Missouri State University

Hayden Sander

  • Major: Undeclared
  • Hometown: Wellington, New Zealand

Student-athlete found his place on and off the soccer field

New Zealand native focused on capturing an NCAA championship and working toward a degree

“I don’t want to pick up any twang.”

Hayden Sander dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. His passion for soccer or football, as the New Zealand native calls it, brought him to Missouri State.

Despite all the things he’s looking forward to at Missouri State (like capturing a NCAA championship and working toward becoming an engineer), there is one thing he plans on not picking up while here: the Midwest twang.

“I talk to my friends back home occasionally on the phone, and the first thing I ask them is, ‘What does my voice sound like?’ I don’t want to pick up any twang,” he said with a laugh. “My voice is part of my individuality.”

“There’s always an opportunity to meet new people.”

Although things are becoming more familiar, Hayden admits that it wasn’t always smooth sailing: “The first month was the hardest because of the culture shock. I didn’t know anyone’s names. I didn’t know who to trust. Who is your friend? Who wasn’t? But now, I’ve got a core group of friends that just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Hayden is excited to expand that core group of friends. “I was talking to my mate the other day and told him that next semester was going to be cool. I’m going to have new classes, new people to talk to, new people to sit next to,” he said. “When you change classes, there’s always an opportunity to meet new people, which is cool.”

“Manage your time wisely.”

So, what piece of advice does Hayden give to new students? “Manage your time wisely. I’m sure everyone says that, but it’s really important. If you want good grades and want to have a good time, which most kids do at college, then you’ve got to balance it.”

“I was more keen for soccer in coming back”

After a summer home in New Zealand, Hayden Sander headed back stateside last fall ready for another year of school and soccer.

“I was kind of excited and kind of really not too bothered about coming back to class. I was more keen for soccer in coming back. Now I’m a bit confused about what my major will be,” says Hayden.

 "I was more keen for soccer in coming back."

“You know what you’re doing.”

Although Hayden is living in the residence halls again with his same soccer-loving roommates, he admits that a lot of things are different – and better – about sophomore year.

“What’s better about this year, again, is you’ve got friends, so you’re not worried about who’s going to look after you. You know where you are. You know what you’re doing. You know where everything is. You know what your friends are doing, when you can hang out with them,” he explains.

For Hayden, that familiarity is also a comfort when it comes to classes and studying.

“You know what your structure is and where you can sort of go off in that direction for a bit. You’re a lot smarter about your study because now you know what you have to do to get a good grade,” he says. “Now I know I can slack off a bit at times because I can trust myself to catch up. Then again, it’s also about knowing when you can slack off so you don’t kill yourself.”

“It’s all uphill from there.”

Maintaining that balance between friends and school takes time management, according to Hayden. A skill he admits is especially important for student athletes: “One thing that really got me last year about being a student athlete is that you had to manage your time wisely. That’s something everyone gets told whether you are a student athlete or not.”

In fact, when reflecting on his first year at Missouri State, Hayden recalls a schedule packed with school and soccer commitments, leaving little down time.

But now, he’s found a balance that comes from knowing his own limits, becoming familiar with the demands of school and sports, and gaining perspective on how classes work.

His advice to student athletes feeling the same? Patience: “Don’t get disappointed if you don’t enjoy your first semester. It’s all uphill from there.”