It’s a Journey Alright

Welcome into 2018. We’d just like to wish you our best for the year ahead. May it be prosperous and exciting!

Picking back up where we left off, I’d just quickly like to say its been remarkable the amount of “Blog Readers” (if that’s such a thing) that have tuned in. The below topic dives into the realms of reality within sport. The start the middle and sometimes the abrupt end. Some may be able to relate.

So how does it start. That want to be a sports star? 

It’s often very early and almost every kids initial first real dream. The bright lights, the stardom, the big stage, the trophies and all those accolades that follow. Well that was certainly the vision growing up for a 7 year old boy with curly hair day dreaming as he ran around the back garden losing himself in a moment of ecstasy as the ball whooshed into the back of the net.

As a kid you play because you love it. The innocence and security in that said back garden which was indeed the sacred ground where everything came to life even if it was just for a moment. Nothing to prove and no one around to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Sport can be a magical place for children. For any youngster watching the Olympic finals unfold or a World Cup final reaching its conclusion, that right there is the aspiring fundamental. The glory for all to see. Elite athletes at the very top realising their childhood dreams.

Success for anyone is an easy selling point when all you see is the winner, the guys at the top. As a kid you might be lucky enough to get Sir Chris Hoy’s thousand pound bike for Christmas. It’s safe to say that it might even stand you out from all your competitors, but what it cannot do is give you that instant success of standing on your own podium.

That takes something else.

That takes a “journey”.

Its not to say it wont be you in time, but ultimately your journey will dictate whether you get that point or not. ​ In recent weeks I have been speaking with many different parents surrounding their current situations through their son’s and daughters sporting pathways. On listening to their stories and findings, I reflect upon a few of my own.

The one thing I find is that although the era’s may have changed somewhat, the industries are still operating in almost an identical fashion at Elite and Academy level. For a parent who’s child is showing promise, there always comes a time when their development may start to out grow that of their current clubs infrastructure. Like most top level athletes they at some point seek a better fit for their own demanding growth. It’s not uncommon, but it is quite a big first step to make.

So, when is the right time? Is there enough time in the day to manage the commute? How will the current club feel after all their hard work and input? Looking back, there then becomes an even greater sacrifice from a parents perspective. For me, travelling up and down to Motherwell and Dalgety Bay in fife two or three times a week from the Borders and then having a game which in turn could scale from anywhere as far as Aberdeen to Dumfries does take a bit of doing and that’s just the beginning of it. It is fair to say, however, you could have all the talent and promise in the world but sometimes that will only flourish by having an even more dedicated and understanding parent. That right there can be a severe pressure on its own straight from the off.

I’m sure all parents would love to offer their child the chance to find out just how far they could go in sport but i can also imagine at some points in life its just not possible. Society costs enough these days without an added petrol bill that could amass to hundreds of pounds a month on top of everything else. Parents involvement is paramount but in many ways extremely delicate. I’ve not seen it often but there are parents out there who are in some respects are trying to live their own dream through their children’s footsteps. The “pushy parent” as they are known in many ways prevent or even ruin the enjoyment of their child’s development. It’s hard to find a balance but again looking back, I never actually recall my dad pushing me to do anything. I was probably unbelievably lucky that throughout my childhood in sport I was always in charge. I never once came back to the car to be criticised nor heaped false praise upon. It was always kept brief and often moved onto more serious matters like who was going to be the DJ on the marathon trek back up the road. Now, that’s not to say that’s exactly the right way to do it but as a ten year old you don’t need to hear Allan Hansen or Bill McLaren analysing your every move on the way back.

The middle chapter is the most important part of the journey. The child takes the small leap into becoming a youth and the youth begins to see that Elite sport can at times become cut-throat without even actually realising it. Subconsciously you are thrown into a world where every person in your team has the same dream as you do and they are just as good if not better be it technically or physically. With this they have their own agenda too. Some are told to defend their prestigious title with their life and some are told to look out for number one at all times. I cant talk for individual disciplines and i can imagine that the above is a great mind set to have, however for team sports it can not only become detrimental it can also be the hardest few years of your development. In the Academies you are probably looked upon to be the best of all your peers at your age group. It’s the coveted chalice for anyone looking to make their way to the top. From around thirteen to nineteen this is where it becomes something in the way of a last man standing competition. Only a few days ago, I sat down to watch a documentary on the footballing culture down south. I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to hear that children as young as six were being recruited by all the top sides. Six years old. At seven, I was still beating England in the “back garden world cup”.

