I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed playing with Salthill Devon F.C. for the last two months. We’ve played four friendly matches since I last wrote, one against the best team in Ireland in Sligo Rovers, the Ireland U-19 National Team, and two against county teams. These were four opportunities that I was extremely excited about as it’s not something I’ve ever had the chance to do before back in the United States.
I have to say, in the warm-up to the Sligo match, I was extremely nervous! I would glance to the other side of the pitch and see full-time professionals who play football for a living. I was on the bench for the first half, and I intently watched the game to see how the play was unfolding and where I could potentially find myself in the second half. The Sligo right-back, the captain, was playing on my side, so he was the one I watched the most. Every time he got the ball, he made his decision early; where he was going to pass it, if he was going to switch the play, if he was going to clip a ball in behind the back four. Just from a spectator’s perspective, I couldn’t believe how quick the speed of play was. Every player knew exactly what they were going to do with the ball when it got to them, and their movement off the ball was fantastic. Every player in the Sligo attack was 2 steps ahead of the last pass and were able to find space where a few seconds ago there was none.
Although I was initially nervous in the warm up, I thought about Dan Abrahams Soccer Tough and realized that in a game where the speed of play is that fast, you don’t have time to be nervous! You have to have full confidence in your abilities and your technique so you can focus on your movement, work rate, and decision-making. So as I warmed up to come on in the second half, I set my mindset on how I was going to check to the ball to receive the ball from the center back, and where I was going to be in our defensive shape when we didn’t have the ball. Tony Mannion, the manager, called me over around 25 minutes into the second half and put me on as a right-winger. At this point, Sligo were putting on a passing clinic, keeping the ball for the majority of the game. I think I might have touched the ball 3 times in the 20 minutes that I played, and all I could do was complete 3 passes to my teammates. I know I did more tracking of the Sligo left back than he did of me. Despite us losing 5-0, the experience of playing against a team like that is invaluable. You don’t fully appreciate the speed of play on the television until you’re thrust into a situation with it.
The next match we played was against the Ireland U-19’s. While the starting 11 played the first half, the rest of us trained for an hour on the Astroturf pitch next to the field. We came onto the bench for the second half, and I came on as a left back in the 60th minute. It was a little awkward at first because I’m not naturally left footed, but I managed to get past two Irish players on an overlap and put a good cross into the penalty spot with my left foot. The next time I got the ball, I unbalanced the Irish back four with a long ball over the opposing left back to put our right winger in on goal, where he just nearly missed past the outside of the post.
In our most recent preseason friendly, I got the start at right back against Mayo County. It was one of the most beautiful days I’ve had so far in Ireland, so I couldn’t have asked for better weather to play in. Our team played well in the first half, and we found ourselves 3-0 up at halftime. I almost got myself on the score sheet when I came forward midway through the first half. A cross was over hit and as I came forward it bounced a couple yards away from me from the corner of the 18 yard box. I struck the ball on the way down and drilled it back across the frame of the goal, causing the keeper to parry it across and away from the goal. Over the course of the 55 minutes, I made sure to stay positive in everything I did. I made a few mistakes sure, but I made sure to immediately divert my attention away from them and back onto the game. I’ve stopped trying to be a perfectionist and just play because I love to play. If there’s anything that I can take back with me from Ireland to Fairfield for next fall, it’s going to be this mentality of focusing on the positive and being 100% confident in my ability.
On a side note, last Saturday we had the day off so I had the opportunity to go see the Cliffs of Moher for the first time. They are truly breathtaking! I haven’t had the chance to do any travelling since I’ve been here, unlike my American friends (Talking to you Maddie) but I’m really happy I got the chance to see them. The pictures really don’t do the cliffs justice; you have to experience them for yourself to understand what I’m talking about. I made sure to wear my South Central Premier cap to give them a little shout out! I also wanted to give a little shout out to my BTE family. Eric and Mike, you guys have been with me this entire way and I can’t thank you enough for the things that you’ve done to get me to this point. Tiff, Matteo, and Manya, you guys are the best and whenever I hear about you guys doing well, it’s like hearing about an accomplishment from a brother or sister. And Kinne huge congratulations for signing with the Pittsburg Riverhounds in the USL Pro, that's big time! I always make sure to wear BTE on my wrist every game to remind myself of you all and to help me remember that I’m not doing this alone.
