Adapt To Succeed
with Jordan DiBiasi
10 Aug, 2020 · Soccer
Jordan DiBiasi, NWSL Soccer Player, shares her journey in sport and discusses the adversity and opportunities she faced along the way. She emphasizes the importance of adaptability, positive self-talk, and a strong support system.
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Today our guest is Jordan DiBiasi, a professional soccer player for the NWSL Washington Spirit and a former Division 1 athlete at Stanford University. As a child, Jordan followed in her brother’s footsteps and dabbled in many sports before falling in love with soccer, a passion that carried her to a D1 scholarship and then on to her professional career. Jordan discusses her incredible journey in sport and how she has overcome tremendous adversity including being told she wasn’t fast enough for most of her career. Jordan shares how through positive self-talk, reframing failure and hard work she persists. She emphasizes the importance of being adaptable to new situations, having a strong support system and role models, and ultimately controlling the controllables. We are pleased to welcome Jordan to the Voice in Sport Podcast.
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Thanks for having me.
So let's kick it off with your journey. Every journey is different. Tell us about when you started playing sports at a young age, and walk us from the very beginning to where you are now.
I actually love going back and just looking back on my journey. So I have a brother who's three and a half years older than me. So growing up, I wanted to be and do everything that my brother Joseph did, to the extent I was wearing his clothes, it was bad. My mom had to hide his clothes from me.
But he played soccer. And so naturally I wanted to play soccer. I probably started playing when I was four, five, six years old. But in addition to soccer, I also played -- it was tee ball at the time, it turned into softball. I played lacrosse. I played basketball. I did tennis. I was in swimming for a little bit. That was short lived. I would fake that I had sunscreen in my eyes…
And I did gymnastics. I'm thankful for my brother for opening that door for me to try a lot of different sports, and I'm thankful that my parents encouraged me to do it all. And if we weren't doing those sports, we were just doing something random in the yard. So I grew up playing a lot and probably come sixth grade, that was when soccer became competitive and it was this year round commitment. And that was when I started to kind of solidify this path of, I love soccer, it's my passion, I want to continue playing it. At that point, that was my number one sport, sixth grade and on, I would say, and I say “number one” because I would go to my own team trainings, but I was also actively trying to train with the boys team my age, or the girls older than me, or I was in the yard and asked my brother to play with me, or whatnot. I was juggling in the yard. I just really took to it and I really loved playing it. I still kind of played around with other sports.
I played basketball with my soccer teammates. We were the "Kickers." And I played tennis still. But really soccer was what I love to do and what I really wanted to do. So come high school, I made the decision to only play soccer. And I'm really thankful. I had an awesome club that I grew up playing in, and I'm really thankful for all the coaches I had and all the teams and all the experiences I was able to have. I think it was probably what was best. And now being on the Spirit, I would say I'm an anomaly. The majority of the girls on my team played multiple sports and they played them through high school. And you can see how much it's benefited them. Whether it be sprinting, whether it be basketball, the transition from those sports and those skills that they learned in those sports to now be applied in soccer, it's really helped them in their professional career.
I think all of us had this moment where somebody told us to stop playing a sport, whether it was a coach or a parent, because they couldn't handle taking us to so many. So I think it is interesting to just be aware of the things that you can gain by playing multiple sports. And recognize that before you make a decision to stop.
Totally. And I think at the end of the day, if it makes you happy, you do it. And if it's something where you're like, "I like playing this, but I'm not crazy about it. I really love doing this." Well then do more of what you love and less of what you're just tolerating.
And so cool that you had a brother to look up to and to get you out there on the field. So talk to me about the other role models in your life, in your journey. Who were they and how did they impact your journey?
I would just say more broadly my family. My mom, my step mom, my dad, my brother. They were massive influences on me. They really encouraged me, they supported me. They pushed me and ingrained in me the importance of hard work and perseverance. They also supported me every step of the way and showed me and encouraged me that my dreams were achievable. So they were awesome, for who they are and what they stand for, and just shaping me, more generally just as a person, but also as an athlete. And then as I mentioned, when I was growing up, I would play with the older girls at my club. So Lindsey Horan, who's on the full team -- I grew up watching her when I was 12 years old. I saw all the work she put in.