My experience in football has given me a heck of a lot. Although without changing one bit of it, it also entailed that I had to grow up a lot quicker or I’d basically be left behind. Sacrifices of a parent as above may be incredible and indeed one of the leading factors in whether you get a little slice of fortune to chase your dream or not but for a youth at top level sport the sacrifice must be even greater.

Nowadays sports science has come in to play a major role even at a young age. Your diet, your core and balance work are all the building blocks in becoming a top athlete analysed by the professionals. You are the club’s investment at the end of the day and they will do their best to try and find one gem within the millions that pass through their doors throughout every age group. It’s funny, because I do remember my first ever academy coach. Times were certainly different back then but his belief was that of we’d all develop that’s why we were there. Given some faster than others but he believed in his coaching ability and the ability of the players within that group. There was no need to add the pressures they would certainly come in the later teen years but it was more about passing on wisdom and advice than to dictate and demand. Looking back that allowed the boys to express themselves, learn from their own mistakes and then with his guidance correct the mistakes almost immediately by ourselves.

Now as you go up the levels this will naturally change and the demand becomes greater but for the first few years it was about relaxing into what was top level football for your age group whilst still having a profound love for the sport in the process. Even now at boys club level going down the park these days can sometimes be a minefield for me. Thirteen and fourteen year old’s and at times even younger are being hurled abuse at, do this, do that, no, do that, I mean this. It gets that bad the kid being shouted at would rather hide behind the advertising boards at the side of the pitch than ask for another pass. That for me is totally creating the wrong environment.  Elite Youths are now being priced at astronomical fees as well and agents are like vultures swarming round their next lottery ticket. This is even without the kid actually really achieving anything, there is still a roller coaster to ride before they even get near to the top. What kind of pressure is that to heap on a child? I don’t remember that being the game I loved growing up, and I’m not sure we are any better for it now.

At sixteen and seventeen I was still madly in love with the game. These are the years that are known in the profession as the “Almost nearly’s” for a large majority of athletes. The make or break stage. You never realise it when you are in the bubble but the achievement of being asked back to an overflowing car park year after year is a minor miracle in itself. This is the part when a parent asks if the balance of being realistic should always outweigh that of the child’s ambition and dream. The statistics in football alone are there to tell you that making the grade isn’t impossible but it’s almost as near to impossible as anything else. Around seven hundred players are released every year from the game at top level down South and here in Scotland we also wont be too far from this figure. That alone shows just how hard it is. So when asked realistically what’s his/ her chances it’s almost too difficult a question to answer head on. Many peoples answers will vary according to their own findings. Academy graduates whom have the big house and fast cars will tell you that whatever their sacrifice, it was well worth it. They are the ones you always see on the TV adds, walking out of the team bus with the headphones on and their expensive wash-bags but what about the others that fell at the last hurdle? It’s at this point there’s a serious change in the wind. Ten years or even 6 months it doesn’t really matter how long you have been in the family. If you don’t cut the proverbial mustard there will always be someone else to take your place no matter how much time you’ve given or the sacrifices you have made. That drives some people on but it’s the part of the journey that becomes business like and it stretches and questions your love for the sport. I’d never change my experiences. It wasn’t always pleasant chasing the dream and it certainly wasn’t always kind. Some of my fondest memories were not about what I had managed to achieve on the pitch but that of what the education in the sport had actually taught me. Its flaws on the one hand and its greatness in the other. The best way to attack the journey in my opinion is to try and stay as balanced as possible.

As a parent and as a kid you have to take it in your stride. Enjoy the good times as a family and be ready to deal with the difficult ones that are just around the corner lying in wait. Without a doubt it’s a long process for both. The anxieties and pressures? The costs of travelling the globe ten times over just to get to the next stage?. The constant hurdles and the overcoming of disappointments?. It’s all about about educating. The realities are 1 in 1000 will have a successful outcome. It’s not Hollywood sadly and not everyone will have a fairy tale ending. If the sport or club has not prepared you for this, then as a parent there’s an even greater duty to harness the expectations throughout. They say that a dream is sometimes better left as a figment of your imagination. But just imagine living out your dream, even if it were for just one day.