FIVE TRUTHS I LEARNED IN FIVE YEARS AS A PROFESSION ATHLETE
WE ASKED FIVE PLAYERS TO WRITE ON ONE COMMON TOPIC. ENJOY THE SIMILARITIES, THE CONTRASTS, AND THE HONESTY IN THEIR INTROSPECTION.
Zarek Valentin, Portland Timbers defender
It’s been quite a ride, but this is only the beginning. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far…
Silence the background noise
One of the first things I learned as a professional athlete was to filter the noise. There will always be people and the opinions that come with them. One second you’re the worst player, and the next you’re the best. I did myself a favor and stopped reading the comment sections of sports websites a long time ago. Here in Bodø, multiple news sources rate the players after every game and I learned very quickly that it wasn’t in my best interest to bother reading anything printed. There are other motivations aside from actual performance and skill that go into the rating systems, personal biases included.
This is a job
Juan Pablo Angel once told our team, Chivas USA, that we were on the field to work and not make friends. Of course we could be friends, but once we stepped on the pitch it was time for business. His words resonated with me. You’re not always going to be friends with your co-workers but you need to respect them. We are all there for a common goal and to win for our team. Despite this, I still strongly believe that the best and most successful teams are those that have a great chemistry on and off the field. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but as long as the team gets the result it wants, your job is done.
Your body’s needs will change
The longer you are in this career, the more you start to feel the toll it takes on your body. At 24, I can proudly say my body is in great shape but don’t get me wrong when I say I do not feel the same way I did when I was 18. Back then, I could step onto a field and power through a ninety minute game. Now, I take my time to properly warm up and follow a comprehensive self-care routine after and between trainings that is essential to keeping my body in working order. Every year that is gained in age forces a player to adapt and manage their body in new and different ways in order to perform at their best. I envy some of my teammates that drink coffee and play cards before training, but I know that my leg kicks and warm up around the locker room are what I need. I remember veterans reminding me if I thought it was bad being sore at 24 then to just imagine them at 34…thanks Davy Arnaud.
There’s a life after all this
The unfortunate reality of most professional sports is that they don’t provide very long careers for players. Some sports more than others, make it quite easy for an athlete to comfortably retire on a cushion of money after they are done throwing a ball or hitting a puck *cough cough*. However, this really isn’t the case for the majority of soccer players out there. Most are thrown right into the nine to five working world right after they are done. Some players even have a second job while playing. Don’t get me wrong, we are lucky to be able to play professional sports for a living but I have to be realistic about my future and how I plan to provide for my family once this is all over.
I’m a commodity
Finally, one of the most important things that I’ve learned in the professional sporting world is that I am nothing but a commodity. No hard feelings. We are being paid for the services we provide and the second that we can no longer produce, there will be someone younger, better, and cheaper waiting to take our place. Lets face it, the guys in the MLS get traded like Pokémon cards. I’ve seen players get traded more than once within the same season. That’s a lot of moving around. This part of the career is especially difficult on our families. This idea continues right into Europe and the rest of the world where players are often signed and trained in order to turn them around and be sold for a profit.
After all is said and done, this is the life I signed up for and I can’t deny that I still feel like the luckiest person in the world to be doing what I love every single day.