What do you think? Do you like those odds? As the numbers demonstrate, it is unrealistic to play professionally in any sport.
The purpose of this article is because of that dangerous word: realistic. It permeates through every day life, and indeed this article really could be read and have an impact on anyone in any field regardless of age. While it will be discussed with soccer as the background, the ideas presented here have an application for anyone. Understand that the ideas presented are not scientifically backed, nor are they 100 percent fool proof. The major idea I offer may be able to have counter arguments and present some holes in some situations. However, the idea can be taken on board by anyone in any field, because the message I want to present is the power we all have in us for our own self-development, and for our own ability to achieve our dreams.
When asking a person if their pessimistic or optimistic, many people will give the retort that they’re realistic. It seems to be the credo of the wise who have been around longer than all of us, and that have experienced life for what it is. Being realistic, to many, is the pathway to a safe life without the grandiose expectations that ultimately lead to disappointment. Being realistic is something for adults, when the naive child in them has finally grown up.
I prefer Will Smith’s definition of being realistic. As he puts it, “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.”
Read it again, think about it, and let it sink in. Before your instinct goes to naturally combat that idea, think about it and think about the aspirations you might have had as a child. It’s my opinion that no child( or at least most children) grows up wanting to be a middle office finance employee at one of the big firms. Nor do most children grow up wanting to be a High School Science teacher. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these jobs! However, I think it would be closer to the truth if we agreed that most kids grow up wanting to win the World Cup, or the Super Bowl, or be an artist or be a famous actor. We’ll get to this later, but first lets examine this idea with regards to youth development.
The whole reason I write this blog is because of a comment I saw recently. In it, the advice was that the vast majority of young soccer players should aspire to play in college/university. Now, it’s important to understand that I believe in the fact that higher education is a pathway to new opportunities. The problem arises though when we rationalize and lessen our aspirations, because let’s be honest, few children are growing up preferring the Semi-Finals in the NCAA tournament to the World Cup Final. Let’s take the two scenarios, one of aspiring to play professionally and one of aspiring to play in college. It’s important to realize that on the road to personal development, achieving your goals and dreams is very much a belief in contradictions. We must realize how difficult it is but at the same time realize that we were born to achieve our dreams. Pie in the sky statement? I don’t think so. We must realize how even with an insane amount of hard work we might not achieve our dream, but we work as hard as humanly possible because we can achieve our dream.
So let’s take the child who aspires to play professionally. When the child is old enough to see that he or she loves the game and they have a goal of playing professionally, it is not our job to rationalize their dreams. It is our job to tell them about the merits of hard work and self-belief. So we have a child who wants to play professionally, and naturally all they do is play. Every day they’re playing on their own, their playing with their team, there’s a ball at their feet almost every second of the day. They’re the best player on their team from U9-U14 but because they want to play professionally the environment they are in is healthy enough to encourage more hard work and more practice to help them achieve their dream. You see, there’s an old saying that if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time. So we have a child that’s aiming for something almost beyond their reach, and what happens is that in the process they are constantly improving. They make the HS team but the goal is still very much to play professionally, they play Academy but the goal is still very much to play professionally. Now, for argument’s sake lets say that the worst case scenario happens and that they aren’t able to play professionally. What’s happened? In my opinion, the young man or woman has fought so hard that they are well equipped to succeed in a lower level of the game. They will be a better player than perhaps someone who’s aspiration it was to play in High School and found a college interested. Or someone who wanted to play in college, full stop, and did just enough to achieve that.
Let’s now look at the player who aspires to play in college. It is human tendency (for most people) to do just enough to get by. There’s some great work done on studying employee productivity, and the results show that in most cases a new employee will work harder and produce more than someone who’s been at the company for twenty years. The reason being is that once the employee has been at the company for a while, the majority of them do just enough to get by. So, we have a player whose ultimate aspiration is to play in college. Let’s say right here that maybe they do exactly the same as the player listed previously, but here’s a scenario I think is more realistic, from my own experiences with speaking to people. At the younger ages, the parents realize that in this day and age, almost everyone can find a college that suits their academic background. Even though the odds still aren’t favorable, they find a good club with a track record of sending players to college, regardless of division or even NAIA, and believe that just like a good school, they can drop their child off and expect in a couple years time a return via a college scholarship. Through some extra playing and practicing, the child becomes good enough to play for a development academy, and now we know that college showcases are right around the corner. In many cases the mindset of some of these young players is that once they’re on an academy team, the hard work has already been done! I’m reminded of a Bill Shankly quote, “Aim for the sky and you’ll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you’ll stay on the floor.”
