Extending your comfort zone
This is the unusual story of how I began my professional career.
After a successful college and PDL career I was eager to make the transition to pro, but there was one problem: I couldn’t get a trial anywhere in the States. I ended up getting my first professional opportunity in Australia. Yes, AUSTRALIA. A teammate from school got me in touch with a team there via his agent and two months later I was on a flight to join the Olympia Warriors in the 2nd division of Australian soccer for preseason. So there I was, the biggest home-body that I knew with a comfort zone the size of a peanut, sitting on a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean on my way to a place that I knew nothing about (save for the venomous wild life) all so I can play this game professionally. With flight lay overs and delays it took me over 36 hours to get there, and the entire way I was thinking ‘what the hell are you doing, Sean’?
I had to stomach a bit of home sickness the first couple of weeks but after I got to know the wonderful people of Hobart, Australia I was very comfortable and went on to have a great season. The team over achieved and exceeded all expectations! Despite having a midseason injury I was on top of my game. I was making big saves in big matches and achieving the consistency in performance that I had been striving for. My efforts got me noticed by A-League side Central Coast Mariners and I was invited to join them on a two week trial. I was over the moon! A year ago I couldn’t find a trial with any team in any division and now I am being noticed by a first division club! The absolute euphoria of getting my chance was quickly replace by the agony of being in over my head.
The speed... my god, the speed that they played at. Everything was done in two touches or less. If you didn’t know where your next pass was before you got the ball you were going to lose it. Even as a goalkeeper building out from the back you were being pressed tirelessly and simply knocking it up field for a 50/50 was not acceptable. I had always had pride in my distribution but that first day of training made me question it. The worst part about it was that it wasn’t my technique that was letting me down, it was the speed of my thought process. I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. However, the second day I showed up with my focus completely on handling the speed at which they played. I was forcing myself to get into the proper positions as quick as possible and get my feet set early, I was forcing myself to play out of pressure using less touches, and I always had an idea of where I should play the ball next even if I wasn’t expecting to receive it. I continued to train with the same focus, intensity, and grit the rest of my trial. By the end of the week I noticed big improvements, and by mid-week the next week I was completely confident in my ability to play at that level.
At the end of the second week I met with the manager and I was optimistic. Unfortunately the manager said that, while they were impressed with me, they couldn’t justify using the last of their 5 international spots on a goalkeeper who would not play right away. Recognizing this glass ceiling that I hit in Australia’s international player restrictions I decided to pack my things up and head back home to find a team in the States. Armed with a new highlight Video from my games in Australia, a written recommendation from Central Coast’s goalkeeper coach, and a newfound confidence I signed with the Jacksonville armada soon after.
You may think that I would have been better off if I had just been able to sign with an American team straight out of college, but I don’t think so. I had to go halfway around the world to find my first contract and I am better because of it.