I signed for Arsenal 15 years ago this summer, and that summer will continue to be one that I'll never forget. I'd always dreamed of being a professional soccer player and to see that dream realized by signing my name on a piece of paper that read "Arsenal Football Club" at the top was and still is one of the best moments of my life. I'd worked hard to get to that point in my life, but I also knew if I was to make it in the professional football world, the hard was was only just beginning - that the amount of effort, sweat, tears, and blood that I had put into getting to Arsenal would pale in comparison to the amount of effort, hard work, and even luck that would be required to carve out a career in the world's game.
The summer prior to signing my contract, I'd been invited by Arsenal on trial. I was an energetic, confident 17 year old that was determined, motivated and very much eager to learn. Despite all this, my trial at Arsenal came somewhat out of the blue. I'd been waitlisted for an adidas camp the summer going into my senior year of high school and was devastated at the thought of missing out on an opportunity that would have put me right in front of the best college coaches in the entire United States. The call to pluck me off that list eventually came, though, and after a wonderful week at the camp under the watchful eyes of several former professionals (including Arsenal players), I was invited to London.
That invite only camp had certainly been the highest level of soccer I'd ever been a part of. That quickly changed when I went to Arsenal as the level increased even further for the next two weeks as I found myself amongst some of the best young professionals in the world. While 'confident' was a word that anybody that knew me prior to my trip to London would have used to describe me, the first couple of days in London was educational for me to say the least and my confidence seemed to take a hit. Was I good enough to be here? Did I really belong on trial at Arsenal Football Club? Sure I was determined to be a pro, but never in my wildest dreams did I see myself thrown straight onto a pitch with the Arsenal reserve team several weeks before entering my senior year in high school.
The gravity of the opportunity quickly dawned on me after several days in London, and I realized that these questions of self-doubt had no business being present in my mind. Arsenal's Chief Scout (Steve Rowley at the time) had flown out to the United States to see me play and had made the decision himself to bring me over to London. If that couldn't help boost my confidence and shake my timidness and doubt, I just don't know what could.
After a bit of a slow start, I began to settle during my two week tryout and changed my mindset from "should I really be here?" to "I'm not leaving here without a contract." The shift in mentality and confidence was apparent, and I became far more comfortable on the pitch in front of the coaches and staff I was out to impress. The trial ended remarkably positive and even gave me an opportunity to be on the receiving end of a Thierry Henry flick while I attempted to hold off Sol Campbell in one of the first team's training sessions. Several days after the trial, I was offered a contract.
I think it's natural to be scared, overwhelmed, and uncomfortable when thrown into situations that are somewhat foreign and new. I also think when thrown into the deep end, strong personalities shine and adapt to these situations. The staff at Arsenal know it isn't easy to be put into a foreign training ground with strangers, away from home and perceived comfort zones. They know the level will be high, but they also know to be invited on trial, the player has to be at a certain level both technically and tactically. For the player, overcoming all of the physical roadblocks mentally and having the awareness to realize that at its very core, you've been brought in to play a game that you love and that you've dreamed of succeeding in all of your life is paramount.
In The Arsenal Yankee, I dedicated quite a bit of time to the chapter aptly named "The Trial", because I learned a lot about myself, the world, and people in general during my initial two weeks in London. In fact, a big reason as to why I wrote the book was because I've always been fascinated with football as a whole, and not just what is seen on television for 90 minutes on a Saturday. How did those players get there? What did they do when nobody was watching to get into a place where everybody is watching? I found everything from my trial to putting on my shirt when I made my debut a learning experience despite the wild unknowns I was entering at each step of the way.
Like everything that is challenging or uncomfortable in life in general, it's fine to be scared, uneasy, and somewhat timid initially - it's a natural reaction. Having the awareness to overcome that fear and grab an opportunity is the true challenge and one that should be warmly received whenever presented.