I trained with her, I saw her skill, I saw her put in the work when no one else was watching, and when she maybe wasn't initially being recognized. And so now to see her on the biggest stage, having the success she has and is having, it's no surprise to me and it's so deserved. That work ethic and that mentality, and being able to watch it and to learn from her starting at 12 years old, she's been an inspiration for me from the start. I had always been like, "Oh, Lindsey, I look up to you so much." And then, last month, two months ago, I went to the U.S. Women's National Team Camp and I roomed with Lindsey and it was something I never expected. It was the most special week and a half. It was really cool to have that experience with her.
That's so cool. After rooming with her, what would you say is one thing you learned from her, either observing or something she told you?
She likes to talk on the phone with her phone on speaker.
Let's talk about your journey when it came to your biggest challenge. So when you look back at middle school to when you decided on one sport, to college, to pro, what has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
There's probably two challenges that, looking back, I think they were the hardest and I also grew the most from them. And that was my transition from high school to college at Stanford; and then most recently my transition from Stanford into the professional realm in D.C. When I transitioned from high school to college, I didn't really know what to expect. I was also coming off a knee injury. I had been out for 15, 16 months. I had gotten cleared probably a month before I reported to preseason. I had played one soccer game. I didn't know what to expect. I'm already a freshman coming in to this team with girls four years older than me, my parents were no longer under the same roof. I not only am in this new team soccer culture, but I'm in this new environment where I'm surrounded by all new people and -- my classes, I'm nervous about the school work. I'm nervous about making friends. I'm nervous about, I don't know, doing my laundry. How am I going to balance all of this? Mom, like, what do I do?
I was nervous, and I was so excited and I had so many different emotions, and how I navigated it was to control the controllables, and to really focus my energy on what I had power and control over. And a lot of that was my work ethic and my mentality. Soccer wise, I was going to be the hardest worker and I was going to do everything I could. I was going to stay extra. I was going to give a hundred percent every single training. And then school wise, it's kind of the same thing. I was going to put my head down and I was going to do the readings every single day. Even if that meant staying up 20 minutes later, that meant, "Oh, you know, you can't hang out with your friends tonight because you need to finish this assignment." And my friendships, like, okay, I'm going to be myself and I'm going to be nice, and hopefully they want to be friends with me, and if they don't, then they don't, I don't have control over what they choose.
So that's how I navigated that transition. And it paid off. And then coming into now this transition to D.C. that I had last year, I really relied on that again, and that theme and that I now was in a different part of the country. I had no family here. I left school early. All my friends are still in their spring quarter, having these kumbaya bonding moments. Meanwhile, I'm in D.C. by myself, kind of thing. That was a little tough. Now I'm entering this league and I'm playing against girls who aren't just four years older than me, but they're 15 years older than me, and this has been their career. They have dedicated and committed themselves to being the best soccer players they could be for the past 15 years.
Meanwhile, I had been wearing a lot of hats and navigating being a student, being in a sorority, being a soccer player -- navigating all these different things at school. Well, now my identity and my career -- I was getting paid to do this -- was to be a soccer player. So kind of taking that accountability of my process and in my career and putting it in my hands versus an every other step. In college, I was making this jump, but I still kind of had this support, this comfort of my team and my coaches. And they were really checking in. They were kind of showing you the way.
Well now, bandaid was ripped off. I needed to take full control and accountability for myself, and what I needed to do to be the best. That was hard because I had never really experienced that. I had experienced learning how to cook for myself, learning those aspects when I transitioned from high school to college. I didn't really learn the whole taking full and total accountability for myself and in my career during that time, cause I had that support. And that's what I learned, and that was the transition that I just had, and it was tough, and I grew so much last year. I made a lot of mistakes, but I'm better for it. And I'm so excited to start training again.
So what was the biggest growing curve for you? What would be the biggest hurdle that you overcame?
Two things. One was all the free time we had. And I had never had free time like I did last season in my life. I would go to school from nine to three, then you're at training from three to six, you're doing homework, you're eating dinner -- your days are really planned out for you. And then in college, you had more free time, but you still had hours of class every single day. You maybe didn't have it from nine to three, but you had it for multiple hours. You had training. Well now I came to the Spirit. We have training from 10 to noon. You have the rest of the day off. I'm a go getter. I wanted to go, go, go, do, do, do. Well, you also have to be able to compete on the weekend and it's a physically demanding game.
