So why do I mention this book now for this particular blog? Well, in the past few weeks I’ve held conversations with many of my good friends who find themselves dealing with the same kind of problems that Bill Strickland had to deal with, and there are some amazing quotes in this book that I think everyone can relate to. Bill writes, “In the same fashion that poor folks are shaped and limited by the unforgiving world into which they were born, we all allow ourselves to be defined by the external circumstances of our lives, in terms of what lies beyond our reach, in terms of dreams that will never come true… We all labor under false assumptions that have us living lives that are less than they could be. We all are too easily convinced that we lack the capacity to make our dreams come true.”
Too often we find ourselves limited because of the labels and assumptions that people make about us. We build mental walls in our heads and accept a restricted self-image of exactly what we are capable of. I can tell you from a soccer perspective, this could come from being left out of the starting team and, as a result, labeling yourself a “benchwarmer”, but it can also be what other people think about you. In my case, when I went to Ireland, me being an American was a negative connotation that I had to carry with me. In my first meeting with the manager of one of the Irish clubs, we talked about college soccer and he told me how a team from North Carolina had come to play against one of the clubs U-18 teams, and ended up getting embarrassed 6-0. He told me that American players may be more athletic, but they don’t have the technical ability or the “football brain” that the players in Ireland have. He was making a broad generalization that included me, trying to tell me what I was capable of before he had even seen me with my boots on. To be fair, most of what he said is true. College teams are more athletic, but lacking in technical and tactical awareness. But in that moment, I had to convince myself that it was possible to break this stereotype.
The first 45 minutes ended in a 0-0 score line, but from the instant the 2nd half whistle was blown, both teams seemed to kick into another gear. I think one of my best attributes as a player is the energy level I bring when I'm on the pitch, and I hoped that I would be able to help give the team a lift and just maybe help us sneak out of New Haven with a win. About 15 minutes into the 2nd half, after some great buildup play through our middle of midfield, I had a great opportunity to put us in front with a volley from outside the box that smashed off the bottom of the crossbar and bounced back out. One of our assistants at Fairfield, Rich Williams, had been kind enough to stay after training with me every day that week to do some extra finishing. He encouraged me that if I had the opportunity, to strike the ball with my laces, not try and guide it with the inside of my foot. In that split second, I simply reacted and struck the ball with my laces, only to miss a goal by mere inches. 10 minutes later, our striker Reco was brought down in the box and the referee (maybe generously) awarded us a penalty. Jon Clements, one of my closest friends on the team, starred down the keeper and calmly put us ahead 1-0. We knew that in order for us to see out this win, we would have to defend for our lives. Thankfully for us, and with the help of our MAAC Rookie of the week goalkeeper Joe Martin, we managed to see out the 1-0 win. As that whistle sounded, I felt as though the chains of me telling myself I was not good enough to play at Yale, had finally been lifted.
Bill Strickland had so many things he had to overcome to create a school in Manchester that could promote that all teenagers, no matter how lost they felt, could have a future and a dream beyond the dreary streets of Pittsburg. The day he had his vision for a brand new, multimillion dollar, state of the art school in Manchester, he wrote, "If I'd let myself, I could easily have dismissed that vision as a mere mirage. For starters, where would I find the money for such an elaborate structure? Even if funding was available, how could powerful people be convinced to build such a beautiful place in the ghetto? And if, by some extraordinary chain of events, someone decided that the building I'd imagined deserved to be built, what had I accomplished that would lead them to believe I was the one to build it? If any of those thoughts occurred to me, they occurred as whispers on the fringes of my conscience. I ignored them. I couldn't afford to be discouraged. My vision was too vivid to be dismissed. There had to be a way to make it happen. I knew it would be extraordinarily difficult and that I'd meet resistance at every turn, but I had no choice. If l was to have any chance of being the kind of person I wanted to be, of living the life I knew was possible, then I had to make the building real.”
My message to you today, is to make the building real. Don’t let yourself or other people limit your potential. There is always a way to accomplish your goals, no matter how big or daring they may seem today. Whether your goal is to become a better player, or a professional athlete, or simply to inspire others to pursue their own dreams, you can do it. All it takes is a little self-belief and a leap of faith to step foot on that path. You will meet resistance at every turn as Bill says, but anything of value in life is not given freely; it is earned through tests of character, integrity, perseverance, and love.