Unfortunately, as the first match approaches on March 8, I remain stuck in limbo. My international clearance has not come through yet from the United States, and until that happens I cannot play in any first team matches. Unfortunate as it is, there’s nothing I can do to control it. I could be cleared to play tomorrow, or it could be the end of April. All I know is that I can’t focus on that, I just have to remain positive and keep working hard and playing well in training and when my chance finally comes, I’ll grab it with both hands.
I am writing to you with shaking hands because I’ve just come back from what could possibly be the coldest training session of my life, and I absolutely loved it! When everyone found out I was going to Ireland for the next four months to try and play for a professional club, they told me that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the physical nature of the game and the terrible weather. Today, I got my first real taste of Irish weather when hail the size of large nerds (the candy) came flying out of the sky into the middle of our 6 vs 3 possession game for Salthill Devon F.C., a club in the Irish First Division. There was so much hail that it hurt my face to turn in the direction of the small beads. And despite the interference and 40 mph winds, the drill continued as if nothing was happening.
Since I arrived in Ireland, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on football psychology. I even tried to take a course on Attention, Perception, and Performance that was offered at NUI Galway because I thought it would have something I could use, but then I realized it was for psychology majors and I was in way over my head! Anyways, I was recommended to read “Soccer Tough” by Dan Abrahams from my good friend, Tiffany Weimer. In the book, (seriously check it out, it’s fantastic!) Abrahams talks about the techniques and thought process he used to help struggling players recapture their form and play to the best of their ability. I won’t summarize the book for you, but Abrahams talks about how football is played in seconds, but the brain thinks in milliseconds. Every time you divert your attention to something you can’t control, like the weather, the state of the pitch, your manager’s opinion of you, you risk missing a crucial opportunity for your team, something that could decide the match.
I thought what better an opportunity to try out these techniques then being in an environment where the weather is crap, the pitch is muddy, and I have four toe-nails that are on the verge of falling off (sorry for the graphic image!). Today, instead of worrying about the elements of the game that I could not control, I focused exclusively on what I could control: my movement, my work-rate, my concentration, and my awareness. To my pleasant surprise, I found myself with much more time and space. I was creating better angles for my teammates, always thinking ahead to find the next pass. I wasn’t bogged down with thoughts or worries of if I was playing well; I was just playing because I love the game and I wouldn’t be in a foreign country if I didn’t.
I think one of the big things I was lacking when I played for Fairfield in the past season was my mental game was completely off. I always felt like I was on the outside of the team even when I was starting, I didn’t trust myself on the ball, I was too concerned about making a mistake, and then never getting back into the team. Looking back to the fall, I can honestly say that with the exception of 3 or 4 matches, I played scared. It became blatantly obvious to me when I read “Soccer Tough” and began to apply it to training sessions. Every day for training I give myself a mental assignment and then evaluate myself at the end to see how I did. These range from “Play without worry” to “Ooze confidence” to “Play in the present moment”. I am trying to slowly add all of these mental things to my game, and especially visualization.
I was reading an article on CNN.com yesterday about Novak Djokovic called “Visualizing Greatness: How Novak Djokovic Rose to the Top” which talked about how Novak visualized being the best tennis player in the world, from the age of 6!
"Somebody asked him: 'Hey, boy! What do you want to be when you grow up?' (And he would reply): 'Be the first in pro-tennis.' He was six years old."
It isn’t a gimmick. Most, if not all of the best athletes in the world visualize exactly what they are going to accomplish before it happens. Pele used to sit in the locker room an hour before the game with a towel over his eyes, remembering the sandy beaches of Brazil and playing as a young boy. He would then envision himself dribbling around the opponent, scoring with his left foot; his right foot; a volley. By the time the match had finished, Pele had usually destroyed his opponents, just as he had envisioned.
This is the end of my fourth week here, and I think I’m finally beginning to adjust to everything. There is a gym with a racquetball court that is a 10-minute walk from my apartment. I have training every other day at 7 after all my lectures are done at the university, and I’ve even found a small turf field about 15 minutes away where I can go and work on my technical skill when I’m not at training. I’ve begun to visualize playing my “dream game” every night before I go to bed, and I fall asleep thinking about it. I can’t tell you the wonders it has done for my confidence. Even though I can’t go travelling around Europe on the weekends like the rest of my American friends here, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being on the pitch for 2 hours beats going to Paris for a weekend any day for me. Anyways, we have a friendly on Saturday vs Sligo Rovers, who won the Irish Premier League last season and will be in the 2013/2014 Champions League. I will hopefully give you all an update after that next week!