So you can't just go for a walk, you can't just go for a run. You have to save your body. I am someone who can't just watch Netflix all afternoon. I really like to help people. I like to interact. I really care about relationships. And so it was learning how to best position myself, where I felt like I wasn't wasting my time, I was doing something purposeful. But I was also being smart as a professional athlete and making sure that my body and my mind was ready to compete and be at my best. I read a lot and I learned about a lot of different, fun things I like to do, and I just picked up some new hobbies. It was awesome, but it was definitely a real struggle for me.
And then also, I'd never failed so much. I failed a lot; consistently I felt helpless and hopeless, at times I felt like I couldn't do anything right. These girls are bigger and faster and stronger than me, and I was holding myself to a very high standard that I want to be the best. And there's a learning curve when you come into this new league, and it was giving myself that break and kind of being like, "You know what? You learn, and tomorrow's a new day," instead of kind of being hard on yourself and letting that disappointment in yourself carry over day in and day out and hurting your confidence. You have to know your worth. You have to know your strengths and how good you are and know that every chance is an opportunity to be better. And that was tough, and that failure, I hadn't experienced so much of it. And how was I going to respond to it was a learning curve for me too.
What were those failures?
I would get my shot on target six out of 10, five out of 10 times. Well, now I'm doing it two out of 10 times because these keepers or these defenders are so good. And instead of rationalizing, like, "Ah, they're good, I need to find a new way to beat them. I can't be doing what I was doing in college because the level of play is too fast. They're too athletic. You need to find a different way to combat it," it was more like, "You can't hang, you're not good enough." And that self doubt, it definitely affected me initially, and then I had to step back and reevaluate and reassess and find ways to keep my confidence, to persevere in those times.
And whether that be watching a lot of film to see, oh, okay, this player's strength is that she's super athletic, she's gonna dive to your right. Okay, well, I know that now the way to beat her is to now go the opposite way or to wait one more second, or finding different ways, being more tactically savvy so that you still can be first to the ball. I had a little bit of that learning curve in college, but the professional game is just so much more athletic. It took me a little bit longer to figure it out in this league.
I think we all face those hurdles and that self doubt somewhere in our journey. And you have two options: You can quit or you can keep going. So if you're struggling with confidence, what would you say to these girls to keep yourself positive and continuing on with sport when you're having those challenging moments?
One, having the awareness of what makes you feel confident and what makes you feel good. A lot for me is positive self-talk. I like to fill my thoughts and my mind with positive and encouraging ideas instead of being really hard on myself. When you're supporting yourself, you're able to let go of the mistakes, retraining your thoughts and filling your head with positive things. I think that's really helpful. I think distracting yourself -- if you find yourself going to doubting yourself or feeling that your confidence is faulty, doing something that will distract yourself, whether that be just taking a breath, having a saying that you tell yourself, whatever it may be, I think that's really helpful.
I also have been trying to be more and more aware of noticing it in my teammates. If I see someone kind of hang their head for something I'm going to go and pick them up and I'm going to encourage them because we've all been there, we've all done it, and we play our best when we're confident, and we have every right to be confident. We are good. We are great. And we have the potential and the opportunity to do something great in the next play. So we need to move on.
That's great advice. And that is why it's a team sport.
‘Cause we're all going to have those moments, and you gotta lift each other up. Other challenges that we can face in sport can sometimes be about our body. Let's talk about if you ever had confidence issues with your own body when you were going through sport, and how did you overcome those situations?
From a young age, I've been told that I'm not fast enough, I'm not quick enough, I'm not strong enough. I don't fit necessarily the mold of what my position might look like. I've been told the physical side of my game has always been what I've been told is the weakest part. Still it’s something I’m told today. And I am a kind of player and person that I like to grow and I like to get better. I want to be the best at any and everything I can. So if I see a weakness, I want to attack it and I want to work on it. So for me, I think I kind of rethought and changed the perception of what they're telling me and just saying, like, "This is an opportunity to grow and this is an opportunity to get better."
I have really committed to working on it and I am a big believer in if you work hard and you put your head down, you can grow. You're always going to have something that you need to work on and that's awesome. No one wants to just be the best. You want to have something to work towards, you want to continue growing and bettering yourself. And so I think I see it as this opportunity. Without a doubt I have been hit hard with news like that. I think that, like, the initial blow of being told something makes me feel kind of hopeless or helpless, like I can't change how fast I am in a day. That's going to be a gradual phase and at that, how much am I going to be able to improve it? I don't know. But no doubt I'm going to work on it.
