Austin Martz, a graduate of Georgetown University, signed his first professional contract in August with Pembroke Atleta FC in the Maltese Premier League. Austin will be blogging for The Athlete Story throughout the season, talking about life living abroad, the lessons of being a new professional, and, well, anything he wants.
Here is the fourth installment. To catch up, here's the first two (LINK(, and the third one (LINK)
Austin Martz, Orlando City B winger
I always enjoyed coming back to school for preseason. Not just because I missed my friends and was excited to be back in Washington D.C. for the fall, but because I’d be back with my teammates and preparing for another deep run into the tourney. Nevertheless, reporting back to the hilltop in early August meant one thing: Early Christmas.
Every year, each team is issued brand new gear. I don’t just mean a few t-shirts embroidered with the Georgetown logo. I mean new bags, new backpacks, new running shoes, two pairs of boots (both firm and soft ground), sleeveless, short sleeve, and long sleeve training tops. Wait, I forgot to mention shin guards, rain jackets, hoodies, ¾ pants, sweatpants, a pack of Nike socks, Nike pro combat gear, and a really nice fleece, you know, for the times you may be cold on the bench. Everything was Nike by the way.
And that’s just the beginning. I may have grown up an only child, but this was the meaning of being spoiled redefined. This was a whole new level of having anything and everything.
During preseason itself we always traveled away from campus. Team vans would transport us to Mercersburg Academy, “a highly selective private, independent, coed college preparatory boarding school about 90 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.” Everyday we’d be fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We were given housing and had access to hundreds of acres of land. Furthermore, back at Georgetown, we had the privacy of our own personal athlete’s weight room, a pool, a sauna, spinning classes, yoga classes, and a training room that had brand new technology, a permanent ice bath and plenty of highly educated staff to treat us efficiently and effectively.
If you think we were spoiled brats in college, you’re kind of right. It was beyond necessary. And yet, it’s the standard I’d become accustomed to.
I turned professional and felt like I took a step back.
Malta is awesome. It’s a new culture, it’s a new country, and there are plenty of people here who will become my lifelong friends. The staff at Pembroke are working hard and doing everything they can to ensure us that we’ll be taken care of. With that being said, Pembroke Athleta is not one of the wealthiest private institutions in America that has a large endowment and thousands of alumni pouring in millions of dollars every year. There are no ticket sales for games, and if there were our fan base is questionably 50-100 people per game. We have one physio who is a full-time Physical Therapist, so he is often busy and does everything he can to meet our needs. There are no permanent ice baths; just trash cans every so often that we fill with cold water and ice, and if we want treatment it isn’t a 100m walk. It’s a scheduled meeting and 25 minute drive. We pay to have our laundry washed, rather than putting our clothes on a loop for a paid equipment manager to take care of.
In college we get our a** wiped for us. Everything is at our hands and feet. The fields are in top notch conditions (Bermuda grass I might add), a Hoya Bus takes us to away games or we fly, and meals are always covered- Panera Bread, Olive Garden, Chipotle, and Subway just to name a few.
Malta is a reality check. Playing professional soccer in another country is a reality check. I’m in the middle of one of the biggest reality checks of my life, and unfortunately it isn’t monetary. Playing for a small club equates to having limited resources. Our pitch is an overused synthetic pitch that feels like playing on a sidewalk. There is no gym, so gym memberships have to be paid for by most players. During the day, we cannot just walk to our coach’s offices or training room for a conversation and treatment. Gear is not thrown at us for fun and our staff has to make important financial decisions about what they can and cannot provide for us. There isn’t a specific coach for strength and conditioning. Our physio is also our nutritionist, strength coach, conditioning coach, and athletic trainer. Might I add that some of our staff is voluntary because we cannot afford to pay them for their services.
This isn’t a blog entry to complain either. It’s just a brutally honest truth that I wish I had known prior to leaving college. Because unless you’re playing in the MLS or one of the top leagues in the world, chances are you aren’t receiving the treatment you were/are in college. You have to work harder to take care of your body. Your responsibility as a player and student of the game increases at least five fold. To be as forward as possible, more effort is required. In college, we are gifted with the best of the best. In the professional world, you have to go find it, bargain for it, and take what you can manage.
It’s been a difficult transition. To leave a school that pampered me and took care of me for four years was not easy. Often, I reminisce about my time there and wish I hadn’t taken any of the advantages for granted. Yet, while it’s been a difficult transition, it’s been invaluable. The last few months have challenged me to grab life by the balls, to become a man, and to take care of myself in ways I never had to. Malta, Pembroke, the reality of the professional world, is a unique and humbling experience that reminds you how dependent you are, but how independent you can become. Now I purchase my own boots, out of my own pocket. Leaving Georgetown, leaving home and being forced to find new ways to maintain myself has, as mentioned before, been a reality check, but it will not proclaim checkmate. It will just put me in check.