When I arrived at Duke University, I was dead set on being a computer scientist.
I thought for sure it would pan out. I actually took the intro course.
Turned out, it was one of those “weed-out” courses.
That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I got out with a C – which was decent, it’s a good enough grade – but I realized that computer science was not for me. That was the course that taught me it’s different, especially at that level of education and that level of academia.
You have to be dead set on being a computer scientist.
And when your time’s being split between that ambition, and the time and dedication it would take with the Blue Devils men’s soccer program to become a professional soccer player, something’s going to have to give.
Being a student athlete, you don’t have that same time. Time management is a huge thing you have to learn, and I realized if I wanted it to be one or the other, it wasn’t going to happen if I could do both.
My time at Duke was a humbling experience in general.
I was a Duke men’s soccer player, but on campus you could end up walking next to someone who was destined to be Duke’s next best surgeon. It puts things into perspective – soccer is a huge part of your life, but it’s not the only thing that goes on. Seeing these amazing people in their own niche, it humbled me in terms of doing everything I can while knowing that there are others out there that that are doing everything they can to succeed in their field.
It took me back to when I first got my chance to play in the USL Championship as a 16-year-old. Becoming a USL Academy signing for Saint Louis FC helped instill a lot of values for me as a player, but more as a person.
Aedan Stanley made his debut in the USL Championship as a 16-year-old USL Academy signing for Saint Louis FC before going to Duke University. | Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel
You watch those guys who are professionals, like Phanuel Kavita and Sam Fink, and you see how they treat each other. You see how they treat family members. You see how they treat themselves. There’s a level of self-respect, respect for teammates and coaching staff, and everyone around you. As much as I learned on the field, it kind of molded me into the person I am today.
I wear that proudly on my sleeve.
What I didn’t learn then, though, was the dedication it took to be a full-time pro.
At a young age, you’re still involved with high school, you’re still involved with all these different things that are flying around you. Soccer is a huge part of your life, but it’s not the only thing in your life.
Miami FC's Aedan Stanley is approaching 100 appearances in the USL Championship for his career across the regular season and playoffs. | Photo courtesy David Badia / Miami FC
Once you take that leap to fully become a professional in your own right, you realize the value of the game. Whether through injury or just competition within the team, you understand that it's a livelihood, and to be a part of a good team or any team at all, it’s a gift.
After two years at Duke, it was my time to jump and commit to soccer full-time. Four years into my career, I’ve learned a lot.
The biggest thing I’ve learned? It’s not about playing every Saturday.
It’s about Tuesday night recovery. Wake up, train your hardest, Wednesday night recovery. Repeat the process again on Thursday. It’s this constant grind to be at your best on Saturday, while making sure that you’re able to be your best through how you treat your body and what you eat every day.
It’s certainly raised my appreciation for people like Phanuel, whom I always look forward to seeing when our clubs square off. We were actually lucky enough to beat them at home this season. We still have to travel to Alabama and see them, but it’s awesome. Phanuel is a father now and seeing him from where he came from to today is awesome.
It’s like last year seeing Kyle Greig. He was another one that I really grew close to when he was in Saint Louis. Seeing him last year and seeing their growth as well as mine, it’s really cool to see their journey, and it’s parallel. We’re all growing in our own right.
For me, that means going back to school through the program set up by the United Soccer League, Bellevue University and the USL Players Association. The partnership they’ve created is amazing.
Once you have your priorities straight when it comes to understanding what it is to be a professional every single day, I now have this time allotted to me post-training, and you need to fill that void. Just look at Alphonso Davies. He talks about it, post-training, what do you do? You can only make so many TikToks and play so many video games until you get burned out, right?
I was lucky enough to reach out to our team staff and talk to Bellevue University. I decided to go back to school and fill that void. It’s very nice to be able to stretch your mind as well as your legs in a single day. As focused as you must be as a professional player, continuing my academic career has allowed me an escape where I can set it aside and train my energies elsewhere.
The goal? I’m aiming to major in Data Science and minor in Computer Information Systems. I feel like I might be more driven now, but with these courses it’s cool because you can actually see things that are more applicable in real life. In one of the stats classes I took recently, I could see how I could use it rather than just learning definitions.
I am pretty hard on myself to make sure I keep the same grades as I as I did before, but it’s also a fulfilling feeling that you can do it away from the game.
In my head, I always thought, “well, when I'm done playing, we're going to have to go back to school.”
To be able to do this side by side, it’s amazing, and is setting me up for whatever the future brings.
Even if it’s not being a computer scientist.
From The Pitch aims to provide a platform for individuals within the USL to share their thoughts on things that matter most to them – at the crossroads of life and the beautiful game. USL partner Bellevue University is committed to empowering motivated students to explore their passions, impact change in their communities and chase their dreams.