And so it's rationalizing what's going to help you and filling your mind with it. And so for me, when I'm told that, I think I have two choices, I can let that linger and I can let that hurt me, or I can make sense of it and say like, "Okay, this is an awesome opportunity and an area I can grow in. I'm going to keep doing that, but in the meantime, I'm going to keep doing what makes me special because I'm lucky I'm able to play this game, and I have the opportunity to grow and get better. Tomorrow's a new chance." And I think that's how I choose to approach those conversations. I am intentionally choosing to think of it that way, for that's how I think I can get good out of it, otherwise I think it would hurt me and I think it would affect me.
You get to college and you start weightlifting and you're training in a different way. And then I'm sure it's again another step up when you get to pro, but has your body changed much in those two steps in your career, and how did you work through those changes with your body?
I've actually been told the speed and strength stuff, probably starting when I was 14, and I'm still told it today. It's hard as you get to being a senior in college. So now you're on the older side. So you are stronger naturally than girls who have just come into the game and haven't been through the spring lifting of a collegiate season. And then I came to the pros and I'm this little rookie who hasn't spent 15 years hitting the gym every single day with the intention of making these gains. They have the edge up on me. So how am I going to combat it? I'm gonna work my butt to get stronger. But it's a process and in the meanwhile, how can I still be successful and still thrive in this environment and be at the top of my game, and be one of the best, is kind of what I'm navigating now.
And that's relying on what I have as strengths and using those strengths to combat what I'm still working on. But in college, I definitely started feeling more confident in myself as I was able to commit to working on those areas. Preparation gives me a lot of confidence. Come spring when you're training and lifting four times a week, I'm getting stronger and I'm seeing those results and that's making me feel more prepared when I'm taking the field now. And that's how I approached the off season of the Spirit. I went home and I really focused on my speed work. And then I came back for this preseason -- granted got cut a little short because of Corona. But I was seeing it pay off and I'm really excited to continue on this journey and to continue working on whatever it may be, because there's so many different aspects to my game and I can always be getting better and working hard and improving something.
In sport, it's not just about the physical training, but it's also about your mental toughness. So talk to us about how you prepare mentally for games, even in challenging times like right now, when we can't play, how are you keeping yourself mentally in the game so that when you can go back you're on it? What are those tips we can pass on to the other girls?
As far as game days go, I like to have my routine. I tend to not do too much before the game, but when I head to the locker room, we go early, I tend to roll out, I listen to music, I pray. I have a very one-after-the-other schedule, and that helps me feel really prepared, and I feel the right mindset going into the game, feeling confident and feeling good. As far as what's going on right now, it's how I face all my adversity and that's choosing how to think about it. I can be really upset that I'm not training with my team, that we're not playing right now, or I can take this opportunity and roll with it and make the best of it.
And so, the approach I've had is, okay, this is like an off season; what am I going to do to get better? I've set these goals for myself and I've had a lot of fun with it. I've gotten really creative with training. We can't really go to any fields right now, so it's been thinking of fun ways to incorporate working on my weak foot or getting some technical work in, whatever it may be, or at home, making these at home workouts, having Alexa play all these different types of workout playlists so that we can have different moods for different exercises we're doing. We're just having fun with it and making the best of it.
Let’s talk about your specific superpower. I really believe that the longer you play a sport, you gain these powers that will help you do amazing things off the field. So if you can look back and sort of say, "Okay, what super power have I gained from sport?" What do you think it is, and how are you going to use it to drive positive change?
I like that question a lot. I've never been asked it. I think I would have to say adaptability. I've been put in so many different circumstances and so many different situations. You go to a camp and you're rooming with a brand new person, or one time we've had a flight and this trip was chaotic and you just kind of have to roll with it;the bus breaks down, you're getting to the game right before the game starts and you have to be able to perform; whatever it may be. Jumping from collegiate to the professional level. Going to college, away from your parents -- there's just so many different situations. Playing a different position in a game, someone goes out, someone gets a red card, your friend gets injured.
Being able to adapt on the spot to new and exciting situations and responding to it and being able to respond to that adversity. Again and again, I think I keep coming back to that, and just having the mindset of how you want to take it on and how you want to approach it. Maybe your path to get to your goal is looking different. But that doesn't mean you're not going to be able to achieve your goal. Being able to be flexible with that, and not let it get in the way of what you really want and what you're going to achieve.
