Sports are avenues for which we can learn. They allow us to discover ourselves and get closer to the truth of who we are. To expose our faults and reveal our strengths. To encourage our growth and discourage habits that keep us stagnant. However, what you yield from sports and in any aspect of life, depends on what you’re willing to see. How uncomfortable can you be? How much uncertainty can you handle? It’s not easy to look in the mirror and face the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it’s even harder to eventually look in that mirror and not see good or bad, but to see yourself for all that you are.
My relationship with football is one of exponential self discovery and growth. I not only want to be a player of the game, but also a student. I want to remain humble, but confident when facing challenges. I don’t want to feel entitled to anything, but instead hungry to earn it everyday. I want to savour the wins and dissect the losses. Most importantly, I don’t want to share my successes without sharing my failures. I don’t want to be afraid of letting the world see my disappointment, discouragement, and sadness. I want to tell the truth, the best I can.
To anyone else having to erase and chart out a new path towards success, whether you’re detouring or forced to put everything on hold, I hope some of these lessons speak to you. I hope they encourage you to keep pursuing your dreams because they’re worth it… you’re worth it.
#1 Keep burning brighter
I’m competitive. I like a challenge. I don’t want to win only when it’s easy, I want to work for and earn success. I don’t cower at difficulty. This is partly why I play with a men’s team – I love to be an underdog. When nothing is expected of me and I have to hustle to prove myself – that’s when I perform my best. Proving I belong. Proving I deserve more. I won’t just work to meet expectations – I surpass them. I give my all and more.
There are some environments that encourage this fire in me. They give me more wood and space to burn. They applaud when my flames grow taller and burn brighter. They give me permission to reach higher and higher. These are the places that have earned my trust. My respect. They don’t just get the bare minimum from me, they get every ounce of my heart and passion. I dig deeper than I ever have to make them proud. These places have taught me to take pride in my hunger and desire for more. They’ve taught me to continue burning and not once have they tried to douse my fire.
Those that try to douse your flames won’t ever see that fire as success. Take that as a sign to keep burning brighter.
#2 You are your number one priority
Throughout my career I’ve been encouraged to become more selfish on the pitch. Naturally, I play a very selfless, team oriented game. I want to keep and move the ball. Combine. Create.
The chemistry between my team and myself plays a huge part in how much fun I have on the pitch. Despite my style, there is an aspect of the game that requires you to be selfish – to take ownership. Recently I’ve learned how important selfishness is off the pitch.
The word selfish has a negative connotation. But I see selfishness as having a clear focus on yourself. Becoming better for yourself. Choosing yourself first. And being your own supporter first can keep you away from situations that won’t benefit you. I’ve been challenged over and over again to abandon my self worth. To give up on and doubt myself. It’s a test I’ve been confronted with many times and my response has never waivered.
It can be a shock to realize that more often than not the people you instill your trust in won’t always act out of your best interest or support you when you need it most. Sports teams and coaches demand you to sacrifice it all. To give it all freely. Your body, your time, your energy, your peace of mind. As athletes we can’t forget to hold onto something for ourselves. To remain complete despite how much of ourselves we give up to succeed.
When they try to make you doubt your value, question yourself and your worth, remember to hold onto yourself. Choose yourself and your ability.
Trust that your talent and hard work will outplay politics. Chasing approval and status is like chasing the end of a rainbow, you’ll never reach something that keeps changing with new perspectives.
Those that try to humble you, take away your pride, and change your priorities, should not have access to your mindset. You are your number one priority.
#3 Have pride in yourself
The moment you walk out on the pitch with the badge of your country or dream club, the pride you feel is one you’ve only imagined feeling. I can’t say from experience yet, but I’m sure it feels surreal. To have made it onto the pitch dressed in the colors of your team. With trust in the vision of the coaches and staff. With determination to play for your family and community. To me, it’s just as important to be passionate as it is to be proud of all that it took to get you where you are.
There’s no flawless formula. Pride comes and goes. Sometimes you won’t see eye to eye with those who determine your fate. And at times you won’t be seen at all. It takes great strength to show up when your effort and talent is undervalued or overlooked. It takes heart and grit and determination to fight against the odds. To persevere when the light is being snuffed out.
But the truth is, that light is within you. Having belief in yourself is seeing the fire within you and trusting it will fuel and guide you. That your fate isn’t up to anyone else. You are your own pilot and you can feel pride in that.
Those that don’t give you enough to be proud of, are encouraging you to start having pride in yourself.
The struggle of straining and working so desperately for your dream is a vulnerable one. Those looking in from the outside will never have an opinion of value. Theodore Roosevelt put it best, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…”
Not every moment, game, or season lifts you up to the next step you’ve been reaching for. In fact, sometimes they drag you down. Sometimes they pull you lower and ask you what you’re made of. They taunt you and hold you down when you try to stand up. But what I’ve learned is that no matter how something turns out, being in the arena is enough. You’re always moving forward. You’re always propelling yourself to the next best thing. You’re always a winner when you’re trying.
The truth lies in the rest of the quote, “…But who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Your dreams are just at their beginning. Dawn has broken and the core of the sun is still hidden below the horizon. Your full potential hasn’t been exposed to the world yet. You will succeed. You will keep climbing. You will make it happen. No amount of discouragement, disruption or hindrance will stop you. Because you’re in the arena and because you’re daring greatly.