How my teenage soccer dreams helped my music career

When I was kid, the thing I loved most in the world was soccer. I played it, watched it, read about it, dreamed about it. When I was 13 I finally got to join a soccer club. It was across the road from my school and I would happily wait at the field for a couple hours before practice started in the late afternoon.

I wouldn’t say that I was the most talented player but just being at a club was something like a dream come true. I was in my age group’s B team and it was a really great bunch of kids. We won our league, got to the semi-finals of the cup and at the end of the year I was awarded a prize for most improved player. At the end of the season, I was also (along with a few of my team mates) selected for a small regional tournament where I narrowly missed out being selected to the team of the tournament.

All this meant that when I started my second year at the club I was selected for my age group’s A team. Initially this felt like a big achievement but things started to go a bit wrong. For a start, the vibe in the A team was more competitive and stressful. I was playing in a new position and I was struggling to figure it out – while also being too insecure (or just too unaware of what wasn’t working) to to ask for help. Finally, I had moved to another school and now my mom would have to drive me 45min across town after her work to go to soccer practice. 18 months after joining the club, my dream was already starting to sour and midway through the season I quit.

I didn’t think about this much until about 20 years later, when I finally decided to take a leap in the other passion that had risen to challenge soccer in my teenage years: music. I had been involved in the music industry in one form or another since I left school (including, until very recently at that point, owning a live music venue) but I’d never tried to really give it a go as an artist. I’d played in bands but I had never written a song and wasn’t sure if I could even sing very well. Being in my early 30s it felt like a now or never moment. So I decided to give it a go.

I worked hard on my guitar playing, learned tons of songs and started performing sets of mostly obscure cover versions before finally building up the courage to write my own songs. Like with the soccer, the initial euphoria of having made the decision carried me through and over the initial obstacles in my path but at some point the reality of my situation, just how hard it was going to be to achieve any level of success, began to dawn own me. It was at this point that I began to revisit my teenage soccer club experience.

It made me realise that there is a little-mentioned aspect of following a dream: that while the initial decision is seen as the momentous occasion, that decision must be made again and again as we progress. It must be remade each time in the face of new information and new experiences, remade sometimes with a light heart, sometimes with a grim determination.

There is no simple path to following a dream. Our dreams offer the greatest personal rewards but in exchange we must be willing to face our deepest insecurities and anxieties. We must be open to challenging ourselves, and being challenged by our environment, in ways that we cannot know before they are right in front of us. This is especially true in the music world, were there is no direct path to success (and no shortage of sign posts).

I can still vividly remember the discussion I had with my mom when I decided to stop playing at the soccer club. We are sitting on the couch in my parents bedroom, on a sunny, early winters afternoon. I remember the bitter-sweet feeling of removing myself from an uncomfortable situation. What I didn’t notice at the time was that in front of me was a door. The door was a challenge, to learn how to manage myself in a difficult situation, to try and better understand and be able to manage to the demands of a dream.

But now I know what that door. As a musician I have lost count of how many times I’ve found my way back to it. I know what it looks like when it arrives in front of me. I know the questions it asks and I know how to look for the answers. I know how to open it and to step through.

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