UNCG Soccer’s Ethan Conley, leading by example

Posted on April 04, 2023

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HE GOT THE CALL that most college athletes would trade anything to receive: He’d been drafted by a pro team. “Man, if I can talk about that moment for a second! Playing professionally was a dream of mine since I was a kid,” recalls Ethan Conley ’24.

“It was a crazy moment. I couldn’t believe it. My parents couldn’t believe it. But to be honest, I never really considered accepting the offer.”

Why? Months before, Conley had already chosen his path – following his passions for psychology and helping others.

“I love neuroscience and my dream is to either do neurology or psychiatry. Right now, my major is psychology, but I’m on the pre-med track.”

Finishing in the Elite 8 was a huge accomplishment. I’m super proud.

His decision was shaped by some excellent academic experiences as well as his own personal challenges – a combination of discipline and motivation that characterize everything he does.

Conley has had formative experiences performing developmental psychology research in UNCG’s lab and engaging in directed readings with professors. “We’re reading articles and discussing developmental psychopathology. It’s a mouthful, but I really enjoy it,” he laughs.

On the personal side, Conley has grappled with mental health since he was six years old. “I think my struggles with Tourette Syndrome have really given me a broader perspective and an empathy for people that are struggling.”

Tourette’s affects the nervous system and causes “tics,” repeated movements or sounds. Tourette’s can often be controlled and the severity of symptoms varies for the individual.

“I know there’s a lot of people suffering out there that are not talking about it,” says Conley, referring to mental health issues in general. “My compassion is aimed towards them because I know what it feels like to deal with struggles on your own and I also know what it feels like to come out on the other end and say, ‘I’m so glad I reached out for help.’”

His determination off the field matches how this team captain handles himself on the field. Discussing the Spartans’ recent march to the Elite 8, he says, “In a tournament, you need ‘next game mentality.’ If you win, you just say, ‘Next game, next game, next game. Let’s see how far we can go!’”

By Mercer Bufter ’11 MA
Photograph by Sean Norona ’12