A few months ago my Mum sent me this picture of the U15 team I played on celebrating after we won the championship that year. It was really fun to see that picture of the team and reminisce about those days and the guys I used to play with. But one really important thing stuck out to me about the picture, and I thought it was important that I share that with the young aspiring soccer players I get the opportunity to work with every week:
I was probably the least talented player in that team. But I went the furthest in my career.
So how could it be that about 2.5 years after this photo was taken, I was the one who had the tryouts with professional soccer teams (Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and Notts County in League One) and I was the one who had been offered a full scholarship to come and play soccer in the USA? How come me and not one of my far more talented teammates?
There are far too many factors for me to be able to explain them all, but here are a few really important ones that I believe to be really important and that I think all young players can take away from this article:
1. FOCUS & DISCIPLINE
First, at the time this photo was taken I was about 2 years into pursuing a very clear goal I had of wanting to play professional soccer. At the beginning of my U14 season I wrote a letter to every professional soccer club in England asking them for a tryout. That took time – no real internet back in the mid-90’s so I had to call all 92 professional teams and ask for the address to their youth teams! I can remember walking to the mail box and kissing the letters for good luck as I put them in! One team got back to me, Walsall FC, who invited me for a tryout and I spent much of my U14 season making the nearly 3hr trip once a week for training sessions. Although I didn’t get signed by Walsall, fast forward to my 18th birthday and not only had I stayed focused on that goal but I had demonstrated the discipline necessary to move myself towards that goal. As my friends and I got older and drinking and partying became an option, I chose not to. In fact, I got myself a part time job and deliberately scheduled myself to work on Friday nights (Friday was when all my friends would go out and party) so that I couldn’t go out and was able to be home and in bed preparing for my game on Saturday.
Missing those Friday nights with my friends cost me something for sure. I missed out on the funny stories that they’d then spend all week talking about. I probably missed out on a lot of fun. But to me, it was worth it as I pursued my dreams of playing professionally. That’s the things about goals and dreams, they cost you something. I was still social, I still had great friends and friendships. But I was able to balance it in a way my more talented friends just couldn’t. Soccer was important to me, and it showed in the way I made it and my development a priority.
This one is key. If I have demonstrated any character skill well in my life, it is the ability to persevere. I think I learned it from my Mum and Dad. I persevered when I wasn’t the best player on the team; when I was subbed out of games for not playing well; when I didn’t play any minutes; when I wasn’t signed by Tottenham Hotspur; when I had injuries; when people told me I wouldn’t make it; when things didn’t seem to be going my own way; when my teammates seemed to be progressing faster than me and getting opportunities I didn’t. I persevered. I kept going. I stayed focused on my goals and dreams and walked my own pathway. When good things happened for my teammates, I celebrated with them. And quietly, I worked my tail off. Every day. Even when it would have been easier to quit.
I was unbelievably lucky. I had a great family that supported my goals and dreams. It was my dad who would drive me the almost 3 hours each way to Walsall on a Tuesday night every week for almost a year. I had incredibly supportive coaches who believed in me in a way that made me believe I could make it. Without my family and my coaches, I would simply not have made it. I wasn’t talented enough. Their belief in me pushed me to believe in myself, and that accelerated my growth and development as a player, and probably fueled my ability to persevere in the face of adversity.
5. DEFEATING THE HATERS
Listen, if you have big dreams you will have people come into your life who want to stop you from achieving them. That can be really discouraging, and in some cases can defeat you and make you put your dreams to the side. But for me, my doubters fueled my dreams and fueled my goals. For my entire life, if someone has told me I couldn’t do something it simply made me more determined to prove them wrong. My favorite story of this is my academic advisor. I met him for the first time when I was 16 and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. My answer, as it always was, was to become a professional soccer player (or, if that didn’t work out, go to America on a soccer scholarship). He laughed and told me that would never happen, and made a point of calling my parents to tell them as well. For the next 2 years I had to meet with this guy bi-weekly and every meeting he told me to “forget these silly pipe dreams”. Two years later, I have a professional soccer contract AND full scholarship sitting on my table. I chose to come to America. And my favorite part of the story is that on my way to the airport to head out to the US for the first time, we stopped at a very busy service station and low-and-behold we literally ran into him. I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to look him in the eye and tell him where I was on my way to! Your haters can discourage you or fuel you. Don’t let them win!
I am sure there were many more factors involved, but with the exception of SUPPORT all of these factors are in your control. I wasn’t special, I was just determined to make my dreams happen. And listen, if you aren’t as fortunate as I was to have a supportive family and supportive coaches know this – I BELIEVE IN YOU!
So don’t quit, keep persevering, keep believing, and if there is anything I can do at all to support you please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Check out our upcoming training schedule by clicking here.