As the final whistle blows after Colorado’s golden goal in the 110th minute, the Cal women’s soccer players walk off dejectedly. The Bears had mounted an impressive comeback in regulation time, scoring two goals in the last two minutes to tie the game. Losing in extra time in dubious fashion wasn’t what they had expected after coming so close.
Emma Fletcher had been the standout player for the Bears. The referee had called a questionable foul on her and the resulting free-kick led to Colorado’s winner. After the match, Emma stands on the field with her head down in disbelief.
She then walks up to the stands, filled with scores of children holding homemade collages of her. And as she meets her young fans, the bitterness of the loss seems to dissipate. She poses for photos, signs shirts — all with a huge smile. At a time when it would have been easy to shut herself off, Emma opens herself up.
Emma was born in Victoria, British Columbia, to parents Peggy and Stefan Fletcher, who are both physiotherapists. Peggy now does this part time in addition to working as an artist. Stefan, on the other hand, manages his own company, Rebalance MD. He has worked for more than 25 years as a physio, including working for the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team.
Her parents’ work in helping others, coupled with having two younger brothers, led Emma to a fondness for assisting young children.
Growing up as the eldest child, Emma understood the ins and outs of interacting with kids. She was always active, bouncing off walls, jumping on the couch, running around the house and engaging her brothers in a lot of games, which she led from time to time. Emma also enjoyed the time she spent with her younger cousins whenever her extended family met.
“Even while growing up, and today, whenever I spend time with kids, I enjoy it a lot,” Emma says. “I think it was more because I used to find kids hilarious and entertaining.”
Her soccer career kickstarted at age 6, and that strengthened her connection with her brother Sam, an avid player himself. Their shared passion also led Emma to consider pursuing the sport more seriously.
“Where I grew up, it was super rainy and I hated playing in the rain,” Emma says. “I guess I started liking it gradually because I’m super competitive. But then when I was 11, I discovered YouTube and videos of kids juggling the ball, and I got obsessed with the sport. My brother also loved the sport, so I could play with him and his friends.”
The Fletchers moved to New Zealand when Emma was 9, a change that further allowed the siblings to bond. Emma and Sam used to play soccer, while Harrison took a great liking to cricket. Emma’s extracurricular activities also led her to interact with several people, both younger and older than her.
“They very much slid into the New Zealand way of life, which is a little slower,” Stefan says. “Emma played soccer over there as well and made a lot of friends on the little soccer team that she played for. She formed lifelong relationships and has maintained them, too. You could see her face light up when she talked to the different people. It was a very special family time.”
The Fletchers lived in New Zealand for about a year before returning to Vancouver Island, where Emma’s soccer career reached even greater heights. She captained the Victoria Capitals and led the team to a third-place finish in the U-16 Vancouver Metro League. Emma also got caps by both New Zealand and Canada, as she featured for the U-17 and U-20 team for the nations, respectively.
Emma’s strides in soccer led her to being recognized as an “Amazing Kid” by a local TV station in Vancouver, which made a video feature about her and granted her a small scholarship. She was a standout performer for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ youth program and, as a result, was heavily recruited by many Division I teams. Emma signed with LSU to start off her collegiate career.
As a freshman, Emma was still exploring her options and deciding on what to do off the field. At LSU, these aspirations started taking shape. Peggy advised her to explore the option of being a speech pathologist for kids, knowing her daughter’s comfort level and overall satisfaction of being around kids, as well as her social skills. Her affinity for children, along with her parents’ medical background, made it a desirable option for Emma.
Speech-language pathology is a field that primarily deals with evaluating and treating different kinds of communication, cognitive, voice and swallowing disorders. Additionally, it involves treating social communication disorders. All in all, it is a field of study that is much more complicated than it sounds.
“My parents have always been very supportive of whatever I’ve chosen to do,” Emma says. “Both of them know that I would want to do something that is more interpersonal.”
Emma researched the profession and got drawn into it even more. She liked the fact that it would require more one-to-one interaction, rather than sitting behind a desk with a computer. Moreover, she also found it to be a challenging job, and the same competitive fire that led her to pursue soccer resurfaced here as well.
With a challenging career that would involve her working with kids in mind, the train of thought had started for Emma.
Her resolve for pursuing this path was further bolstered when she became involved in a program called Hope Buddy at LSU. Emma met with her “buddy” — a kindergarten student — once or twice a week and used to help her with her subjects in school. The experience of working with a child in a direct setting really helped her decide on this career path.
After playing for two years at LSU, Emma decided to transfer to another Division I school. She considered several options including UCLA, Washington and Colorado, but she made the decision to come to Berkeley.
While playing for the Cal women’s soccer team, Emma was also actively involved in coaching kids in summer camps. The coaching experience was an enlightening one, as she learned how to manage and coordinate a large group of children of different ages.
“I think kids are funny and interesting,” Emma says. “They have such a different viewpoint of the world and it’s kind of nice to see that through them. It’s easy to work with them too as you can say ‘do what you want’ and it’ll be fun. Most importantly, however, helping other people makes me happy, and this career will allow me to work with and help kids, which will be very satisfying for me.”
For now, Emma plans to apply to the University of British Columbia for their Masters in Science program in speech pathology that is offered by the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences. Because the university has very specific requirements for the program, she is majoring in interdisciplinary studies in order to satisfy the requirements.
That being said, Emma still has a very strong soccer resume, and turning professional isn’t something that she has ruled out. If she turns pro, she intends to continue working with kids on the side, something that most major teams offer through their various philanthropic or social responsibility-based activities.
“Emma has always had a very special gift with young children,” Stefan says. “I think this career is a great option for her because she has a very high emotional intelligence. She’s great working with kids, and she has those visible links that can help people who are working with others. However, she still has a story to tell with soccer as well.”
The sport of soccer relies a lot on teammates communicating effectively with each other. Emma, being a midfielder, is the one pulling the strings for the team to function. Whether she will be pulling the same strings for a professional franchise or paving the way for young children to overcome their communication disabilities remains to be seen. All we know is that Emma’s story is bound to be an entertaining one.