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.

Matt Pyzdrowski, Helsingborgs IF goalkeeper

It’s hard to narrow it down to just five things I’ve learned over my years as a professional. You are constantly learning and growing and what I think are the five most important things I’ve learned today certainly won’t be the five most important things I’ve learned five years from now. That being said I think these are the most important things I’ve learned, in no particular order, thus far in my career.

The game is a business, don’t ever forget it.

This is one of the most difficult things to get used to. As young boys we play sports because we love them. They make us happy and that’s why we keep playing them. This follows us all the way up to when we become professionals. That’s why it can be so devastating when other things get in the way of us enjoying the game we love.

Organizations will always do what they feel best suits them. They might say that they care about you and your well-being as a player but in reality the only thing they care about is results and the bottom line.

I’ve seen guys get frozen out of teams because the coach doesn’t like them. I’ve seen contracts get ripped up, sometimes to my best friends. I’ve known guys who have bought a new house and then gotten traded a month or two later. The truth is nothing surprises me anymore.

We are in a results oriented business and if you aren’t helping them win you better believe they are going to be looking elsewhere. This isn’t said to scare people away this is said because it’s the reality of sports. The sooner you understand this, and the sooner you understand to not take things personally, the better off you will be.

Don’t get stressed when you move to a new team. It always takes a few months to settle in.

This has happened to me at each club I’ve been at. You move to a new club and there’s a lot of things you have to get used to: A new city, new group of guys, new coach, new organization, etc. and it can be, and usually is overwhelming. It’s easy to get stressed, DON’T!

I haven’t once moved to a new team and instantly fit in. Teams have their cliques and guys that have been together for a few years already and it can be difficult to get into the group. It’s natural to wait to be included but I believe you should do the opposite. You need to be the instigator.

Do your best to get out of the house and spend time with as many people as you can. Just as you don’t know anyone, the team doesn’t know you either. Put yourself in situations where they get a chance to know you. Invite someone (or a group) out to lunch, over to dinner, or over to watch a game. Kindness can go a long way.

When I was in Portland we had a group of guys that got together every week for Taco Tuesday. It was one of the most fun days of the week. Once I moved to Ängelholm, after a few months, I started Taco Tuesday with a group of guys. That group of guys became my best friends within the team. This was one of the best things I ever did and I regret not starting it sooner.

A run of bad games doesn’t define you

It happens to everyone. You have a bad game and you feel the world closing in. You can’t breathe and you keep replaying the same mistake over and over again. Why the fuck did I do that? Maybe I’m not good enough? Am I wasting my time? Why don’t I just move on and start over?

It’s ok to be disappointed in a performance or a result but don’t dwell on it over and over again. Reflect on the game...What did I do well? What could I have done better?...AND THEN MOVE ON! If you start to worry and dwell on a bad performance it can quickly turn into 2, 3, 4 bad performances and then you end up on the bench or worse...out of a job.

The best players in the world master this. They know how to reflect on a game, take the positives, learn from the negatives and then look forward to the next game. Tomorrow is always a new day and another opportunity to make things right.

Enjoy the friendships you make

This is very high on my list. It’s easy to take friendships you make in the game for granted, you shouldn't. Throughout your career you will make several friends on many different teams but only three to five will become your best friends. The problem is you never know at the time who those three to five best friends will become. Guys get cut, traded, retire, or bought all the time. There are too many variables against you staying together for the long haul. That’s why it’s important to live in the present and enjoy all the friendships you make.  

If the team is having a get together, go! You might be tired or feel like you would rather sit at home with your girlfriend but don’t fall into this trap. You can go home and relax almost any day of the week but how often does the team plan a get together? Not as often. These opportunities to really let loose and have fun with your teammates shouldn’t be taken for granted.

When I was a rookie with Portland we had a great team, not just on the soccer field but off it. It was an awesome mixture of guys; different ages, personalities and backgrounds and we just fit. At the time I was naive, I thought that all teams were this way. I assumed that each weekend a large group of guys would get together and have a BBQ and then enjoy each other’s company or a night on the town. This isn’t the norm, this was special. At the time I didn’t embrace this enough. There were times that I decided to stay home and rest instead of going out. I still regret it to this day.

I can’t say it enough, enjoy the friendships you make!

Prepare for life after soccer long before you retire

This is one of the best pieces of advice that has been passed down to me from friends and teammates throughout the years. Most guys only focus on soccer their entire careers which is understandable because it’s our job. However, I recommend always having an idea of what you would like to do when your career is finished.

If you are one of those people that believe that doing multiple things distracts you from soccer...I call bullshit! I’ve found in a lot of ways this makes you play better. If you have interests outside soccer it can relax you and give you a necessary break.

If you wait until your career is over to figure out what you want to do you are setting yourself up for a difficult transition. This will naturally be a stressful time in your life because you go from a set routine every day to something entirely new.

We are no different than addicts. If you go cold turkey you will have withdrawals. That’s why it’s best to ease yourself away from soccer towards the end by having your next venture already in place. Do your best to network and share your plan with as many people as possible. You never know where that next opportunity may come from.