Former Gamecock Blakely Mattern Uses Soccer to Teach Life Lessons
March 1, 2016
Despite a successful collegiate and professional career on the pitch, South Carolina women’s soccer alumna Blakely Mattern does not allow herself to be defined as only a soccer player. The former All-American recently launched a new business named 11.11 Training near her hometown in Greenville, S.C., which uses soccer training to teach young girls how to maximize their talents, on and off the field.
“It’s supplemental training for speed, strength, agility and technical soccer skills,” Mattern said. “We work with girls ages 12 to 18. Part of our mission is to help girls transition into the truest version of themselves, both as women and as soccer players.”
For her success in soccer, and now in business, Mattern is grateful to her alma mater.
“I know my experience at South Carolina, and the people that I met, definitely sling-shot me and gave me tremendous perspective and gratitude,” Mattern said. “Being a student-athlete there was tremendous. I loved every single second of it, and I’m very thankful for the amount of support and the family environment that is created in the athletics department. Those sort of things pushed me to want to do more in life. It made me want to do more and be better.”
Mattern and her roommate, India Trotter, a former Florida State soccer All-American and former U.S. Women’s National Team member, started their business in January, and it has already taken off.
“It’s going really well,” Mattern said. “Word of mouth is the biggest thing for us. We have great clients. We’re already getting great feedback, and we have seen results already. We’re growing steadily, so it’s been great so far.
“We love what we’re doing. I don’t really consider it a job. I’m very humbled every day that I am in this position. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face. I’m just so thankful to impact people.”
Mattern knows all about making and impact, and that’s what she did throughout her playing career.
Elevating the Program
Mattern’s road to success was paved by her success in the classroom as well as on the soccer pitch at the University of South Carolina. The Simpsonville, S.C., native chose to be a Gamecock following a stellar prep career at JL Mann High School where she led the state in goals scored as a senior.
“I’ve always been a homebody, so I knew I didn’t want to go far from home when I was being recruited,” Mattern said. “It was an easy choice once I stepped on campus there. South Carolina took me right in, and I could tell they were invested in me as a person, not just as a player. The family atmosphere they created was very important to me. I also saw the program in a state of potentially huge growth, and I wanted to be a part of where I felt like it could go and contribute.”
Over the next four years (2006-2009), Mattern did more than contribute. She was a difference-maker on the field for head coach Shelley Smith’s Gamecocks, earning numerous accolades while helping the team reach the NCAA Tournament in each of her final three seasons, including a trip to the round of 16 along with an SEC Tournament championship as a senior in 2009. The list of individual awards included several All-America citations, the 2009 SEC Tournament MVP award, 2007 SEC Defensive Player of the Year award, and three First Team All-SEC selections.
“Winning the SEC Championship my senior year was one of my best memories because it was something the program had never done at the time,” Mattern said. “It was an amazing accomplishment. During my sophomore year we beat North Carolina in the season opener in Chapel Hill, which was a huge win for the program that gave us national recognition because I think North Carolina had never lost a home opener. To be a part of that history-making moment for the program was very special. I also remember the NCAA Tournament games we played at home. That was super exciting.
“The experiences we’ve shared together, nobody else can take from us or say that they had. The bond that we share is pretty cool. Time and distance will never break that.”
In addition to success with the Gamecocks, Mattern took a lot of pride in her academics, and received the prestigious SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year award as a senior after graduating with a grade point average over 3.9 while studying international business.
“I worked hard,” Mattern said. “I took being a student-athlete very serious. I wanted to make the most out of getting an education. International business was always held in high esteem at South Carolina. I went for it, and I was able to get into the program and I loved it.”
When you play with the fear of mistakes, you’ll make more mistakes. It’s the same in life. You can’t live your life in fear of mistakes.Blakely Mattern
Following her brilliant career as a Gamecock, Mattern began her professional career after being selected as the 21st overall pick by the Atlanta Beat of the Women’s Professional Soccer League in the spring of 2010.
