You’d think Lauren Cullinan would be a confident soccer player, but you’d be wrong.
An All-Western New York First Team selection as a senior at Clarence High School, Cullinan was named Second-Team All-SUNYAC as a freshman at Fredonia; some were surprised she wasn’t named the SUNYAC’s Rookie of the Year. Now a sophomore, it would be equally surprising to see her left off the first-team list.
But the accolades don’t affect her confidence, because confidence doesn’t come easily to a perfectionist.
Rather than confidence or skill, Cullinan would have you judge her based on her determination:
Ryan Maloney: You’ve always come off to me as a very confident soccer player. Can you speak to why that is?
Lauren Cullinan: Well. . .
Maloney: Do you feel very confident?
Cullinan: No. I was just about to say that that perception is different than the feeling I have. I’m a perfectionist, so I’m not very confident because I always feel like I could be doing so much more to be perfect.
Maloney: Do you just hide it very well?
Cullinan: On the field, maybe, but I try to stay humble in my words and actions off the field. That’s important to me.
Maloney: How did you become a good soccer player?
Cullinan: I worked hard. I had five Division I commitments on my high school team. My mom always talks about how I was a diamond in the rough. I was good, but since they were all committed to D-1 schools I wasn’t good enough to be put in that category, so there was no spot for me. And I also didn’t have the money to play in big-name clubs like they did, so I just tried to work as hard as I could. I played with my mom as my coach up until I was 15.
Maloney: Was that her club?
Cullinan: No, it was our travel club, Clarence Soccer. Then I went to Black Watch, which is where I met Coach Case.
Maloney: Were the larger clubs just very expensive?
Maloney: It often seems like the people who have the most money also get the most opportunity.
Cullinan: And some people deserve it. Some people deserve the Division 1 commitment, even though the money helped them get there. But some people, the money helped get them there and they don’t deserve it, I don’t think.
Maloney: Talk to me about what you do to work hard.
Cullinan: It’s not a thought process for me; I kind of just do it. I want to be perfect so I try to do everything perfectly. I ask a lot of questions; I ask Coach questions all the time. I’m sure he just wants me to stop sometimes, but even if something is mostly right I still want to make sure it’s right. That way I can be sure that I’m doing the right thing. I think that translates to working hard. Just because you have the knowledge doesn’t mean you can do it right away, but you at least know what to do.
Maloney: Why do you care so much about perfection?
Cullinan: I’ve always been like that about everything. When I was younger I did softball, gymnastics, soccer, and dance. I care about everything I do. I had to quit softball when I was ten and that was hard for me, even though it wasn’t my number one sport. It’s really hard for me to quit something because I want to be good at everything, including school.
Maloney: How do you process feedback from your coach? How do you take it?
Cullinan: With the coaches I’ve had, it’s taken me a while to understand that if they’re not saying anything to me then that can mean I’m doing a good job. I’m doing what they expect. If I do something amazing, they’ll tell me, but if I get criticism that comes off as harsh I know they’re only doing it because they know I’m not reaching my potential. They want me to go further because they know I can. Even if it doesn’t come off the right way, I know what they’re trying to say. And I’ve never been afraid to talk to my coaches. If I’m upset about something that was said to me I’ll talk to them about it.
Maloney: I see so many girls that don’t take feedback as well as you do.
Cullinan: Well, that’s the coach’s job. You need to be able to take it.
Maloney: Do you have any advice for someone who’s not taking feedback well?
Cullinan: It helps me to remember that my coach only gives me feedback, or criticizes me, because he believes I can be better than I am.
Maloney: Talk to me about your interest in working out. Why do you do it all the time?
Cullinan: I go to the gym at home every day; sometimes I’ll spend three hours there. I have some injury problems so I have to be interested in working out to maintain my health. I like feeling good, and working out helps. It’s the same thing with soccer–when I touch a ball all my other problems go away.
Maloney: People notice that you’re really good at tackling on the field. How did you get so good at it?
Cullinan: I think that’s my determination. Obviously I want to keep the ball and I want us to score. I think that’s the biggest thing, is determination, even if it’s getting a ball out of the back, I don’t care who’s in my way, so move. There’s a picture of me in my garage from when I played U-10 soccer. It’s me and three girls from the other team and I’m body-ing two of them off of me while another one is chasing me in the background. It’s my mom’s favorite picture.
Maloney: I get scared that other people look at you and think, “Boy, I could never do that.”
Cullinan: I’m sure people do. I know people do,
Maloney: But it doesn’t seem like there’s anything special about what you do.
Maloney: You just keep going.
Cullinan: Yep, I just don’t stop.
Maloney: It’s just determination.
Cullinan: I feel like my strong suit is work ethic.
Maloney: And people comment on how strong you are and I think, “Well, the day after the season she’s in the gym. Nobody else is in the gym.”
If you had to send a message to every athlete in the department, what would it be?
Cullinan: Everything I’m thinking about stems back to work ethic and determination. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would complain about how someone else gets more playing time, or does better in the gym, or does better in school, when you have the ability to do what that person is doing just by applying yourself. You might have to apply yourself more than that other person, but you can still be where they are, or better.