Newsletter #5 - Dream move turns into nightmare
Welcome back, today is all about my European adventure that turned into a nightmare. As a young footballer all I ever wanted to do was play in Europe. That was my aim and I finally had the opportunity. My agent had brought forward a few different options and after weighing them up we thought going to NEC Nijmegen in the Netherlands was the best fooballing choice. It was the smallest club and the least I would earn financially, but I thought I would be able to go there and play.
Again, I was on the move, packed my bags, had a few going away dinners and I was on the plane to Nijmegen. My agent had spoken to the coach, who explained the way NEC Nijmegn wanted to play was similar to Adelaide United. I would play as a #8 and he was very keen for me to come. When I arrived, we had a chat and he explained the same thing. My first few sessions were great and I played two friendly games before the season started.
Training was tough, very different to what it is like in Australia. The sessions were all around 2 hours and they didn’t care much about the sports science side of things. My body was slowly adjusting to the longer sessions but I was finding it tough. I did enough to be selected in the starting XI for the opening match, but I was extremely sore going into this game. All I remember telling myself was to tough it out, this was your dream to play in europe and now you have your chance.
We got destroyed in the first half, they had all the posession and went 1-0 up. He took the striker and myself off at half time. I was so upset. My dream turning into my biggest nightmare. The coach was great at telling us how he wanted us to play but we never did anything in training to actually be able to do it. So it felt like it was every man for himself.
I made sure I still trained as best as I could but I couldn’t handle the mental side of it. In my head this was meant to be my dream and it was far from it. Not having anyone in the team that I could speak to was tough and I didn’t want to let my family back home know how tough I was finidng it. I was embarrased.
The way the coach treated players was nothing like I had never seen before. Lots name calling and just training hard for the sake of training hard. No method behind any of the drills we did and that annoyed me a lot. When I went to speak to him after not coming off the bench for the next 4 games he told me the reason I wasn’t playing was because I didn’t have enough power. I needed to be quicker, techincally I was great and one of the better players but he needed more power.
The thing that I regret the most, was that I lost my head at this point. How could I possibly become a quicker player? I remember thinking, ‘you knew what type of player I was before you signed me and now you’re saying this.’ You start to doubt yourself, feel isolated in a foreign country and really not enjoy football. This went on until gameweek 32 when he got sacked.
I remember waking up everyday and my legs were aching and I didn’t want to get out of bed to go to training. It was such a mental battle just to get there. If I started the training well I was okay and would enjoy it but if I didn’t then I wouldn’t give 100%. This is embarrasing to say because I now pride myself on my attitude, but I think it was just a coping mechanism.
I was fortunante that my girlfriend, (now wife) came over to live with me so I did have someone to talk to and I made friends with a player in the second team from New Zealand.
The most disappointing thing was when he left, I came on off the bench in the last couple of games but we ended up getting releagted to the second division just as I was feeling good again. This was another crazy experience to go through, seeing how angry the fans were with us after the game. We were stuck in the changerooms for hours until they had all gone.
Off the field wasn’t great either because at that moment in my life, being a footballer was who I was, not just what I did. A terrible way to be but through our biggest challenges come our biggest lessons. I still explored different cities in Holland and have so many great memories, but I know now when I move to a different country not to let football affect my life outside of it.
Another positive was that my cousin had gifted me a book called, ‘The Winners Bible’ and it was a massive help to get me through that 12 month period. I also started to read a lot of books, either autobiographies of athletes or mindset books. This is where my big interest in this space started.
If I didn’t go through this, then I don’t think The Inner Game Journals would have ever been created.
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Key lessons to take away
- Football is what you do, not who you are
- Work on your mindset from a young age
- Don’t feel embarrassed to talk about your struggles with family or friends