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.
Five years ago my parents threw me a party for getting drafted. It was a great party, champagne and all. I don’t know what I expected at the time. It was all a whirlwind. That’s the thing about accomplishing our dreams.. we stop imaging past the arrival point. A dream quickly becomes regular life.
In my five years as a professional soccer player, I’ve seen some shit. Five teams, three countries, coaches fired, big wins, heartbreaking losses, teammates traded, shady deals, locker room fights. It’s been a hell of a ride.
Here’s five truths I’ve learned:
Loyalty isn’t a thing
Everyone cares more about their wife, their kids, and their mortgage more than they care about you. They need to look out for their job before they need to look out for anyone else. Loyalty only exists for as long as the decision-maker feels he needs you. It's a cutthroat business. Someone will always have to go, and no one wants it to be him. Organizations need to take care of results, not people. If the two coincide, that's nice. If not, well, see ya later alligator.
Being negative gets you nowhere
Players have a natural inclination to complain. I once heard a veteran player say, “if players didn’t bitch, I don’t know what they would ever talk about together.” We have a tendency to notice what’s wrong, then we talk about it at water breaks, in the locker room, over lunch after training. Really, we talk about it pretty much every time we are together. We complain about coaches, management, even other teammates. It feels good to get it out. I’ve learned over the years, though, that it hurts you in the end. Nothing ever got better because you bitched about it to your friends. A negative mindset doesn’t accomplish anything. It just starts to eat away inside of you. It wears you down. Every time you complain adds an ounce of fat to your soul and it starts to feel like extra weight you carry around, slowly but surely taking its toll. If you have something that really truly bothers you, step up and look the relevant person in the eye and have an honest conversation.
It’s the same for a team as a whole. The second your atmosphere starts to turn negative, you are fucked. It rolls uncontrollably down the hill. You can’t overreact after a loss, or get stressed about a bad performance. It’s over, on to the next one, and the best way to approach the next game is with confidence and team spirit. You need to maintain them, even if you have to sacrifice constructive criticism.
It only takes one coach that believes in you
You only need one person to think that you are good. It doesn’t matter what everyone else says, you only need to impress one guy. It only takes one coach to see something in you or value your skill set.
I don’t know how many times I’ve sat around with friends talking about people we know and said “that guy is playing where?” It’s because he impressed the right person. The other 10,000 people that have seen him play thought he sucked, but he found the one guy that thinks he’s good, and that’s all that matters. (On the flip side, there’s plenty of good players that got stuck under a coach that didn’t rate them and their careers stalled and now they are sitting at a desk somewhere.)
The margins are slim...
Both in differences in quality and achieving improvement. I’ve trained with players that have played at high levels. When I do passing or technical drills with them, it doesn’t stand out that they’ve made 100x more money than I have. Some days I outperform them. When they don’t show up prepared or focused, I’d most certainly outplay them (and same with players that aren’t as good as me when I’m not motivated). Overall, though, they are just a tiny bit faster in everything they do, and a fraction cleaner every time they touch the ball. It’s not miles better, but it’s better enough just to matter. It’s both inspiring and hopelessly frustrating.
To get better, as well, the gains are microscopic. Eating well doesn’t completely change the way you feel, but it changes the way your body functions just a little bit. Sleeping an extra hour might not make you feel different, but it helps you act a millisecond faster. There isn’t much you can do that will completely change your life. You have to do a bunch of things that each have a .1% difference, and the aggregate improvement might make a difference. It’s up to you whether you put in all of the work for the .1%, and I don’t entirely blame anyone for choosing not to.
If I have the best job in the world, it’s because all of the others suck
I play professional soccer because I love competing, I love challenging myself, I love soccer (whether that’s simply because I’m good at it, I’m not sure). I don’t love unguaranteed contracts, or potentially getting traded or sold any given day, or having to find a new team in a new city every January. I don’t love having to think about every single thing I put in my body, every beer I drink, every night’s sleep I get. I can’t call in sick. Sometimes I just want a fat pizza and cheesy bread for dinner, ya know?
I’ve been miserable way more than I’ve been happy. Negative feelings are more intense than positive feelings. I don’t know the ratio of positive to negative events I’d have to experience to feel happy more than sad, but I haven’t met it. I’m pretty much only happy when my team wins and I play well, so all of the other calculations - losing, getting benched, not playing well - feel pretty shitty. I’m lucky enough to get to do the thing I love every day, but when you work with your passion every day, it makes you more emotional. Every day sends me to cloud nine or into the dumps. I’m an addict chasing the high and going into a dark room when I don’t get it.
I couldn’t tell you it’s always been fun, but I can tell you I’m hoping for five more.