At the height of my soccer career, I could juggle the ball 107 times in a row. Indi Armstrong Cowie, the 16 year-old-soccer star profiled in the recent New York Times Magazine, could juggle 2,000 times straight by the time she was 10.
Cowie is the shit. In addition to being an amazing soccer player who’s on her way to playing at the University of North Carolina in a couple years, Cowie is also the best female freestyler. If asked to choose between being the best soccer player or the best freestyler in the world, she says, “I can’t. Both.”
Of course, this being a profile of an exceptionally talented female athlete, it’s not all fun and success. Although she’s performed in front of 76,000 people at a Chelsea-Manchester United match, Cowie is “not exactly the popular girl in high school.” Before she switched to training with a boys club team, her coach berated her for not passing enough and jealous teammates harassed her. Her best friends are her sister and fellow freestylers on Facebook. The lesson seems to be: girls can’t be selfish in the same way that male soccer stars are–without paying a social price.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt that’s it’s tough to be a stand-out player in girls soccer. Coaches often emphasize teamwork and girl sports culture can definitely be toxic–especially for a player who is heads and shoulders above the rest. I appreciate that the writer makes an attempt to explore these dynamics a bit. But I could stand a little more exploring and a little less perpetuating. There’s a fine line between stating that it “hasn’t been easy to be different” and supporting a narrative that claims girls’ greatness always come at a price.
Especially since there’s very little evidence that Cowie herself is particularly bothered by the price of her success. Just listen to her talk about how much she loves the game and her drive to constantly get better. I mean, the girl gets up at 5 am to practice 90 minutes a day. She says of the thrill of finally railing a tricky move: “When you actually get it, it’s just the most amazing feeling ever.”
I just seriously doubt that someone who’s trying to be the best in the world at something cares all that much about being the most popular girl in high school. And really–when you’ve got skills like this, who even needs friends?
h/t to my friend Peter