A Journey to Find Identity and Inspiration in Professional Sports and Beyond

I wasn’t supposed to make it to the pros. I was a small-town kid from Winston-Salem who played for the Twins, a small-town soccer club that competed against the powerhouse teams of Charlotte and Raleigh. I tried out for the Olympic Development teams but never made it very far.

For much of Wells Thompson's life, soccer was his entire life.
For much of Wells Thompson’s life, soccer was his entire life.

By the time I was a sophomore in high school, soccer was no longer my priority. Instead, drugs and alcohol became my focus and I was driven by an insatiable desire to fit in and rebel against all authority.

During that period, my life took a drastic turn. My parents knew they had to do something radical to save my life. So, one night, out of nowhere, two men I’d never met woke me up, dragged me into their car and drove me up to the Catskill Mountains of New York. I’d spend the next year and a half at the Family Foundation School, a school for troubled kids. I couldn’t see it then, but those 18 months were one of the greatest blessings of my life.

PATH TO THE PROS

With everything going on in my life, it wasn’t surprising that I wasn’t heavily recruited to play soccer out of high school. I had a handful of offers from smaller schools, but I chose to walk-on at Wake Forest.

For the first time in my soccer career, things really started clicking. I took advantage of my opportunities at Wake Forest and also played for the Carolina Dynamo, a team in the United Soccer League (USL) Premier Development League.

With all the obstacles in my path, it seemed for a time that I was not sup- posed to be a pro, but God had other plans. Not only did I become a professional soccer player for nine years, but I was drafted fifth overall by the New England Revolution. At the time, I was the third-highest draft pick out of Wake Forest, just behind Tim Duncan and Chris Paul.

Thompson says we can’t arrive at our life’s purpose by starting with a focus on ourselves.
Thompson says we can’t arrive at our life’s purpose by starting with a focus on ourselves.

In my first year in the pros, my team won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. I scored the game-winning goal to bring the Revolution its first-ever championship. The next year, in 2008, we won the Superliga title and, in 2010, I won the MLS Cup playing with the Colorado Rapids. I then went on to play for the Chicago Fire, Charlotte Eagles and Carolina RailHawks.

CHANGING PURPOSE

For much of my life, soccer was my entire life. It’s who I was. It ruled everything from the time I was eight-years old. I had absolutely no idea how badly this would affect me when I retired.

As a pro, I loved having opportunities to speak to kids and inspire them. I loved sharing my journey and faith, and I wanted the kids to know they were loved regardless of their looks, education, background, social status or performance. I encouraged them not to make the same mistakes I made but to trust that God had great plans for them and loved them more than they could imagine. I encouraged young people not to put their identity in sport or anything worldly that could be taken from them.

I didn’t know then that I was preaching to myself, as well. It wasn’t until I retired that I realized just how much I placed my identity in soccer. It was a hard realization. The transition to life after sports has been extremely tough. But God has used it to teach and mold me.

MY WHY

Everyone should ask themselves, “What is my why? What is my reason for living?” My why is simple: to love Jesus and love people with all of me in all that I do. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, do it all for the glory of God.” That’s what I try to do. Do I fail? Yes, I do. A whole lot. But that’s my why.

Thompson is married to his childhood sweetheart. They have three sons and a dog, named Spirit.
Thompson is married to his childhood sweetheart. They have three sons and a dog, named Spirit.

Let me share an amazing secret: Life is not about you and it’s not about me. We can’t arrive at our life’s purpose by starting with a focus on our- selves. We must begin with God. He created us. We were made by Him and for Him. And it’s only in Him that we discover our true identity.

I’m 35-years old, and the good Lord willing, I have a lot of life left to live. I find myself at times dreaming about my playing days. Lacing the boots up. The banter in the locker room. The smell of freshly mowed turf. The excitement of another day competing. Battling it out with teammates. Tired legs. Grass stains. Those were great days. I’m thankful for them. But I choose to focus on the here and now. My dream isn’t over. I’m living it every day.

I’m married to my childhood sweetheart. We have three precious and healthy boys and our sweet pup, Spirit. No doubt, the best is yet to come. That goes for all of us. If there’s air in our lungs, we have great purpose.

Don’t ever stop dreaming. Because the day we stop dreaming is the day we start dying.

Soccer Career

COLLEGE

  • 2003-06 Wake Forest Deacons: 56 Appearances, 9 Goals

SEMIPRO

  • 2005-06 Carolina Dynamo: 29 Appearances, 2 Goals

PROFESSIONAL

  • 2007-09 New England Revolution: 71 Appearances, 2 Goals
  • 2010-12 Colorado Rapids: 75 Appearances, 2 Goals
  • 2012-13 Chicago Fire: 12 Appearances, 5 Goals
  • 2014-15 Charlotte Eagles: 25 Appearances, 6 Goals
  • 2015-16 Carolina RailHawks: 16 Appearances, 0 Goals

About Wells Thompson 1 Article
Wells Thompson is a retired professional soccer player who last played as a midfielder for the Carolina RailHawks in the North American Soccer League.

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