Take care, and God Bless!
"Although I have been through all that I have,
I do not regret the many hardships I met,
because it was they who brought me to the place I wished to reach.
I carry with me the marks and scars of battles
they are the witnesses of what I suffered
and the rewards of what I conquered."
- The Warrior of Light
Hey everyone, I realize the season is over and I’m finally writing my last blog entry. Things hadn’t been going as I had planned here in Fairfield, so instead of updating you every week, I hoped we would get through this adversity so I could write an entry about how despite all the ups and downs, we made it into the MAAC tournament to defend our crown. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It was a strange ride for us, especially for me. We played fairly well during our out of conference schedule, but by the time conference play came around, we were extremely inconsistent.
I was in and out of the starting lineup all year. I didn’t play in our 4-2 loss to Iona, and I only came on for the last 25 minutes of a 0-2 loss to St. Peters. The next weekend I got the starting nod and we dominated Manhattan 3-0, putting us at 1-2. The next weekend I started again against Rider and while we dominated the first half, I came off at halftime. We went on to win 3-0, but I had a feeling I was out of the team for Sunday. I was right, and I watched from the bench as we lost to Loyola 3-0 and put ourselves in a big hole for the last 4 conference games, starting with Niagara the next Friday night in upstate New York. A loss would eliminate us from the MAAC Tournament and effectively end our season.
I trained with the starting team all week in the buildup to Niagara, and I thought I had played really well. Before the Niagara game, our coach changed the lineup from the one that we had been using in training, and I found myself back on the bench, watching anxiously and hoping, praying, that we would get a result. With 20 minutes to go, tied at 0-0, I was told to warm up and I came on at right back. I told myself before I went on that I wouldn’t be nervous or anxious despite the importance of the game. I just asked myself a simple question before I stepped on the pitch. “Why do I love to play?” and with that in the back of my mind, I played my best 20 minutes of the season. Although Niagara had pinned us back in our own end for much of the second half, I helped create 3 good goal-scoring chances. As we headed into overtime, I expected to stay on the field, but our coach decided to bring on a forward in my place in the hopes of finding the winning goal. In the end, Niagara strung together 6 passes and scored the goal to end our season.
It was a very disappointing feeling, but I knew there was only so much I could have done. I knew that I had given everything to this season, and all three of the conference games we won were games that I had started. The games I wasn’t involved in were tough to swallow, especially when we wouldn’t get the 3 points. Around the halfway point of the season, I had the feeling I should go someplace else in the spring to help my development. Because of NCAA rules, you can only play 4 games in the spring as a team and train very sparingly. It really isn’t enough for players to develop, as players in the top leagues have trained 2.5 hours a day over 10 years, for a total of at least 10,000 hours. In order to get closer to that 10,000-hour threshold, I decided I needed to go someplace where I could play lots of games and train with a high quality team. And with that… my big announcement…
I am going to Galway, Ireland in the spring! I will be there taking classes as part of my school’s study abroad program, but while I am there I will be playing with a team in the Irish First Division as an amateur. For me, this is the next step to becoming a better player. A lot of you who read my other blogs will know that I’ve been reading a lot of Paolo Coelho recently, and one of the quotes from the Warrior of Light that resonates with me is “God uses fire to teach us about water. He uses earth so that we can understand the value of air.” I know that if this season had gone perfectly and we had won another MAAC championship and I had started every game, I wouldn’t have had the ambition to go overseas to try and play. I know I am going to learn a lot during this trip, and I can’t wait to experience a new culture.
Like my first blog of this year, I want to end my last blog on a similar note. Soccer is a journey, and the journey only ends when you decide to hang up the boots for the last time. If I accomplish nothing for the rest of my playing career, then at the very least I hope I will inspire whoever reads this to never give up on your dreams and continue to persevere and work hard for what you believe in. I believe that I have more to contribute to the game of football than what I have so far, and I am off to learn a lot about myself, both as a person and as a footballer. I am excited and nervous because I have no idea what to expect, but what I do know is that I will come out of this as a better player and person than who I am now, and that’s all I can ask for.
I will keep you all up to date with how I’m doing and what it’s like to play in Ireland. I’ve also included a short highlight video of my 2012 season for those of you who weren’t able to make any of the games. Thanks for reading, God Bless, and Go Stags!