There may be some inevitable outrage with regards to what I just said, and inevitably I don’t speak for 100 percent of cases, but I do think I speak for enough to warrant a majority. I understand that the numbers mean that inevitably, many players will end up in either High School, or College, and not play professionally. But realize that if we allow our young players to aspire to something more, something greater, and we reinforce that with the values of hard work and dedication, the talent pool will also rise. The old saying of rising tides comes to mind. The more we have players aspiring for something almost beyond their reach the further they will go with their development when coupled with hard work. Not everyone will play professionally, but if we change our language and allow our kids to fight for their dreams, it’s fair to say that the average talent in college or high school also rises.
By the age of 25, you may not be able to achieve your dream of playing professionally. But at the age of 25, 35, 35, 45, and beyond, college does not close its doors. The pathway to the pros is extremely tough, but it is not our job to translate improbable to impossible. Think of your own dreams of a child and think of how often the narrative may have changed for you in school or beyond that your dream job, your passion, wouldn’t generate enough income to live. That it wasn’t feasible to make a career out of. That it wasn’t realistic.
I think there are definite opportunities on the youth side to allow players to aspire for something more, but I think the danger of being realistic really takes its toll on everyone of us. My own life has been changed by hearing and taking in the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, or Les Brown, people who have helped me understand the power of self belief and of chasing dreams. I’ll share my own story to explain why I believe in being unrealistic, and why I believe that the most powerful tool in the world is self-belief.
I like what Jim Carey said when it comes to our own aspirations and goals. “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.”
Just like the quote earlier, read it again and let it sink in.
I played the game at a recreational level my entire life. I did not play for my High School, nor did I play for my college. I loved the game, studied the game, but I didn’t play at a high level. Coaching as a career was unrealistic. I had the opportunity while in University to help coach the club team which allowed me my own trial by fire, but its important to realize that when I first started, I wasn’t very good. I had the opportunity to watch the guys play Sunday close to my house and we joked about it. If you asked them, it was definitely not realistic that I coach professionally as a career. But I still endured. Growing up idolizing the likes of Brian Clough, I had my own ego and self-belief that ensured I kept working as hard as I could to achieve my dreams.
Upon graduating, I must have emailed every club team on Long Island. I had gotten a job as an assistant coach at a HS Varsity team but it wasn’t enough to live off of by any stretch of the imagination. 50 plus emails later and I received once response from a well known club on Long Island, where the DOC asked to meet me. I came on a Saturday where I helped ref some younger age games, but after he quickly asked my playing experience and found out that it was minimal, I quickly learned that there were no positions available. At this stage, it can still be said that coaching wasn’t a realistic possibility.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes we work so hard towards something that we don’t realize when opportunity is right behind the next door, or the next email. Quickly I found a job working for a niche child soccer company, and then that translated into an opportunity working with the New York Red Bulls. That allowed me to have an education like no other. To meet people who would continue my education and receive new opportunities like the one I have recently accepted. Anywhere along the way I could have easily realized (and trust me, I was told enough times by others that I needed to start looking towards a realistic career) that soccer wasn’t for me. Thank God I’m arrogant! I used to be deathly afraid of telling potential employers of my playing experience until I realized that it helped me become a better coach because it forced me to work harder than those who had the golden ticket of playing in college. Some call it arrogance, but I call it self belief. If you don’t believe it’s possible, then no one else will.
It is easy? No. Have I achieved my goals yet? No, my plan sees me managing at the highest level successfully. When some hear that they laugh, others feel pity as they think I haven’t been beaten down by that thing called life until I realize that I need more realistic goals. However, five years ago if you told me I would be here right now, I would not have been able to conceive it. Today, I believe it’s possible and the idea of having that delusional quality about me has driven me to get to this point.
There was a time when walking into a room and flipping a switch so the lights would come on was not realistic. There was a time when a computer that could be transported around with ease was not realistic. Furthermore there was a time when being able to see someone through a screen and converse with them half way across the world was not realistic. Innovation and personal success happens when people realize that realistic is a small term thrown around to limit our possibilities.
Realistic would have seen me go to law school and never have the chance to see how far I could go as a coach. Thank god I’m not realistic.
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