Pursuing Dreams of Pro Football while Completing a Degree: My Story

By Sachin Samuel|08-04-2020 | 1 Min Read

Background

Football has always been my passion and it has played a crucial role in getting me to where I am today. My journey began in Seoul, Korea as my father was posted there and I was introduced to football for the first time.

Since the age of four, having the ball at my feet was the only thing I could think about and I was adamant about playing against others. My first opportunity to play competitively came in 2005 when my family relocated to Melbourne, Australia.

Australia was where I nurtured my talents and immersed myself completely in the local football culture. Come rain or shine, there would always be games at the weekend followed by training sessions with my dad at the local park. At this point in my life, I was sure that I wanted nothing more than to someday play for a professional football team.

Australia was a fantastic environment to practice what I had learned on the training grounds. I won many games and trophies with my first club, the Beaumaris Penguins.

penguin football

Nothing says fancy footwork like webbed feet

Subsequently, a new opportunity arose for my family as we moved to Shanghai. Now ten years old, I was playing for many school tournaments, with the privilege of captaining my team to many successful trophies.

My biggest achievement was winning several Fobisia games which were tournaments that brought together some of the toughest international schools across Asia. However, I knew deep down that I needed more if I was to achieve my dream of playing for a professional football club.

I knew this was where I wanted to be. I knew this was what I wanted to do.

When I was 14, my friends and I heard that a Brazillian football club (Cruzeiro) was starting a top-class academy in conjunction with British International School Phuket (BISP). They offered me a scholarship to be a part of their team until I finished high school. This signalled a major turning point in my life as it meant being away from my family for the first time and staying by myself in boarding school.

I knew this was where I wanted to be. I knew this was what I wanted to do. Everything around me revolved around football and the best part was that my closest friends shared the same vision. Those four years were when I really learned how to play football, understanding the game in a whole new dimension.

I will never forget my coach, Jonathas Candido who not only polished my craft but also believed that I could make it professionally. I was selected to spend one month with Cruzeiro youth academy in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 2015.

At 17, I knew if I was to ever have a shot at making it pro it would be now. An opportunity came about when local professional football giants Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) had a vacant spot in their team for a right-winger, my prefered position. I went for tryouts and was in awe of the whole experience as I finally had a taste of what professional football was like.

sachin samuel football

The coach at the time was very interested in me and offered to sign me after I finished school. I was ecstatic. I had my first paid contract at the age of 17 and was part of a professional football club. It was everything I had ever wanted. Well, almost everything.

I decided to apply for a Business and Management Degree at the University Of Reading Malaysia. Several people had told me there was no longer a reason to study. However, for me, having an educational foundation acts as a safety net and fuels my ability to pour my heart and soul into my passion. I was humbled that STAR newspaper wrote a story about me, outlining my journey so far in 2017.

Challenges

Since I was 17, I have had the difficult task of balancing school work with football training. Both aspects require 100% concentration and intensity. The International Baccalaureate (IB) was a two-year program where students had to take six subjects with an additional 4000-word extended essay as well as various extracurricular activities.

sachin degree graduate

These were all part of the grading process which was out of 45 points. Managing football and IB was deemed ‘impossible’ by several teachers who recommended that I spread it out over 3 years. However, this was not an option for me and therefore I simply had to figure out how to meet the demands of both football and IB.

To put the challenges I faced into perspective, this was my weekly schedule:

  • school from Monday – Friday from 8 am – 3 pm
  • football training was Monday – Saturday from 4:30 – 6:30 pm
  • bi-weekly fitness training from 6 am – 7 am.

This only gave me a small window in which to complete all my assignments and prepare for exams. Professional football training does not ease up just because exams are nearing. The challenge continues to this day as I now have to juggle university lectures and assignments while training six days a week. Having multiple highly demanding commitments in my life meant I had to ensure that I never sacrificed one for the other.

To do this, I had to think of strategies I could use to both have my cake and eat it.

Goal setting (pun intended)

I make sure to allow one day where I can rest and enjoy myself in order to maintain my mental health.

The fundamental principle of achieving anything starts with goal setting. It provides you with something to aspire to and provides great satisfaction once you achieve it. However, It’s important to clearly state how you are going to go about achieving these goals as this gives you a sense of direction.

Personally, I had two main goals. The first was to sign a professional football contract and the second was to score above 36 points in the IB.

For the first one, I formulated a list of things I needed had to do to achieve this, which consisted of training my weaker foot and perfecting some of my techniques. I worked hard with my coach and trained even more outside regular training hours.

Regarding my second goal, I dedicate certain days to certain subjects, paying more attention to the more difficult topics. Lastly, I make sure to allow one day where I can rest and enjoy myself in order to maintain my mental health.

Time management

Time management was one of the most critical strategies that needed to be employed. I planned all activities that needed to be done on a weekly basis. Additionally, I had to discipline myself to meet deadlines for deliverables.

I cannot overstate the importance of starting tasks early and getting them done before the deadline as this prevents any stressful last-minute rushes in the future. This should be complemented by being transparent with those working with you so that you can negotiate timings that work in your favour.

Also, creating an environment without distractions was crucial to me. My brain could focus entirely on the task at hand and I could finish tasks efficiently. For me it was a study room downstairs where my phone was off-limits, forcing me to eradicate any external distraction.

Discipline

Lastly, in order to implement any of the strategies above you must have discipline. Consistency is key when achieving any goal and one has to continuously practice until that goal is achieved; it won’t happen overnight.

Personally, I was easily distracted but I found that surrounding myself with people who shared the same vision and continuously challenged me helped. It almost forced me to refocus on my goals. Eliminate anyone who can potentially bring you down and force you to shift lanes as this will stunt your growth.

Anyone can achieve what they set out to be if they constantly persevere to better themselves and do what is necessary to achieve their goals. This is what fuels me to try and excel in professional sports and higher education. Never doubt how far you can go.

Pictured: Sachin after signing his contract with JDT

The key take away from the strategies above is that none of them can be used in isolation. In order to get the most effective results, all three have to be implemented simultaneously. Additionally, you have to focus your mind to constantly practice these strategies until they become habitual, or a part of your muscle memory. Continuously seeking improvement and allocating your time productively is the key to unlocking the ability to carry out tasks under extreme pressure.

All pictures were used with the author’s permission.

READ: Three Leadership Lessons from Playing Floorball

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Sachin Samuel is currently 20 years old and serves as a right/left-winger for The Johor Darul Ta’zim III Football Club. He is also in the second year of his three year degree course with the University of Reading. Sachin’s dreams are to win the Malaysian super league, AFF Suzuki cup for Malaysia and to someday run a business of his own.
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