Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and do it all over again just so I could do things differently. Not that I’m disappointed with my career but it would be cool to travel back in time and be able to use the experience and knowledge that I have today. How would things have turned out if I had left Finland in 2003 with all these experiences already in my back pack? 

Life doesn’t work like that of course but I think it’s fun and useful for my personal development to reflect on episodes in my life where I, in hindsight, should have acted differently. I can’t, however, go back and start again but I can at least try and help others who are just starting on their journey. Here are a few subjective viewpoints, based on what I’ve seen and experienced, that I think might be helpful for today’s young players.  

 

TEAM 

Never forget that you’re only a small piece of a big puzzle. Messi and Ronaldo wouldn’t be where they are today without their teammates. In an era where SELF-improvement is a buzzword we should never forget that football is a TEAM sport. Being part of a team means putting your big ego aside for the benefit of the team. It’s important to remember that everybody wins on a successful team. A winning team makes everyone look good.   

BEG FOR CRITICISM 

It’s essential that you receive honest feedback. It’s pleasant and nice getting positive comments from your friends or parents but if you want to improve you need to make sure that you’re open to constructive criticism. If you are unsure which areas you need to work on then I suggest you go and knock on your coach’s door for some feedback. Don’t be afraid of criticism.  

PATIENCE 

It takes time to become good at something. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a professional footballer. Focus on your daily habits and trust the process. If you work hard and accept the fact that reaching your goals will take time then you’ll be one step closer to fulfilling your potential. Try not to get too upset or down if you experience setbacks along the way. Injuries, poor form, lack of playing time etc., it’s all part of your learning curve. Be patient and focus on the things you can influence.  

RESPECT YOUR COACHES  

Try to really understand what the coach expects from you and the team. Acknowledge that his position is challenging and that it’s impossible for him to please the whole group. Respect that he’s doing what he thinks is the best for the team and always make sure that you look in the mirror before you start pointing fingers. Too often I hear disgruntled players feeling sorry for themselves and blaming the coach if things don’t turn out the way they had envisioned.  

STEP OUT OF YOUR BUBBLE 

Being a footballer is a very unusual lifestyle. You live in a bubble where everything revolves around you and your football. You’re in an environment where people will bend over backwards to help you with practically everything. It’s unhealthy and can give you a skewed view of how the world really is. I suggest you have something other than football to keep you occupied. Study, read, learn a language, coach kids, volunteer, use your platform for good, etc. There’s plenty you can do to create a healthier life balance and not lose touch with reality. It will help you in the long run to have something else to think about when you come home from training and games.  

DON’T GET TOO COMFORTABLE 

Make sure that you always keep your foot on the gas. It’s okay to enjoy the job we have but it’s never okay to become complacent. Football evolves and so should you. Be curious and stay hungry. Work on your weaknesses. Eat right and recover properly. If you stop living like a professional, if you stop pushing yourself in training, there’s always someone who’s ready to take your place.  

 

When I look back at my own career there are situations which I could have coped with better and more effectively. The most challenging period for me personally was the step from youth football to senior football. Going from an environment where focus was on development to a more result based approach caused me problems. 

For example, when the coach put me on the bench I got angry and irritated and I thought the coach was an idiot. I blamed my coach when I should have blamed myself. I wasted precious time and energy when I was feeling sorry for myself, time and energy that could have been used on the training pitch. 

When I took my first steps in professional football I had so much self focus which inevitably meant I wasn’t helping or supporting my teammates the way I should have done. I was too selfish.   

Until I was 23-24 football was my whole life. When I came home from training and games I would sit on my sofa, turn on the telly, and wait for a football game to start. I could watch up to ten games a week. Football is still the best thing I know but I’ve realised that there’s more to life than work.  

I used to read news articles about our games to see what they thought about my performance or which rating they gave me. I would go in on forums and read our supporters opinions. Luckily I realised quite early that I wasn’t going to help myself with those kind of habits. These days I receive feedback from my coaches and teammates or other people that I value and trust and that’s enough.   

I could go on but maybe that’s enough self-loathing for one day. It’s annoying to think back and evaluate your own actions and behaviour because today I can see how wrong I was in certain situations. But like we all know there’s no straight line in a young player’s development and that’s the beauty of it. There’s plenty of ups and downs on the way to becoming a professional footballer so maybe I should just be thankful for the imperfections and do my best to help the next generation on their way to a life in football. I think that’s what this blog is turning in to. Reflecting on my own life in the football world gives me the tools to hopefully help others reach higher.