“Even though I walk through the valley
Of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
Last week we travelled to New Mexico to play against the #5 ranked team in the country, New Mexico, in a Friday night matchup. Before the flight I was texting Matt Uy, who was a senior when I was a freshman at Fairfield. Matt had played on the U-17 US national team before Fairfield and is a player and a person who I have a huge amount of respect for. While we were talking, he suggested that I read “The Warrior of Light” by Paolo Coelho. I decided to take it on the plane with me, and it was so good I couldn’t put it down. One of the many meaningful quotes from it that stuck with me was,
“He accepts that his opponents are there to test his valor, his persistence, his ability to make decisions. They force him to fight for his dreams. It is the experience of battle that strengthens the warrior of light.”
I have to be completely honest and say I wasn’t expecting to play much, if any, during the New Mexico game. I hadn’t had the best week of training, I think primarily because I was still trying to shake the feeling of our 1-0 loss to Northeastern from the Saturday before. I had been out of the starting 11 in training and replaced by one of my good friends on the team Jon Clements, who usually plays as a striker. I told myself I wasn’t going to read into it too much and just try and focus on the things I could control.
We arrived in New Mexico around 9:00 pm local time, checked into the hotel around 11, and went to bed. In the morning we had breakfast and went on our way to check out the New Mexico Stadium. On the way to the field, on every restaurant and convenient store sign had the message, “GO LOBOS”. It was as if we were not only playing the #5 team in the country, but the entire state of New Mexico. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Friday Night Lights” when all of the store signs say “Go Panthers!” you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
We returned to the New Mexico Locker room at around five, our usual two hours before kickoff. The lineup would be given at six, but until then the assistant coaches had put the defensive set pieces up on the wall with the initials of where every player in the starting lineup would be. To my huge surprise, I saw my initials MD on all of the set pieces. I was surprised. Very…very surprised. But not as surprised as I would be at six when our head coach came in. He gave us the back four, it was the same as it had been in training for the last week. But then he told us the central midfielders and I heard my name. I almost cracked a smile. My first game playing center mid and it was against a top 5 team in the country…in front of 3,000 people… away! But then I thought of the quote from The Warrior of Light. “It is the experience of battle that strengthens the warrior of light”. I looked at this as an opportunity and an experience I would remember 10 years from now. I wasn’t nervous anymore. I was excited.
After they announced our starting 11, we all stood shoulder to shoulder in front of 3,000 noisy fans, who were all shouting and banging their drums and other noisemakers they had brought with them. While the New Mexico team all got together and started doing their pregame routine of trying to intimidate the opposition by holding arms and swaying side to side to Eminem’s “Til I Collapse”, we all huddled together and waited for them to finish. We didn’t look at them because we didn’t care about what kind of desert dance they were doing before the match. Nothing they did really mattered to us. It was all going to be about us, and how we handled the environment that we found ourselves in. Our goalkeeper, Michael O’Keeffe, who played at Old Trafford in the Olympics for New Zealand over the summer, looked around at us and told us that this was going to be the turning point in our season. He was confidant and believed in each of us and told us that we were each going to be accountable to everyone we were holding onto. Finally, UNM finished their song and dance, and it was time to do the only thing that mattered, play football.
The game was a battle, plain and simple. I was playing center mid because of my high work rate and because our coaches wanted to stop their defensive midfielder from building the play and connecting on passes into their forwards. I might have gotten on the ball twice in the first half, connecting two passes. But the same could be said for their defensive midfielder. He did not have any influence on the game. UNM was forced to play long balls over the top instead of building, which suited our style of play, since we have a 6’ 7’’ center back. New Mexico only threatened from shots outside the box and headers off of corners. About 20 minutes into the game, a long ball over the top bounced to one of our center backs. He went to head it back to our goalkeeper, while Mike came out to catch it. The header went over Mike’s head and the center forward for New Mexico ran onto it. As our center back chased after him, they both lunged for the ball and in the scrum the ball glanced off the post and into the goal. 1-0 New Mexico. The stadium erupted, but it was hardly a well-deserved goal. 10 minutes earlier we had a chance to go 1-0 up, but the ball hit the crossbar and went over. But that’s football; it’s not always fair.
