Karlie Paschall had to have the conversation that no athlete wants to have: she had been passed over for the opportunity she had dreamed of for years.

The former Ravenwood Lady Raptor and two-time Gatorade Tennessee Player of the Year had been training with different branches of the U.S. Women’s Under-21 soccer teams for five years in hopes of making the roster for the qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup.

But she was denied the chance to show her skills on that stage.

The heartbreak in that moment led her to re-evaluate why she was playing the game and rediscover the mentality she had in high school.

Though she won numerous accolades playing at Ravenwood, it was never about the awards for Paschall. It was about the love of the game and seeing the hard work of being the first one on the field and the last one off every day pay off, and Paschall is recovering that fire piece by piece.

“When I got rejected, I faced my training habits with the thought that I have nothing to lose; I’ve lost it all already,” Paschall said. “Up until that point, I had focused so much on the outcome, and after I didn’t make it, I really embraced the mindset of doing it because I love it and I want to grow. I wasn’t focused on awards or getting back on the national team.”

Part of that growing and learning process involved realizing the importance of the bond developed between herself and her tryout teammates, even though she would not be continuing on with them. Paschall said that there are several players across those teams that will be part of her important life events, even though they only saw each other once or twice a month.

Pashall knows that everyone was trying to earn their spot on the prestigious roster, so by nature the national team tryout processes were cutthroat. Through the high tension and pressure situations, she said the examples set before her by teammates and coaches made a lasting impact.

“Every practice you’re fighting for a spot, you’re fighting to wear the jersey, and you’re fighting to represent your country,” Paschall said. “I was taught numerous lessons when I was in camp of respecting the jersey, respecting your teammates and respecting your opponent.”

She furthered her learning process by choosing to attend Duke University, where she will be beginning her junior year in the fall. Paschall knew she wanted a place where she could flourish academically while getting better at soccer, and Duke had resources that she thought would best equip her to do so.

“One of my friends said, ‘If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room,’” Paschall said. “One of the great things about Duke is that I’m always challenged and always surrounded by people who are smarter and more athletic than me. It reminds me that my growing is never done.”

Playing at Duke gave Paschall the opportunity to form new relationships on and off the field. However, there was something surprising about the unorthodox approach her teammates take to intra-team relationships.

“Coming into Duke I had really high expectations, and my teammates have blown those expectations out of the water,” Paschall said. “Culture is something we harp on a lot at Duke, and I think our soccer program is known across the nation for that. The freshmen and seniors are really close, and that’s a rarity in college athletics.”

All of these external changes would be for naught if they didn’t help provoke an internal change in the way Paschall thinks and adapts. With the changes and gained experience, Paschall has redefined how she thinks of success.

Paschall thinks of success now as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be a good indicator of improvement. On the other, it is a misleading voice if listened to in excess.

“It’s something I’ve had a lot of coaches and teammates remind me: you haven’t arrived yet, and every day you don’t ever arrive,” Paschall said. “It’s a really hard mentality to embrace, because your success tells you otherwise.”

The key for Paschall in ensuring she doesn’t focus too much on the successes is staying uncomfortable. Her philosophy is that staying uncomfortable gives her the best chance to thrive in competitive environments.

“You can’t grow if you’re comfortable,” Paschall said. “If you lose the tension between where you are and where you can be, that’s when you stop growing.”

Earlier in her career, playing soccer was about the destination. Now, with a couple more years under her belt and some time to heal, Paschall has realized that it’s more about the journey than anything else.

“I just want to grow as a player, whatever that looks like,” Paschall said. “You can’t control the outcome; all you can control is the process. I’m motivated by the process of growth and becoming better than I was the day before. It’s finding one area that I can grow one or two percent every day.”

Photo from Duke Athletics. 

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