Chloe Ricketts is living her dream.
The 16-year-old Dexter, Michigan, native became the youngest player at the time to sign a contract in the National Women’s Soccer League when she joined the Washington Spirit in March. The fact that she plays alongside U.S. women’s national team players Trinity Rodman, Andi Sullivan and Ashley Hatch shocks her daily, she said.
“Getting to be around these players every day is insane,” Ricketts said. “I wake up, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m a professional soccer player.’ It still doesn’t feel real.”
The midfielder spoke in her first press conference Wednesday, detailing her adjustments to becoming a professional at a young age and why she appreciates the slow approach in her development.
Despite only playing nine matches in all competitions, including two starts during the Challenge Cup group stage, Rickets has slowly become a fan favorite during Spirit home matches. Her dribbling abilities and tenacity in one-on-one battles with defenders have brought a spark off the bench for Washington, who currently sits in second place (20 points) in the NWSL standings.
“I like to be creative on the ball, because I want to make an impact and just help my team as much as I can,” she said. “Doing crazy moves like that helps me feel loose and confident in myself.”
— Trinity Rodman FC (@Frejoregui) April 30, 2023
The midfielder — listed at 5-foot-1 — made her presence known immediately during Washington’s preseason camp with her aggressive play. Teammate Ashley Sanchez recalled those battles, saying Ricketts came “in with the energy [and] she was hitting people immediately,” causing her to respect the then-15-year-old’s abilities “just a little bit.”
“Chloe stepped in and was decking people, which I think shows that she’s not afraid of anything,” Sullivan said in March. “And I think that fearless mindset will carry her a long way.”
Training with adults was nothing new for Ricketts, who spent 2022 playing for Ann Arbor FC of the W League, a preprofessional soccer league. She became the league’s youngest goal scorer at 14 years old and finished with two goals and two assists in 11 matches.
However, playing in the NWSL, the top-flight women’s soccer league in the U.S., is a different stage. Surrounding Ricketts are players planning to participate in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the 2024 Paris Olympics and beyond. She also joined a club looking to bounce back from a terrible 2022 season but has prior experience dealing with teenage players at the start of their careers (Mallory Swanson and Trinity Rodman).
Washington head coach Mark Parsons started Ricketts on a slow developmental track without rushing her into playing time. So far, her longest single-game appearance was a full half (45 minutes). Parsons said the goal is to have Ricketts improve her skills and acclimate to the team’s offensive identity while maintaining her natural playmaking abilities.
He recalled telling Ricketts that she would not play in the team’s season opener against OL Reign. Instead, he asked her to take in the scenes around the game to prepare her mentally for her turn.
“For me, it’s step by step,” Parsons said. “It’s not put too much on her to play; keep her focus on soccer.”
Ricketts said she understands the process and appreciates Parsons “not just throwing me into the wolves.” Instead, she has taken time to learn from her teammates to make more decisive improvements, like controlling her nerves when controlling the ball.
“With my teammates helping and supporting me and the staff around me every day, I think I’ve definitely calmed down a bunch, and my decision-making has gotten much better from the start of the season,” she said.
“I’m sure she’s probably thinking, ‘Let me get the cage! Let me go! What’s the holdup,'” Parsons said. “But that’s what makes her a competitor. She’s intense; she wants to go. And that’s how you want every player.”
Meanwhile, managing a life balance between her career and life as a teenage girl has been “actually pretty easy,” Ricketts said. After morning practices, she attends a virtual high school to continue her education and enjoys hanging out with her friends and family during her free time.
“My life is soccer,” said Ricketts. “That’s what I do to feel happy. My friends support me, and so does my family. They’ve supported me so I could get here, and this is my journey.”
Although she is a pro, Ricketts remains a fan of the sport. She did not celebrate her first career start when the Orlando Pride played in D.C. for a Challenge Cup match on May 10.
Instead, she waited patiently to meet one of her heroes, Brazilian midfielder and six-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Marta.
— Douglas Reyes-Ceron (@dreyesceron) May 11, 2023
“Obviously, I’m still a 16-year-old little kid so it was like meeting my hero basically; it was unbelievable,” Ricketts said. “I was so nervous. I was shaking a little bit, and I’m so glad that I got to meet her.”
At her age, Ricketts already understands that she’s a role model for other girls looking to live out their soccer dreams.
Advice for the next Chloe Ricketts? She said to keep giving it 100%.
“If you’re feeling like 50% of what you normally do, just give 100% of your 50%,” Ricketts said. “Just keep working as hard as you can.”