We continued to battle with New Mexico for the rest of the game. It remained 1-0 until I came off in the 75th minute. Then, about 5 minutes later, our center back was shown a straight red. He stood there with his head in his hands, pleading with the referee and asking “Why?! For what?!” We found out later that it was apparently for “punching” their striker off the ball, but I felt that if that was the case both benches would’ve ran onto the pitch. The video of the game pans away from the incident just as it happens. With only 10 men and chasing an equalizing goal, New Mexico finally got their second goal, a header off a rebound. The crowd erupted again. 2-0 New Mexico.
Finally the final whistle sounded. We hadn’t been able to pull the upset that we desperately wanted, but we had fought valiantly. New Mexico hasn’t lost at home in over 2 years, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The game could have easily been 2-2 or 2-1 us, with the referee missing 2 huge shouts for penalties on handballs in the box. Despite the score line, I again remembered the Warrior of Light quote. We had learned valuable lessons from this match and there was a lot that we could take from it and apply to our conference schedule.
I’m a little behind on my blogging, so to catch you all up we fell to Denver 2-1 two days later. We scored first and I got my first assist, but they scored 2 very lucky goals (one was a deflection off a clearance that hit the crossbar and went in). We then beat URI at home 2-0 and drew with Brown 0-0 on the road. I think the Brown game took a lot out of us, because we were very flat against Iona in our first conference game. They came out wanting to knock off the defending MAAC champions, and they did it 4-2. We now have a week to prepare for St. Peters and Manhattan, who are two tough places to play because of the environment. I think we will have a very good week of training and will bounce back with two wins this coming weekend. Thank you all for reading, God bless, and Go Stags!
When I last wrote, we were 1-1 and coming off a 1-0 loss to Boston College. The loss was especially tough because I did not play, and I began to question whether I had actually improved as a footballer. Well, three games and about 180 minutes later, I can tell you I have finally been given a chance to break into the starting 11. We had three tough matches in six days: a home game against Yale, followed by an away game at Long Island University, and finally a Saturday night home match against Northeastern.
I came on for the last 20 minutes against Yale, when the match was still 0-0. After some nice buildup play between our center midfielders Sean Fahy, Jake Zuniga, and Johnny Martinez, the ball was played wide to our left back George Newton. I was playing left wing at the time and as George ran with the ball I stayed wide to give him space to come inside. He looked up, took a touch and bent the ball into the right side netting of the goal. After withstanding Yale’s final pushes to equalize in the last 10 minutes, we escaped with a good 1-0 win.
With only two days rest in between games, we travelled to Brooklyn to play LIU. LIU’s home field was right in the middle of the city, with buildings on all four sides. It was a bit like playing in a cage. I was still not in the starting lineup, but I texted my friend Tiffany Weimer and told her I felt I was on the verge of getting into the team. “Keep positive and keep your head up, you’ll get your chance”, she told me. The match was a bit sluggish to start, with neither team really creating any clear-cut chances. Around the 35th minute, a ball was crossed into the box by the LIU left winger and their center forward got his head to it and put it in the bottom corner. 1-0 LIU. Five minutes later, I was in the game, playing as a right back, my most comfortable position. Halftime came and our coach told us we needed to push the tempo and put them on the back foot.
As the second half started, I began to push farther and farther up the field, playing almost as a right winger. I had two great opportunities to score. The first was a header that was cleared off the line by one of their center backs, and the second was a diving header that was just wide. I don’t think LIU really had an attempt on goal because we were in their side of the field for most of the second half. All I was doing was running up and down the right sideline, doing everything I possibly could to help us find the equalizing goal. With 10 minutes to go in the second half, our striker Reco McLaren got in behind the back 4 and headed a bouncing ball over the goalkeeper’s outstretched hands. 1-1.
We knew the second goal wasn’t far away. As the overtime started, our central defender Adam Cowen stripped the center forward and played a ball into our center mid Dan Shaw. He played a great ball in behind the back four again, but this time to Tim West. Tim was playing on my side, and all I could see was his first touch that split two defenders, and then a toe-poke that flew into the top corner! We all jumped on top of Tim as he ripped his shirt off. We had beaten LIU 2-1 in overtime, and I had played the entire second half and overtime. After the game, I checked the Adidas Micoach that I have in my cleats, and in the second half alone it said I ran more than 5 miles. Typically, a fullback will run 5-6 miles over 90 minutes, which put into perspective for me, how hard I had worked to help us win the game.
