Playing Division 1 College Soccer

Interview with Caitlin Updyke

September 8, 2017

Caitlin Updyke started playing soccer at a young age and played competitive travel soccer for a small community club. She attended her local high school, playing on the varsity team from her freshman year. The school competed at the 4A level (where 5A is the largest), playing against other smaller and medium public high schools. In his time there, the school made it as far as the quarter finals of the state championships. At the same time she continued to play club soccer in the fall season, competing in tournaments in Texas, Nevada and California.

Following graduation, Caitlin attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. She played Division 1 soccer there for 4 years, receiving player of the week awards several times and making the Conference USA 2ndTeam in her senior year. After college Caitlin played professionally in Iceland for Ia Akraness.

Do you remember at what age soccer became serious for you? What was the trigger?

I would say as soon as I started playing competitive club soccer, so age eleven I think. I remember watching the 99ers [US Women’s World Cup winning team of 1999] and thinking that was something I wanted to do – I wanted to be really good at soccer and I took it seriously from that point on.

When did you decide to become a goal keeper? Did you decide or did a coach decide for you?

It really wasn’t my choice: my older sister got me into it. At the age of 7 we had a makeshift goal in our backyard and she wanted to practice shooting but she needed a goalkeeper to shoot on, so she decided I would do that. From that point on I was the goalkeeper on every team I was on.

When did you start thinking about playing in college?

Probably my freshman year of high school, I knew that I wanted to play as long as I could.

Did you get any support from your club or high school?

It really prepared me for college and how players are chosen to play – the politics of everyday being a trying. The coaching was quite similar to college too. I did a lot of the research and recruiting process on my own though at home. The showcase tournaments that I went to – I don’t think they helped. My [LA Tech] coach wasn’t at any of them as far as I know. I made a video that highlighted my technical ability and sent it out to a bunch of college coaches and got a lot of responses that way.

What was the biggest factor in deciding which school was your first choice?

I looked at academic programs and programs that potentially needed a goalkeeper – teams with graduating seniors. I had offers from smaller schools but they couldn’t offer me as much as Louisiana Tech could, and they couldn’t offer me the potential to start as a freshman. My coach told me that I would have the opportunity to fight for the starting position if I went there. The big schools have more funding for their programs and more academic help. Also the idea of traveling further and getting to see more of the country was very attractive to me. My major was nutrition and dietetics and they have a very good program for that.

Tuition and board at your college average around $30,000 per year for three quarters and thirty credit hours. 71% of students receive some form of financial aid. Did you have any scholarships and how did you get them?

I had a $30,000 grant for academics. They do have really good out of state scholarships, and then the rest was filled in with athletic scholarship. Only a few players on the team had a full athletic scholarship. The coach did a good job of dividing it up among the players, giving it to people who deserved it really. There was incentive to work harder and show that you want to play in order to get on the field and receive more of the money.

How did you contact the coach? Did they watch you play anywhere?

After sending out the email and video I got a response almost instantly asking how he could make Louisiana Tech my soccer home. I said that I needed to know a little bit more about you and your program and the school. I did a lot of research and was in constant contact with him. I went on my visit in the summer so it wasn’t an official visit because there were no students there. He showed me around the campus, around the field, talked to me and my Mom. I decided that I really liked it – as hot as it was down there!

Did you go to any ID Camps as part of the recruiting process?

I went to one in Virginia for a different school. I really liked it, but I knew for that school I would be competing with a sophomore and two junior goalkeepers and they didn’t have what I wanted to study. It was an overnight camp for three days with soccer all day, then eat and sleep and that was basically all of it. It was like pre-season in a way but more fun.

What was the beginning of college soccer like? How friendly and organized were they?

The first day we had a fitness test at 3pm in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity on the track. It was a Cooper Test and I just thought how am I going to make it in this? It was terrible – I think I ran a 16 minute two mile that day! I finished in front of some of the other girls – maybe coming from altitude helped me. Fitness is something that you don’t realize coming in as a freshman is so important, so it was a shock. We did two-a-days for two weeks, sometimes three-a-days if you consider weightlifting to be a training session. There were teambuilding activities that got better as I went through college. The first two years there were some instances of upperclassmen pushing you around a little bit to see what you were made of, but I wouldn’t call it bullying as such. We did activities – we would do team runs and we did a lot of community service, depending on what the coach wanted. There were a couple of bad storms that came through and a local horse farm needed help so we went out and basically cleaned out the muck. We would go to old folk’s homes and visit with them too.

