For the first time in years, Griffin Yow’s routine resembles that of a 17-year-old. On a daily basis, he’s doing homework, playing video games with friends and hanging out with his family. The only difference is that this commonality marks a drastic change for the D.C. United forward.
Just two games into the team’s regular season, Major League Soccer, like all other sports leagues, was forced to postpone play in mid-March due to the dangers represented by large crowds under the specter of Covid-19. There’s no telling when sports will return to TV screens, and the timeline becomes even more fuzzy when you think about whether or not fans will join them in the stadiums anytime soon.
Despite the air of uncertainty surrounding the situation, Yow is still hard at work in preparation for his second season with the team. Like other pro athletes across the sports world, Yow has been forced to hone his craft from home in a series of daily cardio routines and individual drills with cones on (hopefully) open fields. In between schoolwork and athletic upkeep, we talked to Yow about his experience in the locker room, competing with adults and how soccer runs in the family.
District Fray: What initial emotions did you experience when you learned the season was postponed indefinitely?
Griffin Yow: It was definitely a shock and a blow. I knew it was getting to a terrible point, but the thought never really crossed my mind. It took a little while for it to set in. I’m so used to having a structured schedule and now my days are sometimes filled with nothing. It’s hard to find things to do.
Was the postponement more difficult given that the season was just about to ramp up?
I’m not sure if it makes it any more difficult. We were in a good spot, and it’s upsetting to come to a sudden halt. I thought the chemistry was there, but we can use this as a time to improve.
Do you have more time to connect with friends?
I think it’s just more that I’m able to see that my friends are dealing with the same things as me. We can’t really hang out, but I do spend a lot of time on Zoom chats and FaceTime. I don’t know the last time our schedules have aligned. D.C. United’s season runs through the summer, so when they’re off from school, that’s when the hard grind of my season is.
How are you approaching this lockdown as a pro athlete?
I feel a little bit less pressure because I can use the time to improve and watch game film and work on things I think I can improve on. I’ve been having weekly meetings with assistant coaches and they’ve been going over specifics.
What kinds of drills are you cleared to do?
With the drills they’ve given us, there’s only so much you can do. They’re basically individual drills with cones, repetition and a couple of shots. Some of the more detailed things I work on is left-foot finishing, left-footed crossing.
How do you feel about playing in stadiums without fans?
Honestly, that is going to be pretty upsetting and different. It’s going to be something no one is used to.
What goals did you have coming into this year and have they changed?
They’ve definitely not changed. My main goal was to get my first MLS goal, I think that would prove a big point and get the momentum going for me this season.
How big of an adjustment was it for you to go from playing with people your own age, maybe a little older, to playing adults who have been professional athletes for a long time?
That is definitely the biggest difference. My first year, I was off and on with Loudon United, but the guys in that league are still men and high-quality players. You have to adapt very quickly.
People probably want to know: What’s that locker room experience like?
I think for me, it’s just to get as comfortable with them as fast as I can. [I want them to] look at me less like a little amateur and more as a teammate. The more I’m on that page, the more I can learn from them.
Is it difficult to get to that point?
I think for sure at times, there is a sense of putting their guard up as to why there’s a 16 [or] 17-year-old trying to talk to me. That’s when I try to talk to them with my play a little bit and get them comfortable.
Can you take me through your first memory involving soccer?
The first memory I have was before I started playing, when I watched my older brother and sister in peewee when they were coached by my mom, who played in college. My first touch of the ball was when I was four or five.
Do you think growing up in a soccer family helped fuel your passion?
That definitely helped me growing up. Not having a family that was so diverse. We all had a passion for the game – thinking about it, talking about it – so it was always around the house.
When did you and your family start to notice that your skill was atypical?
When I was seven years old, I started playing nine-year-olds on a travel team. All the way through travel soccer, I played two years up.
You were playing professional games at 16. What was it like to get that call?
Never in a million years. I had goals, but I didn’t imagine it would come this early. I took it with a full heart for sure. As soon as I saw the possibility, because obviously Chris Durkin had been signed early [also at age 16], it crossed my mind a few times that it could be an option. My goals were super high at the time, but I did have to reset them and reevaluate.
What does it feel like playing for the pro team in your backyard? What does that mean to you, that the people closest to you get to see you compete at such a high level?
Honestly, that’s one of the best parts: to see my family and classmates come out and support the team. And also, knowing that if I have a bad game or bad practice, it helps to be able to come home.
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