Can You Take a Punch?

ryan-vs-bradleyInsight on getting knocked down as a young player, but having enough fight, will, and dedication to hard work to see your dreams through. Written by Ryan Maloney, Director PSP

In a pre fight interview, one of my favorite athletes, Mike Tyson, said “Everyone has a plan, ’till they get hit”. I can’t think of a better statement to start this blog on the topic of getting released from a club as a young player.

Iron Mike, most likely, was talking about one of his devastating left hooks but, speaking from personal experience, as a young soccer player on the verge of realizing a dream, I would have rather taken a haymaker from the most dangerous man in the world than have heard those dreaded words “Sorry, kid. We just don’t think that you are quite what we are looking for.”

It was the second time I had felt that sting, the first came at the young age of 11. As explained in my earlier post on the structure of the youth system in the UK, I had completed a six-week trial period at Crewe Alexandria FC, a club well known for developing high level players. I had been invited to train at Crewe after being recommended to them by a local coach. Even at that young age, I was well aware of the importance that that six weeks would have on shaping my soccer career and life. Over the course of six weeks, I had done OK. I wasn’t a stand out player, nor did I look out of place and therefore, I was invited for a second six week period.  Due to the scarce opportunities to get a foot in the door at a professional club, that news only piled pressure and tension upon the whole family.

Upon the completion of the 12 weeks, my dad and I were pulled to one side after a training session and told that at that point, I wasn’t what the club was looking for.

I often use this example of rejection when I am talking to the parents of some of the young players I coach today. It was the best thing to happen to me and my soccer career. I had spent the previous two years as the best player in a small team, the best player in a small area, this experience opened my eyes to how much work I had to do and how far behind I actually was.

Over the last couple of years coaching in the USA, you wouldn’t believe the stories I could tell you of furious parents who take any sort of similar news as a personal attack on their little superstar (unless you are a soccer coach, in which case, you will have your own personal horror stories). I can understand parents trying to protect their children from hearing too much negativity as that can be extremely detrimental to a young players confidence, however, to wrap them up in cotton wool and tell them that they ARE the best player in the world and anyone who disagrees with that will feel the wrath of mommy and daddy’s influence is equally as harmful.

The coaches at Crewe weren’t telling my dad and I that I was a bad person, they weren’t even telling us that I wasn’t a good player. They were simply telling me that  it was of their professional opinion that I wasn’t at the level I needed to be at, and that night, I didn’t learn the lesson of ‘complain, sulk and cry and everything will work out’, I didn’t get told that my dad would fix it and have that coach fired without a moment to spare. Instead, we stopped at a sports store on the way home, my dad bought three soccer balls and when we got home he said “If this is what you want to do for a career, your going to have to work harder”.

It was one of the most important lessons I ever got in regard to my development as a person and player.

I used what I learned at Crewe and I took onboard what the coaches had to say, I worked harder and after 16 long months I was signed by a Premier League Academy. Did I suffer irreversible emotional damage? No, quite the contrary and without that negative news I doubt I would be doing what I love doing today.

Through my career as a player negativity from coaches and the threat of being released was a constant, but I developed an inner confidence that allowed me to get through those rough times. Without that lesson as an 11 year old I don’t know if I would have.

When you watch premier league players, or any professional athletes on the television they all have one thing in common. That something is known as football arrogance, a self developed inner confidence that, without a doubt, was forged in a childhood of overcoming testing times, silencing naysayers, developing a thick skin and knowing that when times get tough they are up for the challenge.

How does anyone know if they are truly hungry if no one has ever taken away their bowl?

If you have never learned to regroup quickly and figure out a new plan after that first punch, you better believe that when it comes there is a right uppercut with your name on it.

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