Growing up playing soccer here in Sydney had its up and downs. Some unbelievable moments and emotions come to mind playing representative soccer, high school games and local Sunday soccer. The relationships and experiences that come with playing soccer are super fulfilling and shouldn’t be taken for granted… as we all came to know in 2020.
It was always tough for me trying to crack it in the now known NPL system as a young kid. We always hear about the politics that goes on in the NPL system, and I experienced it all firsthand. I had a successful youth career playing at Sydney University, where I still to this day keep in touch with teammates and coaches alike.
As the years progressed and the club gained promotion, retention became an issue. Quite frankly I wasn’t good enough to play in the Super League, which is now known as NPL II. As the years progress in youth soccer, you see the funnel get smaller and many players drop out of the game altogether. I was almost one of those players… with limited opportunities in my local area, I had to result to park soccer in my final years of high school. These years also played host to some of my best memories in soccer; winning league championships and playing in the NSW Champions of Champions.
Coming out of high school I was a little bit lost to say the least. I began working on a building site and I deferred from university for a year to enjoy some independence and take a well-deserved gap year. I was still soccer obsessed but the pathway wasn’t there for me anymore. I remember coming home one afternoon after being on a building site all day, covered in muck and drained from the sun. I’d received a letter from a large recruiting agency offering me to trial at Valentine Sports Park for a US College scholarship. Without much hesitation, I immediately signed up and I was locked in for a trial.
A few weeks rolled by, and I was all set to go. Instantly the common insecurities came back of soccer trials and the stress of playing well and performing on the day. I’d already played it down in my head that I wasn’t going to get selected, so I wasn’t as anxious as what I normally would’ve been going into a trial.
The night rolled around and with little expectation on myself, I ended up playing extremely well. In all honesty the standard at the trial wasn’t exactly brilliant... it led me to being called by this recruitment agency who brought me in and gave me the pitch on the US college system. It was short, it was brief but to the point. The recruiter explained to me how you live on campus, you train every day and…. that was enough. Being completely soccer mad and having an opportunity where someone potentially wanted me to be a part of their program and I got to play soccer every day. I was sold. In hindsight my lack of due diligence was my downfall. I didn’t do enough to prepare for my US college experience. The help I received from my agency was little to none, but that’s a story for another time. I wasn’t playing at a good standard before I left, meaning the video footage I had wasn’t great. I didn’t understand the different associations, divisions, or level of competition. So, when it came around to decision making time, I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for.
"You have full time coaches, trainers, dietitians, physiotherapists, strength & conditioning coaches and much more. You have access to gyms, video rooms, athletic training rooms, practice fields, home fields with massive grandstands."
I eventually accepted the only offer I received and that was a school called Tennessee Temple University, who at the time competed in the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association). With no disrespect to this association, it’s not exactly strong. My schooling experience at TTU is again a story for another day. However, I do want to highlight what it meant to be a college athlete and why I kept returning year after year for the next four years. It was such a thrill to be involved in a sporting competition where the stakes are so high. You’re in an environment where Universities and Colleges invest lots of money, upwards of millions… You have full time coaches, trainers, dietitians, physiotherapists, strength & conditioning coaches and much more. You have access to gyms, video rooms, athletic training rooms, practice fields, home fields with massive grandstands. The infrastructure alone is greater than that of most professional clubs here in Australia. This is an environment, where you have a set schedule, and you train every day as a team. You prepare like a professional, you have the set up of a professional and in all honesty, you feel as if you are a professional athlete. Name another sporting environment like this at amateur level in the world? I’ll wait….
"Taking away all the glitz and the glamour of college soccer, the most rewarding thing for me was the relationships that were made along the way."
We had the opportunity to travel all over the United States for free. Those long coach rides will be sorely missed, getting on board with all your teammates. The buzz of travelling to a new program to play at their facilities and in front of their fans. These journeys were long, but we travelled in luxury. Coaches with Wi-Fi, TVs, and recliner seats. If the trip was long enough, we’d stay the night in a hotel and that was another awesome experience altogether.
Taking away all the glitz and the glamour of college soccer, the most rewarding thing for me was the relationships that were made along the way. Taking that initial step is always the hardest, leaving the comfort zone of friends & family and the relationships you have at home.
It’s not always easy over there, there are tough days. You will miss home, you may get injured, you might be out of form, and it will take time to adjust.
However, if you go into this with an open mindset, a willingness to learn, a strong work ethic the opportunities and experiences are endless. I’m lucky enough to keep in touch with many of my teammates, professors and friends I made along the journey. I got to experience a new culture, play with players from all over the world, earn a degree but most importantly I had an experience that no-one will ever be able to take away from me.