The Journey of a Young Athlete

Over the years, we have spoken to countless young players about their athletic and personal “journey” in soccer.  The metaphor of the “journey” represents the road that each athlete travels as they grow and develop from young children first exposed to athletics and new sports, to young teens learning what it takes to be successful and what it means to work towards a goal, to young adults learning how to compete at higher and higher levels, and more. 

While it may sound strange, every player travels basically the same road as they move from one level to the next in the game.  The difference between one player’s journey and another’s really comes down to two things: (i) when they reach different milestones, and (ii) how they react to the ups and downs in the road. 

The milestones along the journey can be measured in many ways – by the acquisition of different skills and concepts, the break-through moments in mental toughness, confidence, stress management, etc.   The challenges that precede these milestones, and that make achieving them moments for great celebration, are numerous.  For example, early in the path, athletes must learn the discipline to train with focus and concentration, the need for incredible amounts of mindful repetition to master skill, and the ways to balance demands of sport (sometimes multiple sports) with other aspects of life.  As they get older, the challenges change to become more about mastering tactics and reading sophisticated cues in the game quickly, learning to accept and embrace pressure (of many forms), and becoming “unconsciously competent” in high level skill execution (able to execute without thought).

I recently saw a fantastically documented journey of another type – of a young musician learning to play the clarinet.  The young musician tracked his hours of practice, video-taping himself at various stages.  Daniel Coyle (author of the Talent Code) featured this journey on his blog (www.thetalentcode.com) and summarized the power of tracking the steps in your journey: “Seen day to day, progress feels like frustratingly slow baby steps.  Seen with this method, the cumulative power of those baby steps is crystal clear.”

Check out the clips of the young musician at practice hour 200, hour 1000, and hour 3000:

What a difference!  And the progress was not due to luck, “natural talent,” or anything else – it was due to hard work and hours and hours of practice!  (When you think of 3000 hours as practicing 3 hours a day, every single day, for almost 3 years – you get a sense of how much hard work it really is.)

Remember this as you move through your soccer athletic journey.  As coaches, we have often remarked that we “should have recorded training” 6 months ago to show you how much better you are now … and we really should have!  While we can see the massive changes as objective experts who are looking for them, it can sometimes be difficult to see those changes in yourself.

While your journey and its challenges are intensely personal, they are shared by every other athlete with ambition and dedication.  When you get frustrated, tired, or down, remember that these challenges are faced by everyone else on the road at some point.  These challenges are described as “brick walls” by the late Randy Pausch (of “The Last Lecture”):

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

(You would be wise to also remember the same humility when things are going well – as other types of challenges come as success becomes more common.)  

FC Wisconsin Eclipse was built to provide an unmatched learning environment for players that aspire to be elite.  In other words, FC Wisconsin Eclipse was built to help you become great.  It was built to help you on your journey, to help you through the brick walls that stop others, and to allow you to share your journey with others like you.  The rewards on this journey are fantastic – and they will help shape you in many ways on, and off, the field for a long time.


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