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The Lonely Road To The Top - How To Get Into The 3% Of Players That Make It To College

Hello Academy Players & Families!

As I was walking around the soccer field setting up for the Summer Intensives last week, my mind drifted to how proud I am of the players who have signed up for the training this year. The numbers for this year’s training are down by about 25%. A big statement I will make before I go any further is that while participation numbers are down, the expectation levels of players and parents to play at a high level have not dropped. Numbers are down 25%, but 100% still expect to play in college and get a scholarship. Numbers are down 25%, but 100% still expect to make the elite club team and play varsity. NCAA studies show that only about 3% of soccer players in any given age group make it to the college level, so as I walked around the field setting up I had these thoughts on what it takes to make it into that 3%.

I think the biggest challenge to making it to the 3% is being OK with the lonely road to get there. It takes far more than just talent, although talent is extremely important. As with any goal, achieving it is going to cost you something and its important you know the price of that before you set off. To make it into that 3%, if that is your goal, is going to mean you have to miss out on a lot of things. You will have to say “no” to parties, you will have to say “no” to social events. Not all of them all the time, but at times when attending those things are at the expense of you being at your best.

That was certainly true for me. My goal growing up was to play in the Premier League, to be a professional soccer player. If you think 3% is a small percentage, in England a recent study has shown that only 180 of the 1.5 million boys playing soccer will make it to the Premier League. That’s 0.00012% !! So as I set off towards that goal, I had to be different and I knew that would take sacrifices. That culminated in a pretty lonely time when I was about 16-17 years old. In England, 18 is the legal drinking age so around 16 or so is when alcohol starts to enter into your social life. My friend group, many of whom were talented soccer players with similar aspirations, started to move in that direction. Friday nights were often the big nights out in the pubs and clubs so everyone would be excited to go out and drink and socialize. That’s where all the funny stories and events happened, that’s where all the bonding happened. The problem for me was by that point I was already playing semi-pro soccer and therefore I always had a huge game every Saturday afternoon (the soccer season in England is 10 months long). I wasn’t the only one, but my goal of making it into that 0.00012% was always bigger than the peer pressure. In fact, I even got myself a part-time job at McDonalds and deliberately made sure I had a shift on Friday night so that I COULDN’T go out! That all sounds quite easy, but that sacrifice had consequences on Monday morning when I would see all my friends. I was out of the loop, I hadn’t been there for all of those funny stories and events, and as a result it was a lonely year or so for me as I took the path less travelled.

But for me, it was worth it. This was before the age of camera phones, SnapChat, Instagram, etc. But for me (if I put it into modern terms), the experience of training with Tottenham Hotspur was worth so much more than not being in that selfie on Friday night. The experience of playing against the likes of Jermaine Defoe and Leon Britton for Notts County (in the photo above) was far better than being in some SnapChat video of my friends doing the same thing every weekend. The work I had to put in was far less glamorous, no one wants to take a selfie of themselves working quietly on their own. But it’s in those moments, when you are willing to do the things no one else is willing to do, that you take a step forward on the road to that 3%.

So for me, goal setting is all about aligning your expectations with reality. If you expect to make it to the college level, to the 3%, then the reality of your work ethic and commitment and discipline needs to line up with that. You need to be different than the 97% who will fail. And I can promise you this – if you are less talented but you work like the 3%, you will make it. No one who works like the 3% fail, an opportunity always shows itself. However, if you are extremely talented but you work like the 97% you will fail every single time and you will not achieve your expectations.

So get to work. This post isn’t about signing up for the Summer Intensives if you haven’t done so, its about encouraging you to get out there and commit to your goals. You can truly be whatever it is you want to be in this life, but you have to put in the effort. Ultimately, did I make it into the 0.00012%? No. But I worked like it, I had opportunities to play professionally at a lower level in England, and ultimately that work ethic gave me the opportunity to come to America on a full DI scholarship and have an incredible experience. I’m not special, the same opportunities are there for you, but they are beyond the couch, beyond the Xbox, and beyond the parties.

If you would like to join us for the Summer Intensives, you can click here for full details.


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