What would be three words that you would use to describe your journey in sport as a female athlete? And not all of them have to be positive, they just have to be real.
Trying would definitely have to be a word, ... rewarding, ... and enjoyable or fun.
And since our whole podcast is centered around untold stories, what is an untold story about your journey in sport that you could share with us?
It was my freshman year of college, freshman year Jordan. I'm still kind of figuring out everything. I had just started to feel pretty confident; I'd called my parents probably that week or right before it kind of saying, "I got the hang of everything. I got it down. I've figured out college." And I was so proud of myself. And then, it was just a day for the books. I remember, you bike everywhere at Stanford, my bike lock had broken. And so then I was sprinting to try to find my classes. I had gone to the wrong building, cause I clearly still didn't have it down. And then my friend had gifted me her bike for the rest of the day. And I had spent 30 minutes trying to unlock what I thought was her bike, only to realize it was not, it was someone else's bike.
Then I was almost late to training and I was so shook and overwhelmed. But I get to training and I'm like, "You know what? I got to training. It's good enough. I'm okay." And then we were at training and I went the wrong direction. Like, our coach was like, "Okay, you do this move, and then you go to the left. Make sure you go to the left." And I did the move, and I went to the right, and I nailed my teammate, square, and she fell. And she was probably twice my size, so I'm sure she was fine, but she was down for five minutes, went into the training room, everyone thought she was concussed. And so I had just concussed a teammate two days before our game.
The guilt I was now feeling after already having a really overwhelming day -- and then I was going home, back to my dorm to basically cry to my parents and say, "I can't do this." And I had forgotten my phone, so I couldn't even call them! I just started crying right then and there, on my bike ride back to the locker room to go get my phone, and I just remember having this massive doubt, like, "What am I doing? I'm so over my head, I can't do this. What is going on?" And it was hard. And I remember when I finally got my phone just calling my parents and breaking down to them and saying, "I don't know what to do. I feel so lost. It's just been such a bad day." And they just were really encouraging and they're like, "You know what? It's going to be okay. I promise you, every day is a new chance to start over and to start new." What was really cool was I spent that night with my class. There's five of us, we called ourselves the mob. And just the love we had for each other and the care and love they showed me in that day when I was having such a tough time and so many doubts.
That was my freshman year -- by the end of my four years, that four years of Stanford was the best thing to ever happen to me and I grew so much, and I look back on that day and I kind of laugh about it now. And so putting yourself with people who love you and are going to pick you up on those days. And then also having the courage to keep going. And a lot of it was I knew I wanted Stanford. I knew I wanted to play soccer. And that inner courage and confidence, I knew I could do it, and I trusted myself, and having the acceptance, that it's okay to not be okay sometimes. But to still go, that was a big lesson for me.
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What is one piece of advice that you would give to all the girls out there playing sports?
The one piece of advice that I would give is to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. It takes courage to do, uh, but when you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, that's when you grow the most. That's when you see the most growth in yourself. And through that growth, I found a lot of success. I've had a lot of happiness. I have just grown to be more confident in who I am, and I look back and my biggest learning and the most pivotal points that have come in my life have come from me having the courage to take that step, even if I was really scared, even if I wasn't sure how it was gonna turn out, just being willing to go for it.
That's great advice. And your story is so inspiring, and thank you for being so honest and transparent with your journey, because I know a lot of women out there can relate and it's inspiring to see that you're there now at the Washington Spirit, continuing on. So thank you so much, Jordan, for joining us.
Thanks for having me. This was really fun.
Thank you, Jordan, for sharing your journey in sport with us and for inspiring us all to step out of our comfort zones, to work hard, and to uplift ourselves and others around us. It is inspiring to see how your experiences in sport have created a lifelong super power of adaptability. Jordan looks at feedback and criticism as an opportunity to grow - which is never easy but is a great skill to have as we all continue to listen and grow both on and off the field. You can follow Jordan on Instagram @jordan_dibiasi.
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Host: Stef Strack
Producer: VIS Creators™ Madison Neuner & Anya Miller
Jordan DiBiasi, NWSL Soccer Player, shares her journey in sport and discusses the adversity and opportunities she faced along the way. She emphasizes the importance of adaptability, positive self-talk, and a strong support system.