Sporting success depends a great deal on self-belief. When walking out to the pitch, stepping on to the court, or diving into the pool, an athlete needs to believe they have the ability to win, regardless of the outcome. While 15-year-old Mikayla Simons adores football regardless of whether her team wins or loses, she dreams of one day playing for the US and competing all over the world.
Having played football since she was seven, Mikayla was asked to represent Hong Kong back in 2014, but couldn’t because she didn’t have a Hong Kong passport. So her dad looked into the national team requirement in the Philippines, where her mum is from. She attended a three-day try-out in Manila, and battled extreme heat, exhaustion, hundreds of rivals, and an agonising broken toe to claim a place on the month-long training camp.
However, International Christian School would only let her take two weeks off from classes; it didn’t seem like she’d be able to attend. But in an unexpected turn, the camp’s coaches allowed her to attend for just the two weeks. “I was so thankful for that because, for a coach, commitment is key, [especially seeing as] all the other girls [are] living in Philippines.”
The hard work didn’t stop there: “at the end of every week of training camp, they would make the dreaded cuts,” Mikayla recalls. “They did this by writing names on a white board. They said, ‘If your name is on the board, please head to your room quietly. If you don’t see your name, please stay here.’”
Out of 30 players at the camp, 18 were chosen to join the Philippines’ travelling team and compete in the South East Asian Regional Championships in Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. Mikayla was one of them.
The Philippines went into the tournament as the underdogs, yet stormed the early stages, beating Singapore 6-0, seeing off reigning champions Vietnam, and beating Cambodia 5-0 in the rain. The team made it to the final against Thailand. They lost the match, to come second and were presented with the Sportsmanship Award. Mikayla couldn’t play in the final, and was anxious that she wasn’t there for her team. However, she says, “One of my teammates said to me, ‘Even though you aren’t here all the time, just know that you’re part of the team.’ Hearing that, honestly, made me feel so blessed.”
Two years later and Mikayla is still devoted to her sport, currently playing for her school team, ICS Warriors. In April this year she went to Guam for the Asia Christian Schools’ Conference (ACSC) Girls Soccer Tournament. The team went into the tournament blind: this was the first time the school had entered a girls’ team into an overseas league, so they weren’t sure what they’d be up against. Challenging dry conditions and a slightly scruffy pitch pushed the ICS team to its limits and the girls placed sixth out of seven teams.
But Mikayla describes the experience as “rewarding”, explaining that “it was super fun to get out on the field and play with people from all over Asia.
“I met new people, reunited with old friends, and created memories with my team that I’ll never forget. The sport brings me joy!”
Which fictional character would you choose as your team mate?
I would want Merida from Disney’s Brave, because she is a smart risk-taker. You can’t improve without going out of your comfort zone, so I think she would be someone who could make my team stronger. She’s also really caring, which is something a team needs!
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
A cheetah, because they use their instincts to their advantage and read their surroundings very well. I’ve played this sport enough to be able to read what’s happening around me and act accordingly. They are also very fast, and in football, you need that.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I’m really not very sure. Maybe Nike or Adidas, to promote their clothes and shoes. By signing with well known companies, I’d have the opportunity to promote things such as helping people in need, staying healthy, chasing your dreams, and my faith.