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Best Seats in the Stadium

    by C.Y. Cheng U-M Men’s Soccer ’22

    To say I had the best seats in the soccer stadium is an understatement. I’ll explain why. 

    Back in 2018 like every freshman, I arrived at Michigan hoping to get some minutes right away. Well, let’s just say that didn’t happen till my senior year against Indiana in 2021. I waited three and a half years for that call from the bench, the “home away from home” where I spent most of my time during games. Say on average we play 18 games a season, the 15 minutes on the field was 0.2 percent of the total 6480 minutes. I spent the other 99 percent on the bench. Being on the bench wasn’t fun, and it probably shouldn’t be. 

    Now that I’m done and dusted as a college athlete, I could look back at my time and reflect on the lessons I’ve taken from that experience.

    For many of us college athletes, the sport we do is in our DNA which constructs the identity of who we are as individuals. Obviously, the Michigan backpacks and all the gear we’re spoiled with takes that to another level. But for many of us, we’re also unaware and even scared of what post-athletics life looks like without that identity. While that fear probably prevented me from calling it quits during my sophomore year, the “COVID sabbatical” I took at home changed the perspective I had from the bench for the rest of my time at Michigan.

    To get straight to the point, being home in Hong Kong for 7 months without “Training” or “Game”  on my daily calendar made me realize soccer is not life, and there’s much more to life than just soccer. To recap some highlights, my family adopted a dog and she immediately became a fan-favorite, I went nocturnal to take online classes, and my Dad started to WFH (Wine-From-Home). There were other ups and downs, but with COVID itself being the worst thing that happened at that time, everything else was definitely more positive than the pandemic. 

    The weirdest dog ever

    I’m not saying the COVID pandemic was a good thing that happened, but it did change my perspective from that hard wooden bench to the best seats in the stadium. There’s no doubt that soccer has given me so much in life – the lessons, the friends, and the person I am. I’ll be forever in debt to the sport that got me to where I am today, but life’s just too short to dwell on the negatives when things aren’t going your way.

    So let’s look at the positives. I’m proud to say that I hold a 100% win record for my 15-min appearance against Indiana. Being on the bench taught me how to be a leader, and lead by being the best teammate possible. The bench also made me get ahead of my homework. No, I wasn’t doing homework on the bench but let’s just say I’ve brainstormed how I’m going to write that essay earlier than I should. The bench also taught me to keep a snack with me at all times because it saves lives. And of course, I got courtside seats to cheer my teammates. 

    From those four years, my takeaway is not only that I had the best seats in the stadium, but you can find the positives in every situation. While I can dwell on forever that I sat on the bench for 99 percent of the games, the best seats in the stadium allowed me to learn the most and prepare myself for what was to come. 

    So here’s my promise to Michigan Soccer. If Fueling Station makes it, I’ll refurbish the bench so it’s cushioned and heated. So yes, I definitely had the best seats in the stadium.

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