Injuries force players to rest, sit and watch. Normally, this creates frustration and impatience.
For UVU soccer player Andi Bagdan, it served as the ultimate learning experience. Now, the once injury-riddled defender is back on the field, bringing with her a more cerebral game.
“Everyone has a point where they’re injured,” Bagdan said. “You have to take it as a learning experience. You get experience on the coaching side of things. You definitely get to see things in a different way.”
Bagdan paid a heavy price for her wisdom-by-watching experience. She suffered multiple stress fractures, knee surgery and a concussion in her freshman, sophomore and junior years, respectively.
Repeated injuries have a way of wearing down athletes, draining the joy of the game. Coach Brent Anderson hasn’t seen a hint of that happening with Bagdan.
“Andi’s playing with a lot of confidence this year,” Anderson said. “Whether it’s because she’s a senior, or she’s finally coming into the season healthy, I don’t know. She’s had a lot of knocks and injuries over the years, but she still comes out to play.”
Anderson also noticed Bagdan’s triumph over her own obstacles has given her the confidence to help her teammates.
“I wouldn’t say she’s being a real vocal leader, but she’s leading by example,” Anderson said. “She’s helping other players get through some of the physical and mental challenges they have.”
Bagdan knows about mental challenges. The chunks of time missed due to injury gave her more time than she wanted to grapple with her own frustration. Bagdan found solace and escape by absorbing, more than ever, the game she found herself unable to play.
“The biggest thing I really learned from being both [healthy and injured], your mental state is so fragile, that if you don’t stay on top of your attitude, your mentality will snap,” Bagdan said. “It really is a mental game. Soccer’s a lot like chess. It’s a thinking man’s game.”
The former Oregon standout is only too happy to finally play, not just think, the game now. Instead of learning but not contributing, Bagdan can now set the tone defensively for the Wolverines. It’s something she takes pride in, a passion she struggles to convey in mere words.
“We talked about getting ‘stuck in’ as defenders,” Bagdan said. “You get that first hard tackle, and that sets the tone for the game. I don’t know how to describe it. That’s how I feel. It’s leading by example, setting the tone. It’s taking what coach calls ‘the physical risk.’ As [an opposing] forward, you don’t want to come towards any of our backline, because we get stuck in.”
Stuck in. If Bagdan were any less than that, injuries may have rooted her out of a sport in which she invested 11 competitive years. Instead, she stays committed to the sport that she claims taught her what commitment is all about.
“[Without soccer], I wouldn’t know what it means to commit to something, to follow through,” Bagdan said. “You never would really learn that unless you really love the game.”