It’s important to express gratitude when you have a possibility that becomes a plan. And so I must write to the parents on the Hammer team to thank them. About six months ago, at a season-end party I gave a talk about a trip I took to Brazil with a U17 boys’ team from Bethesda MD. I put it out there as a possibility, an idea, a potentiality. Today, it’s about 80% a reality for June 2011. We’ll have eleven of my seventeen rostered players on the plane, with a few guests to make up numbers.
Perhaps others go through this. You have an idea, you pitch it, and it comes to fruition. Does anyone else ask themselves, “wow, what is going to happen now?” I do not ask myself this from a standpoint of not having thought the project through; I’ve know the principals of the company, Toby and Mike, since my childhood. I’ve been on essentially the same trip with them. I know the kids I’m taking.
What I’m wondering is whose life is this going to change the most?
We are all aware of the concept that our lives are a series of decisions that we take. Left or right. A refill on your coffee or not. Pass or shoot. In American literature, perhaps Robert Frost put it best. In South America, Borges added his own mind-blowing touch. What I’ve just done is to add a thousand of forks in the road of each boy, pathways of potential that they will grasp, or not.
I was watching this documentary on the life of Andrés Iniesta, the man who scored Spain’s World Cup-winning goal. Here, he talks about his life at 12 years of age. He’d just been scouted and signed to Barcelona’s youth program. What he almost says, what he talks around, is that he was so lonely, scared, and homesick that he nearly went home. “It was a new life, with a radical change. Your family and friends, you go to La Masia, new people, all is new. It’s a brutal change, and it took a lot for me to adapt, but with teammates and people I met, it got better. The decision was complicated. It seemed the world was ending. The impact was hard; we knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity though. Everyone treated me well, the cooks, everyone . . . La Masia is my second home, where I spent half my life . . . I didn’t want to go a night without calling home to my family . . . the day my parents and grandfather left me, I remember everyone was already eating dinner. The truth is I didn’t eat a thing, I couldn’t.”
In one scene, Iniesta points out the photo frames with all his classmates. Only one has become Iniesta. I’m sure some are professionals at Barcelona, some at other clubs. Others are out of football, either through injury or other misfortune. But the possibilities all started when Andrés walked into La Masia and closed the iron gate behind him.
I think on some scale, our trip will give the Hammer players a chance at a similar experience, to see possibilities in soccer by meeting youth players from Brazilian clubs and understanding the commitment they have made. But this will not only be a soccer thing. I hope my players will see that they can achieve other things for their lives by stepping through a gateway and leaving other things behind. They are the same age that Iniesta was when he left his family, and they are ready to start finding their own paths. I can’t know what these paths will be but I know I am opening their eyes to what is possible for them. I’m confident but not really sure.