How much of your college experience was taken up with soccer? Do you feel like you missed anything?

For the season your life is just soccer: it is 25 hours per week so you go to class, soccer, eat and sleep. Once that’s over you get about a month off and get to live your life as a college student, but people are always watching you. The community is watching you especially where I went because it was a small town and people know your name. If you go into a coffee shop they want to talk to you, so you have to be careful. The social aspect was great though – you become friends with all of the other athletes.

How did it affect your academic performance? Did you have enough time and support?

We had study hall hours that we had to complete. I think some athletes struggled with it but they have so much help available – advisors that you can go and talk to. Also your teachers understand that you are representing your school so they are willing to give you a little extra help if you need it. We had to have our study hours completed on the road too, so we would have a sign in sheet and coaches had to make sure that we were doing it either on the bus or the plane. It was hard though because sometimes we would miss a week of school if we had two away games. Your teachers allowed your coach to proctor your exams sometimes if you were away from the classroom during the exams.

Where were you traveling to for games?

My first two years we were in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) so we traveled to California, Hawaii, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico. Then we switched to Conference USA, which was more southern central I guess. We were in Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We would get side trips along the way sometimes. When we were in Tennessee we went to see some awesome waterfalls, in California we went to San Francisco and in Hawaii we got to play on the beach.

What does a regular week look like for you in terms of training and games?

It depended on the day but we would sometimes have early morning fitness so we would be at the track or at the gym at 6am. That was once or twice each week. Practices would normally start at 3-4pm and would run for two hours. Sometimes the goalkeepers would have to stay after to get extra training in. We would do that 4-5 days per week because we would have two games in a weekend. They were normally on Fridays and Sundays. We would have a light practice on Saturday then Monday or Tuesday would be the day off.

How useful was your goalkeeper coach?

I only had one in my senior year. My first three years we had coaches who trained them but they weren’t goalkeeper specific. The level of improvement I went through between my junior and senior years having a goalkeeper coach there was insane. They were supposed to have on when I first got there but she got fired and then funding for the program went down because they hadn’t been winning games so there was no money to hire a new goalkeeper coach.

Did your head coach do much of the day to day training? How much contact did you have with him?

The head coach did most of it. He had been there maybe six years and he took the program and flip-flopped it. He has seen a huge success, going from a losing program where the girls were a mess with drinking and partying the day before the game. He came in and swept the house. My best season was the freshman year. We made it to the conference tournament and lost on an offside goal in double overtime and I’m still really bitter about that!

How healthy were you in terms of eating, drinking and sleeping?

I was pretty healthy. My [nutrition]major does something to your brain and makes you think about what you are putting into your body. In my junior and senior years I was responsible for giving the team a talk about proper sports nutrition and fueling up for games. I am also pretty anal about getting enough sleep but I think a lot of the players were staying up until 2-3am and you could tell it affected their performance on the field.

Were your friends mostly from the team or from other areas?

From the team. I only had maybe three other people who I hung out with. My first two years I lived in the on-campus apartments. If you’re an athlete you are normally going to be able to get into them and they are really nice, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms, kitchen and living room. In my junior and senior years I moved out into a house with two of my teammates. The first two years I was eating campus food because it was part of my housing plan and it wasn’t very good. It was really processed southern cooking. The athletic department provided meals when we were traveling but that was it.

Looking back at the whole experience, are you glad you went through it? Would you do it again?

Yes I would do it again. I don’t know that I would go to the same school. I might look into the coaching staff a bit more than I did – get some of the players’ opinions before committing to the school. If I had been there during the school year I would have asked the players.

Have you continued with soccer in any way since?

Yes I play with the Rovers, which is a little amateur competitive adult team. We practice once per week and play once per week. I knew some of the other players on the team.


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