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.

Amobi Okugo, defensive midfielder, seven-year MLS veteran

Being a professional soccer player is a blessing.

I’ve learned that I’m fortunate enough to get paid, travel the world, and develop long lasting friendships through soccer. At the end of the day for all the adversity I’ve dealt with playing this sport I can’t really complain.

When you think of all your former teammates from club to college to even professionals that have stopped playing, you take a moment to soak it all in. It gives you a shock to the system.

I mean, how many jobs allow you to be done by 2pm on a daily basis, take naps, become a Netflix feen, etc.  The appearances, the free stuff and tickets to events, the different perks - it’s amazing that soccer has given me all this. I don’t know the statistics when it comes to the chances of becoming a professional athlete, but I do know I’m one right now and I’m forever grateful and blessed for it.

Journalists, Fans, Blogs aren’t your friends but they aren’t your enemies either.

I remember being in the vans on the way from training my rookie year and my captain Danny Califf saw me reading an article about how our preseason was going. I think the convo went like this:

“You read those blogs?”

I responded, “Yea, you don’t want to know what they are saying about us?”

He laughed and said, “You will drive yourself crazy doing that, and I stopped that years ago young buck.”

At the time I just brushed it off and didn’t really think anything of it. Until later in the season and I had yet to get significant minutes and I saw someone write that the Union’s draft class was a bust, Amobi Okugo imparticular. That hit me! 

Fast-forward a year later when everything was going well, and the same people started praising me. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.  The same fans that berate you after a bad game will be asking for your autograph a week later after a good one. The journalist you liked because he wrote something nice about you after a good stretch will crush you in the player ratings after a single bad game. Life, man.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone has a job to do, the quicker you use it as motivation or even constructive criticism or, in Califf’s case, distance yourself from it, the less stressed you will be about the sport you play.

Your character as a person is just as important if not more important than your abilities on the field because the soccer world is very small.

Coaches talk, players talk, agents talk.. literally everyone knows someone. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about a player and the coach was more worried about whether they could fit in the locker room rather than if they were a good player. Having a good character goes a long way in being part of a team and staying part of a team. No one likes a bad teammate no matter how good they are.

You get what you put in…eventually.

Everybody wants quick results, it’s natural being a competitor, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. I’ve seen this first hand.

My rookie year I think I started 80% of the preseason games but when the season came I played in a total of 11 games. Luckily I was playing games with the youth national teams at the time because I would have gone crazy. Being a rookie, I knew I had to be patient and work hard, though. My roommate, teammate, and very close friend, Danny Mwanga, and I would literally stay after practice every day working out or working on our technique and when we would get home we would play soccer tennis over the coffee table. Everything we did in our off time was soccer related. I think that is why when I finally got my chance I took it and ran. I was prepared because of the work I put in.

You see a guy like Chris Wondowloski who didn’t play his first four years in his career and then gets traded and starts killing it. Guys I know like Sebastian Llegett or Greg Garza are also examples. Sebastian is always putting in extra work and keeping Greg Garza off a soccer field is literally impossible. These are guys I know who have faced adversity but because of the sacrifices they made they are and have been eventually rewarded.

As cliché as it sounds, I’ve learned in my short career that the guys that consistently are willing to make sacrifices get rewarded the most over the course of a career.

Winning is more important than form.

Being on a winning team gives you more notoriety than playing well.  You can be the best player on a bad team but where does that get you? Early vacation!!   

Everyone loves a winner. Being on a winning team changes the perception of your play. Bad games are seen as average games, average games are solid games, and solid games are spectacular.

A question that always gets brought up when guys play the Scenario Game is would you rather 1) play all 34 games and be the star guy on an inconsistent team or 2) play 18-25 games and be a core guy on a mediocre team or 3) be just another guy on a winning team.  You’d be amazed by the answers. In my career I’ve noticed that the winners or guys on winning teams are the guys that get rewarded, whether it’s with a new contract, exposure, commercials, etc.