Two days later, we prepared for our toughest test in Northeastern. I had been in the starting 11 for the two days before the game in training, so I had a feeling I was going to start. Even though I was starting, and despite the fact that Northeastern were going to be one of the best teams we’ve played, I wasn’t anxious at all. I felt that my preparation for this game started way back in January, so there was no need to be nervous. The game ended up being a very high intensity battle. We were on top for periods, and then Northeastern would have a period where they were on top of us. As I had done in the LIU game, I continued to press forward and get involved in the attack. I actually created some of good scoring chances in the match. The first was about halfway through the first half, our forward Reco played a ball back to me at the top of the box and I played it across the face of the goal. It was deflected back to me, and with my second attempt a defender inside the six-yard box blocked it. We continued to push for the winning goal during the second half, and continued to stay high up the pitch. Our back four was defending very well, and I was continuing to get involved going forward. As the play developed on the left flank, I began to sneak forward until one of our players got the ball and played me into the 18-yard box. As I ran toward the corner of the box to get the ball, one of the Northeastern players shoved me from behind without getting near to the ball. The spectators and my teammates shouted for a penalty, but nothing was given.
The game remained tied at 0-0, and we went to overtime. I thought we could’ve won the game in the first overtime, but as the second overtime started, I felt the game was beginning to slip away from us. In the 109th minute, a cross came into my side in the box. I saw the ball late, and originally planned on guiding it out for a corner, but as the ball dropped toward my thighs I crouched down and flicked it on. The ball rolled to the side of the 18 and one of the Northeastern players got there before me. He did a little inside-outside move and as I stretched out my foot to block his low cross, it went behind my foot. The ball bounced off the hand of our outstretched goalkeeper and one of their strikers poked it into the back of the net. 1-0 Northeastern. I couldn’t believe it.
I’ve been reflecting on the game for the last few days, and the goal has still been bothering me. Today I finally had a chance to put it behind me as I watched the film of the game and know that I did everything I could to help us win the game. It just didn’t happen for us this time. When I watched the film, I kept track of the number of passes I had attempted and the number of passes I completed. I had 34 passes and completed 28 of them, which works out to 80%. The next game I play, I obviously want to improve that percentage to above 90%, and to the point where I never give the ball away. Regardless of whether I stay in the starting lineup the rest of the season, I am going to continue to work hard on my own to get better technically. The next game I play, I want us to win above all, and I want to complete 100% of my passes. Tim Tebow has a quote that I love, and it goes, “If you constantly try to reach pe.rfection at everything, you’re not going to reach it, but you’re going to get close. And that means that you’re going to get close to excellence and that’s what we’re always striving for”
Although we wanted to go 3-0-0 this week, we came 1 minute away from going unbeaten, and if we continue to try to do better every week as individuals and as a team, then the sky is the limit for how far we can go
I was browsing through Goal.com the other day, and I saw an article on Cristiano Ronaldo speaking about how he was currently “sad” at Real Madrid. Many people don’t like Ronaldo for his attitude or find him to be very selfish, especially because he is constantly compared to the very humble Messi, but he said one thing at the end of the article that caught my attention…
"At this point, I just want to guarantee to the Real Madrid fans that my motivation, dedication, commitment and desire to win all competitions will not be affected. I have too much respect for myself and for Real Madrid to ever give less to the club than all I am capable of.''
I grew up supporting Manchester United, and I was heartbroken when Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid. Being someone who has followed him since his early days in Manchester, I tend to look beyond his “selfish attitude” and see his incredible work ethic. Sir Alex used to say how Cristiano’s ability was no accident. “Everyday he practices. So its no accident how you see the improvement today. It’s not an accident. It’s by his own design, his own desire, and his own determination, to be the best.” It is for this reason that I don’t find him arrogant. To me, Ronaldo is extremely confident in his own ability, but he has a right to think this way. He has put in all the extra effort on the training ground, and has reaped the rewards with his unreal scoring tally the past few seasons. Cristiano is much-improved player from the young Portuguese teenager that first joined United back in 2003.
