A child is born and from that day football is part of his all-encompassing world, his father is a pro footballer and their lives are always revolving around the game, the boy joins a team at six already showing signs that he’s well advanced. By 14 he travels to play a tournament in Japan. Here he says to his dad I want to stay here to continue my development, the father knowing too well that there is a limit to how far his game can be developed in Australia organises everything for him.
After two weeks the kid is distraught and wants to go home before his father heads back home with him he says if that’s what you want then you can return home with me today but if you do you can kiss your dream goodbye. The boy hesitantly decides to stay and the next two years he goes on to describe as a living hell, as a foreigner who can’t speak the language, no one talks to him, many of the other players do not accept him for he is here to take their position. Loneliness is a constant partner, he misses his family every day.
On his first day, he arrives at training 1 minute late as a consequence the whole team gets punished by getting crew cuts. Japan has a very different culture to that of Australia, if you are a foreigner it’s hard to assimilate and it is not uncommon for players to receive physical punishment, they are very big on respect, cleanliness, discipline, they are expected to work incredibly hard to the point of exhaustion.
He now has to look after himself for everything, food, washing clothes there are no parents around to help him. After 6 months, however, he begins to settle in and get used to life on his own. After two years he is mentally able to withstand any form of adversity, fast forward to today he is a professional footballer who has played in two world cups and won an Asian games tournament for his country, he’s played in a multitude of different countries including the EPL and the Dutch Eredivisie.
At any time he could have quit and come home, he could have taken the easy path, become a victim of his circumstances but he wasn’t brought up that way, he was taught to be a winner. He chose instead to persevere, he has made mistakes, things haven’t always gone well but with each experience, he has learned something new about dealing with difficult circumstances.
His Dad left that day as he saw his 14-year-old boy wave goodbye at the train station with tears running down his face. He too made that sacrifice many years prior, he knew that the time in Japan at this sensitive age would harden him up for the world of the professional game.
Football doesn’t last forever, playing is only a small a small part of your entire life and one needs to be prepared to make certain sacrifices.
We need to ensure that our kids understand this, many kids have this illusion that going overseas is all rosy when the reality is that it’s very tough and one needs to have a strong mentality to survive the pitfalls, the disappointments, the abuse, the loneliness and myriad of other life-altering circumstances that can only be dealt with by having goals and dreams so entrenched that nothing absolutely nothing can deter you from getting where you want to be!
The Japanese have a word “IKIGAI” The word ‘Ikigai‘ refers to the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.