Matt Bersano is a Redshirt Senior at Penn State University completing his Masters degree after graduating from Oregon State this past winter. Matt has been blogging for us at The Athlete Story detailing his quest to become a professional soccer player. If you missed Matt's previous posts be sure to check them out LINK TO OTHER PIECES HERE.

What I learned as a collegiate athlete

Matt Bersano, Reno FC 1868 goalkeeper

College soccer is over, done, finished. I don’t have the luxury of returning to school if my professional aspirations don’t come to fruition this time. There’s no turning back!

I’ve loved playing college soccer. I’ve been fortunate to play in front of a couple thousand fans, been labeled an elite athlete by my peers, and benefited from so many perks (free cleats, clothes, food and scholarships). The life of a DI college athlete can be a very good, sometimes spoiled life to live.

Now that college soccer is over I no longer have an athletic scholarship that pays for all these things. In less than two weeks time I’m on my own. I no longer have that feeling of comfort that if I struggle today I will get a chance tomorrow. I’ve got to prove myself all over again. Soccer becomes my job, my source of income, the way I provide for myself moving forward.

These last few weeks I’ve had time to reflect on my college experience while preparing for the next step in my journey.

He’s a few of the important things I’ve learned along the way.

  • Don’t rush the recruiting process

I have a unique perspective on this because I went through this twice. I got to learn from my own experience the first time and was more aware of some of the tricks the second time through.

For the athlete, recruiting can be a satisfying experience and a nice boost to your ego. You go on your visits and each coach tells you how much they want you to be a part of your program and how happy they would be to have you for the next four years. Coaches will say whatever they possibly can to get you there so you need to be able to separate the exaggeration from reality.

In my own experience coaches promised me things that seemed too good to be true and more often than not, they were. That’s why you shouldn’t put too much influence into what the coach is selling and be sure to not rush any decision. Make sure to talk to the other players on the team. This gives you the best feel for the program. They are the ones living the life you seek and will be the most honest. Ask them about the coach, their classes, the academic support, does the coach give the young guys a chance, etc. Take everything into account and consult with your family before you make any decision.  

  • Be comfortable with the uncomfortable

In your collegiate career you are going to be put into a lot of different situations and be asked to learn and adapt on the fly. Sometimes you will even be asked to do things that you naturally aren’t very good at. You will ask why but there is more often than not always a purpose.

When I arrived at Oregon State (OSU) as a freshman I had a coach who expected a lot out of me. He wanted me to become a leader, not just through my actions but my words. This was difficult for me because I wasn’t that vocal of a guy at the time. I relied on my work rate and play to do the talking for me. He forced me to go out of my comfort zone and take up a role I was uncomfortable with to help me reach that next level.

We participated in leadership courses and had weekly meetings on how to handle real time situations. I had to learn how to scream at my best friend while on the field and then be able to go up and hug him in the locker room when practice was over. I had to demand the most of my teammates while still bringing my very best to every practice.

In my time as a captain at OSU I grew and was able to gain experience in all facets of leadership. I had the challenge of leading a squad that went a year without getting a PAC 12 win to then being a leader on the first ever team to host and win a NCAA tournament game the following season.

If it wasn’t for my coach I wouldn’t be the leader I am today.

  • Don’t be afraid to speak up and talk to your coach one on one

Coaches have a plan for every player on their roster. Don’t be afraid to go in and talk to the coach and speak up about anything...issues in the team, playing time, things you like, don’t like, etc. As a younger player I know it can be intimidating but push through that. Coaches want you to be at your best because it helps the team succeed. This doesn’t mean you will always get what you ask for, or be happy with what you hear but the goal is always the same; to make you a better player and contributor to the squad.

There were times my coach and I had disagreements, but being able to sit across from one another and talk out the issues civilly builds character and creates a mutual respect in the eye of the person who controls your playing time on game day.

  • Don’t forget to enjoy the present

It will be over before you know it. The college soccer season is a blur. Preseason, regular season, playoffs and the spring season all seem to merge into one. Throw in classes and projects and it can seem like you never have time for anything else. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and always look forward.

Do your best to slow things down from time to time and allow yourself to unwind. It’s important to give yourself time to have and enjoy a social life. It’s important you find a healthy balance between the two. Even though you may have professional aspirations remember you’re a collegiate athlete and you’re one of the lucky few that gets to live their college experience this way. Even though it may seem like you are always busy don’t forget to enjoy the present.