Although I am not a professional, and I don’t fire the goals in like Ronaldo does, I felt like I could relate to his quote in the Goal.com article. Despite my extra work over the last 8 months, all I have to show for it so far is 30 minutes in a 1-0 win vs Columbia, and no minutes in a 0-1 loss to Boston College. To me, the team result will always be the most important. I know that. But I would be lying if I said I was happy with my contribution to this point. I’m an extremely fierce competitor, and I will never be happy sitting on the bench. But referring back to Ronaldo’s quote, I have way too much respect for myself, the Fairfield program, and those who helped me get to this point to ever give less than 100%. The sadness that comes from not playing has not impacted the way I conduct myself.
Despite my sadness, I remain positive. I know how much I have improved from last fall and I know I still have a big role to play in this season. It is going to take a little more patience than I was expecting, but I know that all those extra hours at 6 in the morning were not in vain. The next week is going to be grueling for us, with 3 matches in the next 6 days. When my next blog comes, I will hopefully be writing to you with an overall record of 4-1-0. Thank you all for reading, God bless and go Stags!
Fairfield may have offered me a spot, but the journey is far from over. There should never be one final destination in soccer or any other occupation you have. If you are passionate about getting better in anything you undertake, you should never settle for being as good as you are. Every day should be seen as another 24-hour opportunity to get better. The path is not easy, and it is riddled with complacency and pessimism, but the one who goes out and practices day after day, simply for the sake of practicing, is the one who is on the path of mastery.
Success and becoming better in whatever occupation you are undertaking only happens from hours and hours of grinding on the “plateau”, so to speak. The plateau is the place where every athlete finds himself at many points in his or her career. It’s the place where you will work for hours and hours and hours before seeing any improvement. The plateau is what discourages most people from ever attempting to get better, because they are only focused on the result, and not the process. I didn’t realize this until around January of my sophomore year. I had played in 2 games as a freshman and saw a fairly substantial increase in playing time during the 2011 season when we won the MAAC Conference. I only started one game though, and I wanted become a full-time starter in 2012 more than anything. I was willing to sacrifice sleep, video-games, partying, and anything else that did not truly matter to me. I came to this decision while on my way to visit my friend Jon in England over winter break.
During the eight hour flight, I managed to read two books; The first was Tim Tebow’s book “Through my Eyes” and the second was “Mastery” by George Leonard. I was amazed at how much effort Tim Tebow put into everything that he did. He knew that the one thing he could control was how hard he worked, and he would not let anyone outwork him. In reading “Mastery”, I began to understand that success wasn’t about the number of awards I won or the recognition I received, but instead was all about practicing day after day. By the time I had returned to the states, I had a new perspective on what it would take for me to become a better player.
As absurd as it sounds, I woke up every single weekday at 5:30 AM and drove to the local high school’s turf field. During the first couple months, it was too dark to see the ball, so I had to use the light from a nearby floodlight on the field. For an hour and a half I worked exclusively on my technique, doing foot-skill drills and anything else I could think of that would benefit me. I would work for 1 minute, and then rest for a minute by juggling. By the end of the session, I would guess I had gotten around 4,000 touches on the ball. Multiply that by 5 days a week and I was getting 20,000 touches on the ball every single week. I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about being tired in training if we had it that day, or a little more fatigued for team lifting or running. All that mattered was that I became better on the ball, which was the only thing that could keep me from becoming a full-time starter.
After the first few weeks, I saw tremendous improvement in my confidence on the ball, but then for the next month or so, I didn’t see as much. But I knew it wasn’t about seeing the improvement every day, even though it was always nice to know that your hard work was paying off. The most important part was practicing just for the sake of practicing. I began to juggle a size 1 ball, and then progressed to a tennis ball. By the end of the spring I was getting close to 80 juggles on the tennis ball.
I carried this routine forward all the way through the spring. By our last game against Fordham, I could truly see the strides I had made. I had this incredible self-belief that every time I received the ball, I would connect a pass. The best players in the world never lose the ball, and that became my goal every game. To the best of my ability, I knew I was going to keep the ball every single time and make positive decisions when I was in possession.
And so with that improvement I look toward the 2012 season. There are very few things you can control in soccer. One of the few things you can control is how hard you work when no one else is watching. It’s all well and good to do extra sprints after practice when the coach is watching, but it’s another thing entirely to work as hard as you can when you know you won’t be receiving instant gratification or praise from it. I know that regardless what happens this season, I am a better player now than I was eight months ago, and I know I will be a better player next year than I am now.
Video of Matt Danaher training on his own to become a better player. The song is called "The Mighty Rio Grande" with words from Will Smith.