“Being at South Carolina definitely prepared me,” Mattern said. “The things you experience as a student-athlete and the challenges you face helped me learn all about time management, discipline, sportsmanship, how to honor people, and gratitude. Those were definitely instilled in me during my time there. That certainly helped me when I got to the next level.”
Following the season, she came back to South Carolina in the fall to finish her degree and also helped out as a volunteer assistant with her former team. Several months later, an acquaintance of Coach Smith provided the opportunity for her to play professionally in the Netherlands for FC Twente in city of Enschede.
“I was going down one path, and this sort of came out of left field,” Mattern said. “I just knew I was supposed to go. I had no idea where I was going. I didn’t know a single person there. It was one of those experiences where you have to grow really quickly. I was there for a year. It was an amazing experience that challenged me in infinite ways. It grew my perspective that there is so much more out there than just my little bubble living in the southeast. Of course there were cultural differences and the language barrier, but I loved it.”
A torn ACL in April 2012 brought her back to South Carolina where she helped out as volunteer coach with the Gamecocks once again in the fall of 2012 before resuming her professional playing career in 2013 with the Carolina Elite Cobras of the United Soccer Leagues W-League in Greenville and later went across the pond again to play professionally in Sweden.
“Sweden is a huge country,” Mattern said. “It was a much more international league, so I played with some of the best players in the world. It was a really cool experience. What made it so awesome was what was happening down inside of me while I was there. I knew I wasn’t there just to play soccer. I grew a lot there, and when I got back home I took a job that would lead me to what I am doing now.”
Her gut was telling her she needed to do more with her life than just play soccer. That next chapter is where she met India Trotter, and her life went in another direction. She started out coaching at the Greer Athletic Club for a year and nine months before putting together 11.11 Training.
Getting Down to Business
Mattern is finishing up her master’s degree, but she and Trotter are full speed ahead with their business. While she no longer plays the game she loved for so long, her passion to succeed and the realization of long term goals have already been gratifying for the 27 year-old.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I missed playing a little bit,” Mattern said. “What I am doing now and the value and benefit I feel from working with these girls while running this business far outweighs anything else. To get to use the game in this way is the ultimate fulfillment. I am beyond blessed.
“I’ve always wanted to have my own business. I’ve done a lot of different things, but they weren’t really a fulfillment of what I have to give and what I feel my whole purpose was. A lot of it came out of having my experiences and seeing needs in the places around us.”
The training program provides supplemental service in small groups settings.
“We try to provide a setting that gives them comfort to make mistakes, grow and transition, and know that they are learning and growing,” Mattern said. “We show them that this is the gift you have, and everyone has different gifts. Everyone has a certain quality about their game that is unique and needed.
“We’re going to challenge and push you, and also get you to change the way you think and believe in yourself. A lot of these girls are terrified to make a mistake because they’ve made them in the past, and they get yelled at for them. We try create an environment where mistakes are encouraged because when you make mistakes, it makes you valuable because then you can become changed for the better and instill that into other people. When you play with the fear of mistakes, you’ll make more mistakes. It’s the same in life. You can’t live your life in fear of mistakes. So if you do that in the soccer field, you’ll do that in life.”
Maximizing those abilities and instilling a belief in one’s own abilities are an important part of the training. Mattern said those beliefs transcend soccer.
“I guess it’s a covert ministry and discipleship in saying who you are as a girl or young woman, and trying to transition you into the truest version of yourself where you’re not defined by other people in what you do,” Mattern said. “It’s important for girls to know who they are. I know I didn’t at that age. I was defined by the game of soccer and thought that’s who I was, but that is just not true. I was blessed with the gifts I have to play soccer, but it’s certainly wasn’t who I was. There is something to be said for these girls to have role models in their lives who are females and have done what they are trying to go and do. Hopefully words and experiences will hold value to them in the way they think about themselves and the world.
“Soccer is an amazing game, but it was never about the wins and losses for me. It was about what soccer gave me and what the game gave back to me, and that was amazing relationships and experiences I could never repay. They were all gifts. Soccer took me to places I never would have seen otherwise, and it brought me relationships that changed my life. It’s amazing to use soccer to teach girls about themselves.”