside the box. This is what medical professionals do every shift, and some say a good offense is the best defense.
“Off the field”, I am still a nurse. I’m always preparing for the next game, and I was taught that we have to treat each game like it’s the most important game of our lives. The second we put our heads down, turn our backs, or lose focus, the other team can capitalize on our mistakes. Even when you are winning, every moment counts. Our college coach, Jerry Smith, drilled in our minds the concept of “the big five” — the first 5 minutes after the whistle blows, the first 5 minutes after a set play, the first 5 minutes after half time, and the first 5 minutes after any goal. These are critical minutes, when you are most able to catch the other team sleeping, or you are most susceptible to a counter attack, so you need to be more alert than ever.
Olympic Club Women’s Soccer Team, World Masters Games, New Zealand 2017
In team sports, you learn about selflessness. It becomes second nature to do what’s best for the team as a whole, to give 100% for each other, to have each other’s backs, and to fight selflessly and aggressively until the last whistle. Because until that final whistle, the game isn’t over. No regrets. Leave it all on the field. As a nurse, when I clock out, and I’m driving home, I am reliving each play in my mind, whether I won or lost that game, knowing I gave it my all. Sometimes no matter how well the team prepares, and how well you perform together, you can be defeated by a really strong team.
Currently we are in the middle of a big game. Our opponent is coronavirus. Some people are so terrified of losing that they are paralyzed with fear. Some people have heard the other team isn’t as good as people claim, so they grossly underestimate them. This is where the danger lies. This is why we have to treat each game like it’s the most important game of our lives. Don’t get caught ball-watching. If we don’t prepare properly, if we don’t come to the game ready to play hard, if we don’t give 100%, or if we lose focus, we could still lose in the end.
What we do off the field matters. I will wear my mask, not to score a goal, but to do my part to contribute to our team’s defense. I will speak responsibly and not spread misconceptions. Why would I want my teammates to assume our opponent is weak? I’d rather us all come to the game ready to play our hearts out, and win by a landslide. If the offense doesn’t feel like playing defense or they assume it’s not their job, the whole team suffers. If some of the team decides they don’t really need to train for this game because it will be an easy one, that can backfire.
We don’t yet know what the end of quarantine will bring. Maybe it’s like half time. The “big five”. Do not let up now just because we’re winning. All positions on the field should continue playing defense, because the game isn’t over. This could be an extra-long game which goes into overtime, and we might need fresh legs off the bench. Stay focused. Please do not abandon the goalie to fend for himself or herself. Some goalies don’t even have gloves. And they might not be able to keep the ball out of the net without our help. No silly fouls. We would prefer not to play a man down.
Please don’t confuse my care for fear. I believe and have confidence we can win the game if we all come out to play our best, with and for each other. Let’s be aggressive, win every 50/50 ball, and make smart decisions. Don’t “dive in” when tempted, you could get “juked”.
Thank you to all of my teammates and coaches, past and present, for playing such an important role in my journey to becoming the best nurse and defender of childhood that I can be.