It starts with a dream
Becoming a professional elite athlete is a dream, and living off your hobby is the dream destination for most young athletes. The thought of being able to make a living doing what you love also settled within me very quickly.
I started out playing in one of Denmark's biggest youth clubs called, Vinding SF, and it wasn't long before I, with the support of my father and family, started aiming for a career in professional football. My dad has always been a support to me and helped me with the right attitude and mentality. He was immensely skilled in making it clear to me that I had to dedicate myself 100% to it if I really wanted it as a career. Maybe I was more concerned about taking things as they came, while he was more proactive and disciplined. Especially one of my dad's favorite expressions has set;
"With talent ability comes responsibility and obligations"
This is me as a very very young and happy boy :)
He was good at getting me to refocus on what was important to me as a players, so I avoided making unnecessary mistakes at the same time. This is a difficult balance for parents to operate in. In part, young youth players must test, try and fail on their own body and based on their own ideas. At the same time, of course, they does not necessarily have to make all the mistakes, before they learn.
Youth athletes can and must learn from both own mistakes and experiences of others.
He was also the "classical dad" who played ball with me in the garden and encouraged me to practice things that could improve me on the field, for example that I should be able to kick equally well with both legs - and I can honestly say that I succeeded doing this.
The role of sports parents of a child with dreams of pursuing a career in sports is a tremendously complex size that is exceptionally difficult to be in. All parents want their child the best, but often their good intentions have a negative effect on the young .
It wasn't long before I moved up the ranks and moved to Vejle Boldklub where the level of all aspects was better and thereby easier for us players to develop our talent in. Here we met the big teams in Denmark and Europe, such as Ajax, Feyenoord, Moscow, Hamburger SV etc.
However, I had a specific problem in those days. I was small in stature, maybe 1.60 tall (centimeters this is), so the physics put some restrictions on me and I was pulled down on the 2nd team. Of course, it was a small defeat, but I believed in my own abilities and knew that I would probably not stay at 1.60. forever. I didn't either, and when I started to grow, both in height but also muscularly, I got back on track.
After that I was moved up on the U19 team and had a really good season with 25 goals in 26 games. Of course, it did started some attention from several angles. Media coverage got bigger, national coaches came and scouted, as did talent scouts from the bigger clubs too. I also end up being selected for our U19 national team , which I will however had to decline due to a minor injury. It nevertheless gave me a proper shot of confidence knowing that there were some on the plane who saw a talent in me.
From youth to professional
After a period of time I was moved up to the professional team at Vejle Boldklub's super league and it was something of surprise and challenge for me. The shift from youth to pro player will always lead to a new dynamic.
New players, new coaches and, most importantly, a new position in the hierarchy. At the same time, it's also a very grown-up alpha-male world/culture you enter, with a completely different competition for the spots in the starting-11. On a football team, the other players are your teammates, but also your competitors.
These are adult players who are suddenly your teammates. They have other priorities, perhaps have a family to support, and are more mature in their approaches.
It was a major challenge that I still do not think I handled well enough to this day. Maybe I was a little too nervours, defensive and stunned about the players who had played the Champions League or that I even used to admire in my teens, when watching on television.
At the same time, the hammer fell immediately here as well. Both coaches and teammates were much quicker to respond to one's bad actions, e.g. with critique if I had missed a chance. I did not begin to take my chances when they were obvious, instead I passed the ball on to a teammate, as I then could avoid criticism from teammates and coaches if I failed. There, I wish I had the mental knowledge that I have today so that I had not been so negatively affected.
You have to adapt to the new environment, but you also have to stick to your identity as a player and a human.
This is just how the game is
Your ability to handle the obstacles you are faced with determines whether your performance will be fluctuating or consistent. For me, it resulted in many diverging performances. Sometimes I kept smashing the ball in the net and scoring vital goals, while other times I was constantly invisible. It is one of the aspects of the sport that gives a uniquely uncomfortable gut feeling. When you, as a player, know that in the game you were invisible and unable to show what you really can - that feeling is just hard and sad.
After a season where I was really successful and started most games with a good portion of goals, my assistant coach came to me and said I needed to do better. I had to become more consistent in my performance.
As mentioned, sometimes I completely disappeared from matches. These were especially the matches where I had got off to a bad start and made a few single mistakes and thus my confidence was suddenly gone. It was simply because I did not have the mental strength to move on after mistakes and was able to maintain my focus on my gameplan.
In the podcast "Det Mentale Forspring" (which is in Danish), you can hear about my history with elite sports, repetitive injuries, and how I found that mental health with elite athletes was gonna be my coming career. You can find the Det Mentale Forsprings podcast on Spotify, in iTunes and on Soundcloud.
The dream for me now lives on with the goal of becoming the best mental trainer in the world and being able to help as many athletes as possible to perform at their best so they can achieve their potential and thus make the most out of their precious time in their sports careers.
If our podcast in danish will succeed, we will make the move to launch the podcast in english around next year in 2020. Before that, more personal stories will be posted on the life blog TrueHonestLife