I may have spent 11 years in professional soccer locker rooms – but for the 23 years before then, I was a landscaper, house painter, and school cleaner. I was a basketball player, a wrestler, a track athlete, and a football player. I was a bartender, a traveller, and a university graduate in Industrial Design. Through 7 of my 11 years pro, I was chosen by my team to be the Captain. I got to Captain a team in the Premier League; the biggest soccer league in the world. I got to be the first signing and Captain of a new MLS franchise.
Was it because of all of those years I played on the top academy team or youth National team? No – I never even tried out for them. Was it because I ate, slept, and breathed the sport, or that that the time spent training on the soccer field far outweighed that of studying or just being a kid, having fun with my friends? Definitely not.
I believe Captains are chosen for two main reasons: their ability to lead (both on and off the field), and their ability to relate – to relate to teammates, to administrators, and especially the fans.
Right now, we live in a world where athletes are signing professional contracts from the age of 10. Early specialization in all walks of youth development has become so normal that if kids show signs of talent, they get put on a fast track to that special academy Mom & Dad will have to take two mortgages out to afford and those things called school, other sports, hobbies, or friends are sacrificed in order for them to “make it”.
Modern day sport curriculums are based on how to become the next Messi or Lebron, the .001%. Imagine being told & believing your whole life that you are the 0.001%., and that all you need to do is focus on that one sport and the world will be yours. This is what every coach wants from each of their athletes to get the most out of them for the team. But what about for each of those athletes? Are we creating one-dimensional athletes whose ability & life skill levels are being way overshadowed by their confidence levels?
Now imagine , shortly after turning 18, that academy or college coach telling you that you are not actually good enough or that your most recent injury is just too devastating to ever expect to be back to full health again. For whatever reason, Lebron and Messi are no longer in your future. The crazy thing is, that this is what happens to 98% of young athletes. 98%. The small percentage will play through college or even enjoy a successful pro career before being faced with this reality.
What happened to all of those formative years during which development in other areas that could have led these kids down a new – and exciting – path more seamlessly? Was anyone asking them questions about their future skills or interests? Was anyone challenging their mindsets to be more than just athletes?
This is an argument for the development of a well-rounded individual, who has the ability to transfer all of the incredibly valuable lessons he or she has learned from sport – because those are not to be undermined – into a successful, fulfilling career and life beyond sport
The real concern as the once very popular “athlete” tries to identify new skills, a new identity, and a new life is that mental health issues start to creep in. That once all-important confidence level is at an all-time low, and they realize that the one thing that they have been told defines them for 18 or even 22 – years has been taken away from them. I’ve been witness to this way too many times, and I have had too many hard conversations with young athletes to not feel compelled to do something about it. Based on my experience, I feel like I have a responsibility to do something about it. One of my main reasons being when in 2011, the soccer community raised $223,000 on Kickstarter in 73 days to turn my rare path of becoming pro into a documentary film called Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story. These are people that I had never met before, raising that amount of money on my behalf. It was very empowering, and really gave me the inspiration to share my story.
Last year I started Rise & Shine: Captains Camps. Soccer camps with a strong emphasis on all-round personal development; a curriculum carefully engineered to help kids identify other strengths and passions, to step out of their comfort zones and generate breakthrough thought patterns to equip them with the tools they’ll need to rise and shine within their soccer careers and far beyond. It’s a curriculum established to build on all of these concepts and to then cultivate a pass-it-on mentality through leadership training.
Boys & girls from the ages of 13-18 come to our Rise & Shine Retreat, where my wife (2010 Olympic Gold Medallist Ashleigh McIvor) and I live in the mountains of Pemberton, BC. They stay in really cool timber-framed outfitter tents onsite. For four days, we train on-field with coaches who have all played pro, but we also train with mentors who are ‘pro’ at something else. Doctors, entrepreneurs, Olympians, and many more successful, happy leaders within their own fields come up to the camp and share their stories of professional success, talk about their leading lives, and how they got there. Oh yeah, and we go for hikes to lakes to play raft wars and we also roast marshmallows over bonfires. Because you know, kids… I believe learning is a communal. Let’s be inclusive, let’s be well-rounded, let’s be relatable and learn through experience. Let’s create more captains of life, not just of sport.
How I know Jody, by Jay:
“Jody and I met after talking Whitecaps and life on Breakfast Television when I moved to Vancouver. Sharing a love for sports, community engagement, real people, and real issues, we continue to try to fly the flags of what is “good” in our world.”