Hey guys, for those of you who didn’t follow my blogs last year, my name is Matt Danaher and I am going to be a junior at Fairfield University. I always think that first blogs are tough, so I’m going to start this year by telling you all about my story and how I ended up at Fairfield in the first place. My story is filled with highs and lows, failures, and hard work, but if there’s one thing you take away from this blog, I hope it’s that you remember to never give up on your dreams, and to never let a coach or anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your goal.
My goal was to play Division 1 soccer in college. My journey started at a top premier club in Connecticut at the U-17 age during my junior year of high school. Our coach told us at the beginning of the season that his #1 goal was to get us all to the colleges that we wanted to play at. After a few long months, I began to realize that this statement was completely false, and I also began to realize that this coach did not have my best interests at heart. He also did not like me. He didn’t like the way I played; he didn’t think I was good enough technically; or fast enough; or whatever. I simply did not fit his mold of what he thought a good player should be. There was a tournament I remember coming back from on a coach bus with the team, and when we got back I remember telling my dad that I wanted to quit soccer and never play again. I was so upset I almost punched a hole in the shower when I got home.
After a little pep talk from my parents, we decided that I just needed to keep working hard and eventually it would all work out. I stayed on the team, making sure I continued to attend every training session, and play as well as I could. As a team, we were doing well, and we won our semi-final state cup game to reach the finals.
Our coach took the cup final very seriously, and he made our entire team stay overnight in a hotel in Hartford so that no one was tired from driving up the day of the game. I was really looking forward to this game, particularly because I had been in contact with Yale University and coach Brian Tompkins. He had responded to my email and told me that they were looking forward to seeing me play in the state cup final. I made sure that I forwarded that email to my coach. As I sat in bed the night before, I remembered that our team had 19 players (2 had just been added to the roster about a month before), but only 18 players were going to be included in the squad for the match. “There’s no way I won’t be rostered to play... I’ve been playing really well this month," I thought to myself.
I woke up in the morning and my parents and I made our way to the field. After checking in with the referee, we all went to put our bags down by the bench. I heard the referee ask my coach for his team-sheet. My ears perked up, and I turned around to see my coach looking at me. He quickly muttered, ”Matt, you’re not rostered for the game," and then turned away. Immediately I zoned out. It was like that sentence had taken me from the state cup final and submerged me underwater in the Arctic Ocean. Surrounded by my teammates, I was the loneliest person on the planet. I couldn’t hear anything anyone said, and I knew I was watching my dream of playing in college being slowly drowned and washed away.
We won the match, but I don’t remember the score or what happened. All I remember was being approached by my coach after the game, as he tried to tell me that there would be lots of college coaches in the Regional tournament to see me play. I gave a slow nod, trying to hold back how I really felt. I decided that if I hadn’t even made the squad of 18 for this game, there was no way I was going to play one minute in the Regional tournament. I left the team, and decided to focus exclusively on my college camps and finding a new club.
A couple of weeks later, I attended the tryouts for the South Central Premier U-17/18 Development Academy. Coach Quinn, the head coach, approached me after the tryout and asked me what I thought of the tryout. I told him I really enjoyed it and I liked the players that were already on the team. He told me that the team would be in contact with me, and the next day he called me to say that I had made the team. He must’ve thought I hung up the phone because I didn’t say anything for a good 15 seconds, but I was actually so excited that I couldn’t speak without sounding like a little boy on Christmas. I composed myself, thanked him for the call, and told him I would love to play with them next season.
I have to thank Coach Quinn, because he saw something in me that this other coach didn’t. He thought I could develop into a solid player, given the right coaching and the right situation. I know I wouldn’t be playing at Fairfield today if it wasn’t for South Central, and I have to thank them for giving me an opportunity to develop and become a better player.
Despite having a good high school season, I still hadn't found a place to play in college. I had remained in contact with Yale, but they had informed me that I wasn’t one of their top recruits, so they wouldn’t be giving me any help with admissions. I emailed Fairfield to tell them I was interested in the program. I told them that both of my parents had attended Fairfield, and that I would love to be a part of the soccer team. In January of my senior year, Fairfield U saw me play in a couple of home games for South Central. They told me that they liked what they saw from me, and that if I decided to attend Fairfield; I would have a spot on the team for preseason. It wasn’t a scholarship, or even the guarantee of a spot, but it was exactly what I was looking for, an opportunity.