I was recently in Malta with the Northern Ireland U17 team as we aimed to qualify for the next round of the European Championships. Unfortunately, we finished third in our group and didn’t make the next stage.
It was a tough week but a great learning experience and a few of the players were really honest when asked how much they wanted to be a footballer. Some of these players said that they didn’t want to be a professional footballer and two even said that they didn’t enjoy playing football anymore.
When you are playing at this level you may be a little bit shocked to hear this but these players have been exposed to what it really takes to be a professional footballer and maybe they thought it wasn’t for them.
If these players choose not to pursue a career in professional football, I will help and support them where I can no matter what career path they choose. Hopefully some of the habits and values they have learned from playing sport will transfer to other areas of their lives.
If the players think they can’t be a footballer, rather than not wanting to be, then that’s where they need my support, and that of the other coaches and mentors, to instil the belief that if they really want it they can achieve it.
The professional football environment can be a very harsh place.
There is a drop-out rate of 99 per-cent from young footballers who leave their scholarship early or don’t get a contact at the end of their term. There is also a high percentage of these players who may never play again, at any level.
This is a frightening statistic but it is the reality.
Maybe a lot of these players just don’t have the ability to make it at the very top but they may have the ability to play at a level which can give them the lifestyle they want. Ability is one thing but attitude, determination, sacrifice, willingness to learn and a desire to succeed are major attributes in getting what you really want.
The same can be said about your own health and fitness and/or life goals. If you really want something you can go and get it. There will definitely be struggles and challenges along the way – but you can look at these obstacles as a problem you can’t fix or find a solution that will put you back on the right path.
No matter how big or small you think your goal is, if you really want it go after it. If you want to lose weight or be in the best shape of your life don’t stop until you get there.
If something gets in your way like poor eating habits, work commitments or life issues, please don’t stop. Work towards finding a solution. It may not happen straight away, it may even take years but as long as you know you are making progress towards your goal, keep moving forward.
Back to the example of these young players – from the age of 15 they have been asked to leave their family and friends behind to make it as a professional footballer, and this can be very tough.
But this is only the start of the sacrifice.
They watch as their mates are growing up and out partying when they have to stay in for a game the next day or they have to do an extra session to help them become a better player.
If they keep at it and are always looking to improve as a player, then they might just get their chance.
Imagine playing in the Champions League, scoring a winning goal and earning so many £1,000s per week for doing something you love.
Okay, we might never experience that but we may share the same feelings when we fit into clothes that were once too small or look in the mirror and feel proud of the achievements we have made.
You can have all the same feelings, but just like these young footballers you really have to want it.