Take your best shot: Life Lessons with soccer star Alex Morgan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Everyone has a dream of making it to the top, but what happens when you actually get there? Only a handful of people even know what that is like.

Soccer star Alex Morgan is seen in this undated photo released to Reuters on March 25, 2019. Courtesy Ryan Pfluger/Handout via REUTERS

One of them is Alex Morgan, the soccer phenom and forward for the U.S. women’s national soccer team - ranked #1 on the planet, by the way - heading into the World Cup in France starting this June.

For the latest in Reuters’ “Life Lessons” series, the 29-year-old idol for young girls worldwide reminisces about how she dribbled her way to global stardom - and talks about what will come after the final whistle.

Q: Did you have a backup career in mind, in case soccer didn’t work out?

A: I had a dream that I wrote down on a yellow sticky note when I was seven years old. It said, ‘Dear mom, my dream is to be a professional soccer player. Love, Ali.’ My mom kept that for years.

At the time there wasn’t even a professional league, and I had never even seen the women’s national team play. So I never even thought about a Plan B, even though I went on to study political economy in college.

Q: When you did make it as a pro, how did you handle fame and wealth?

A: For two years after I started on the national team, I couldn’t receive any checks because I was playing for the NCAA. They have very strict rules about that. So my bank account in college was pretty grim, and my diet involved ramen noodles or finding the cheapest takeout.

Since I was a student-athlete, they did let me eat at the university cafes, so I would usually be there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lot of times I would be down to a few bucks, wondering how to get through the next couple of days before my food card was replenished.

So when I did become a professional player and started getting paid, that was a nice change. Nowadays I manage to save around 70 percent of what I make.

Q: What have you learned about managing money?

A: As a professional athlete, your income isn’t steady. Sometimes you get big checks and then sometimes you don’t get much for a couple of months. Lump sums come in randomly, since a lot of what I make is through partnerships with sponsors. So it’s been a learning curve for me to navigate that.

Q: You have started numerous side ventures, so what lessons about entrepreneurship can you share?

A: For me, with my book series and the movie I did for Nickelodeon, I like to take chances when the pressure is on. When I control things as much as possible, that is when I want to bet big, because I have a good sense of what I am able to do. So how I act in the business world is quite similar to how I act on the soccer pitch. I am happy betting on myself, and I tend to achieve more when my back is against the wall.

Q: Where do you spend your philanthropic time and money?

A: The main focus is kids and animals. I do a lot of work with Boys & Girls Clubs, and I’m an ambassador for UNICEF. I also support the ASPCA, because I am passionate about giving animals a voice. I even adopted a vegan diet, because it didn’t feel fair to have a dog I adore, and yet eat meat all the time.

Q: Have you envisioned what your retirement from soccer is going to look like?

A: I would love to start a family, and live in southern California, maybe in San Diego. My husband (LA Galaxy midfielder Servando Carrasco) definitely wants to stay in the soccer world, and I am enjoying dipping my toes into new areas, like books and movies. It is an exciting time.

Q: For that future family, what life lessons would you like to pass along?

A: Something I would want for my kids is to be confident and dream big, regardless of what obstacles are in the way. That is what I did when I was seven, not even knowing that professional soccer was a possibility. I would love for that message to hit home with them.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and G Crosse