Former University of Tennessee soccer player trains Knoxville athletes

Former University of Tennessee soccer player trains Knoxville athletes

Jayden Barrett was never conditioned to lose.

Winning soccer games was all the California native knew until she became part of the University of Tennessee women’s team in 2009 — for better and for worse. The team that year finished 8-9-3 overall and 4-5-2 in the SEC, and missed the NCAA tournament.

“When I turned 18, I came to Tennessee and I realized that I needed more guidance,” she told Knox News. “For me, being in an environment where everything was feeling like a loss, it was hard for me. It was hard to accept that a loss didn’t mean I was losing.” 

Training the mental discipline of soccer at The Private Practice Athletics in Knoxville

Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel

Scoring a goal is great, Barrett said, but even the most impressive players won’t be athletes forever. Reaching a life goal: That’s the good stuff. And that’s what Barrett is helping young athletes accomplish in East Tennessee. 

Barrett’s business, The Private Practice Athletics, focuses on teaching the mental aspects of soccer just as much as the physical ones, if not more. Since starting the business in 2017, her clients have ranged from elementary school players learning basic touches to high school seniors looking to take the next step in their playing careers. 

“I literally had no intention of starting a business,” she said. “They had every intention of doing it apparently — the kids. Because they just came with me. All these players just came as soon as I stepped away (from coaching). … I was like, ‘Who am I to deny you of this mentality that you have?'” 

At 12 years old, Barrett’s first practice on a new team was one of the most embarrassing moments of her life. She was far behind the other girls — happy just to get a foot on the ball — so her family sought out private lessons from a young coach.

Jayden Barrett never walks into a training session with a coaching plan and often finds creative inspiration in the moment. This approach to coaching was inspired by Greg Baker, her childhood trainer, who would find teachable soccer moments everywhere, from the foosball table to the golf course.
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel

“I’m obsessed with everything that we did together because it was so incredible,” Barrett said. “It makes me kind of emotional and something I define as joyful jitters because I just can’t believe how things end up. … We trained everywhere, every day, multiple times a day. It was just what we did.”

His creative approach to teaching the game helped her reach the goal of becoming a collegiate soccer player. It influenced her later in life when she became a coach. 

But Barrett realized shortly after arriving at Tennessee that the sport was no longer a source of happiness, and she needed to take time to focus on school. Her passion was pushed to the side, and she stopped playing at UT.

Barrett saw herself as a winner, she said, “and it was hard to lose.” 

“Which is why, in my business, I have something called W’s and L’s, but I don’t define them as wins and losses,” she said. 

When Jayden Barrett (left) played competitive soccer growing up, much of the focus was on the physical game. Realizing her mental and emotional needs were not being met, Barrett is now giving back to the game by training young athletes as a person first, including how to have true
When Jayden Barrett (left) played competitive soccer growing up, much of the focus was on the physical game. Realizing her mental and emotional needs were not being met, Barrett is now giving back to the game by training young athletes as a person first, including how to have true “belief in self.”
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel

Instead, they stand for “what worked” and “lessons learned.” 

Thanks to Barrett, the lessons passed on to her players are priceless. And, in some cases, those lessons click in the most unlikely places.

Barrett’s father is Cuban and her mother is African-American, but they never taught her to think in terms of labels. Even “Jayden” was chosen by her parents as a gender-neutral name, she said. 

“I always believe that I, Jayden, transcend any limitations or restrictions a label may apply,” she said.

Her mom always told her, “It’s not what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” It’s a mindset she applies to her business and passes on to her students. 

Donte Davis first met Barrett when she was coaching his daughter Madison, now 11 years old, as part of the FC Alliance club team in 2017. It was Madison’s first year playing soccer at a competitive level. 

“Quite honestly, she brought the best out of her,” Davis said. “When she started her own (business) … it just transformed how my daughter approached the game. It was less of just being a part of the team, but more of trying to contribute at a higher level.” 

Madison wasn’t the only player who followed Barrett when she stepped away from coaching the club. Numerous players reached out seeking private lessons, and a business began to form as the word got around. 

Madison Davis (far right) is not just learning how to play the game through Barrett; she is learning how to become a better teammate, her father said.
Madison Davis (far right) is not just learning how to play the game through Barrett; she is learning how to become a better teammate, her father said.
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel

Within four months, that business was official. And within six months, she opened a training facility in a basement defined by its large columns and rough terrain.

It may not sound like the ideal soccer setup, but it was perfect for a coach who likes to get creative. Every drill had to be technical, Barrett said, and the unique space made the drills even more engaging. It was her playground. 

“I never ever have a coaching plan. I just don’t roll like that,” Barrett said. “Every day is different. … The sport is still my vessel, but it allows me to just have this platform to speak to them and have them listen to somebody they would not usually listen to.” 

Davis recalled the time Barrett assigned Madison to keep her foot on a soccer ball for an entire week, even when she was sitting down to do her homework. Madison went from 50 juggles to 1,000 in just about a month.

“When you set that champion mentality, that’s what transcends how an athlete performs,” Davis said.

But the lessons Barrett teaches players between the whistles are equally important to her, whether it’s motivating them in the classroom or inspiring them to step out of their shell. 

Madison now brings her teammates together before games for a moment of silence and prayer, Davis said. She has even taken up art after Barrett let players design the facility, and she recently painted a canvas for a teammate recovering from a concussion. 

“I think (Barrett is) coaching the whole player,” Davis said. “My daughter is a great player because of her.” 

Barrett eventually went back to school to become a nurse, which partly inspired The Private Practice Athletics name. Players come to Barrett at a variety of skill levels, and she “prescribes” the training they need. 

Jayden Barrett never saw herself as a coach but now finds happiness in watching her players perform on the field.
Jayden Barrett never saw herself as a coach but now finds happiness in watching her players perform on the field.
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel

Barrett no longer works out of the basement and is looking to open a training facility on a piece of land she recently purchased for a home. In the meantime, she trains students at Nicholas Ball Park. 

Players can also receive individual attention and are required to complete at-home workouts. Barrett is on the field about five days each week coaching players from across the Knoxville area. 

“We don’t care who you play for, why you play,” she said. “We just care that you play. And I love that we have them from different club backgrounds because it allows them to realize the umbrella is the game. And that’s all that matters.” 

Barrett never wanted to be a coach. She only saw herself in the game. But as The Private Practice Athletics continues to grow, so does her impact on the sport. 

When one of her players scores in a game, Barrett feels all the emotions that come with putting a ball in the back of the net. And when they reach a life goal, she feels so much more. 

“I just can’t believe who they have become, and I’m so excited to see who they will be,” she said. “I cheer them on like they are a professional soccer player because they make me feel that way.” 

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