Here in Australia, I get to live out my dream everyday. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of where I am and what I’m doing. But sometimes it's just as effortless to get caught up in what I'm not doing, or not doing well enough. Failure can feel fatal to anyone. I’ve had a long soccer career already: I’ve been lucky enough to have played on several great squads, especially for my university. But unfortunately, we haven’t gotten off to that kind of start yet here in Oz. We are 5 games in, and have just one draw (tie) to show for it. Hindsight is always 20/20, but if we could've won at least 2 of those games, we'd be sitting somewhat pretty at the moment. But we didn’t.
I’m a competitor, and I hate losing more than I like winning. So it’s’ been difficult to swallow a streak like this. I ponder games for days after, sometimes dwelling on the “what if’s” or what I could’ve done better. Just yesterday, I missed a great chance which I feel I should've scored with ease. Yet, I’m still kicking myself for it even as I write this. But as a player and as a human, it’s never advantageous to dwell. Being studious, recognizing your mistakes and areas for improvement are helpful, but only as a learning curve. Never as a punishment. All of those things fall into the category of hard work in my mind, and they should be thought of as a blessing, not a sentence to be carried out. To me failure is positive, and a necessity for a successful life. How so? Well for starters, it’s what got me here.
Going back to the beginning of my senior year of high school: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue collegiate soccer. I wasn’t getting as many looks from colleges as I had hoped, and I was stuck in the high school mentality that there was "more to life" (really meaning I wanted to have as much fun as possible.) This attitude created a void of love for the sport in. But then something amazing happened. I lost!
It was our section championships against our rival, and for years they beat us when stakes were high. Again, we lost. In sadistic fashion. In the last minutes, I cried and I cursed. But in spite of all that disgust, just days later I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to end my soccer career that way. Not like this. Not on someone else’s terms.
By my senior year of university, I was looking back at a followthrough on that promise in grand fashion. As graduation got close, I had already found myself at J.P Morgan through an internship, and I had accepted an offer for a post-graduate position. So in my head it was a done deal. I had enjoyed a successful collegiate career: I won awards, won some conference titles and had helped lead my squad to a final four appearance. We were in the final four again, and what happened next I attest to being one of many reasons why I decided to keep my “boots” on as a career choice: again, we lost.
We went all the way to a penalty shootout. Winner moves on to the national championship, loser moves on to a bitter end of their collegiate soccer career. What’s more, I was the guy kicking for the goal. With the entire season on my shoulders in that one moment, and I just missed.
Again, I found myself face-to-face with a huge disappointment. Again I cried. Days, weeks, went by with anger and frustration, until again I knew I couldn’t end my career that way. At that point, I wasn’t even sure a move into a pro-soccer life was a possibility, but I knew in my heart at least that I wanted to play more.
Failure corrects complacency. It provides clarification on where you need to improve. How can one master their craft without seeing their weakest areas? How can I (or anyone) become a better leader without first experiencing a lapse in their success? The short answer is, you just can’t.
I’m still facing this challenge today. Yes, we are losing more than we should. Yes, I have areas where I need to improve. A younger me would dwell a lot on this missed shot, or that lapse in leadership, but I’m starting to implement new techniques, and few that I would highly recommend. I owe it to myself and my team to improve, and you can never get better without mixing things up from time to time. As I touched on last time, I believe in writing down goals to visualize for actual manifestation. Many times I focus in a game-to-game manner, in the past writing down things like “you will score” and other specific objectives. But right now, I don’t meet those goals, so I try to bring my expectations to a more realistic, more self-sustaining place. I make very attainable goals that are completely within my power to achieve each and every time I step on the field. For example, instead of writing down “you will score” which can be out of my control sometimes, I write down, “you will remain vocal and in a leadership role for 90 minutes”. Something that is completely in my control, and that I've successfully completed every game since.
After each match, I’ll always watch my game film. I look for areas in which to get better, and better prepare myself for those wildcard moments that are outside of my control. So even though scoring isn’t always the outcome, this week, or today even, I am finishing near-goal. I am mastering my shooting, and improving my fitness. Failure is a necessity. As one of the most successful soccer managers of all time Pep Guardiola put it, (and I’m paraphrasing because I heard this on a podcast) “If all you do is win then you don’t get better, you need to lose in order to truly get better”, So although I hate losing and missing opportunities to score, I’m taking it as a blessing. I’m hungrier now.
Dylan Williams is a professional soccer player for the Tasmania-based club Launceston City FC. He is Center Midfielder.