The art of balance.
Recently, I interviewed Matteo, a Year 13 St Louis School student that plays for the youth team of AC Monza, a football club that takes part in the Serie B tournament. Matteo has managed to balance both his sport and school careers throughout the IGCSE and IB demonstrating a resilience which is uncommon among teens of his age. The insightful half-hour I spent with him via Zoom truly opened my eyes to the mentality of professional football players, revealing some advice that could help both you and me.
“It’s not easy” was Matteo’s prompt response to my question “how do you manage to balance your two careers”. He recognizes that planning and time management is key for being successful in both areas. In fact, before the pandemic, Matteo had hardly enough time to have lunch after school before heading to the training ground, a transfer that takes him more than forty minutes, underlining the importance of having a clear daily routine. Following the three-hour long training session, he would then return home and have at most a couple of hours to eat and do homework: it surely doesn’t sound like an enviable timetable.
Although as Matteo stated: “football at professional levels hasn’t been affected much”, the Covid-19 pandemic has surely had an effect on his life. At present time he has to study at home and he can’t train with the rest of the team in Monza because of a club decision. These circumstances though, haven’t stopped him from staying active as just at the end of the interview he had to leave to go for a run. Another key difference caused by the pandemic highlighted by Matteo was the “pre-match atmosphere in the changing room” where masks and social distancing protocols have prevented the players and coach to experience football as “ a contact sport, both on and off the pitch”.
Although the pandemic has put Matteo under a lot of strain both in school and on the pitch, his mentality has helped him to cope with it. Having a “strong mental preparation” as he described it, allows him to perform at his best and succeed both in football and school. Matteo underlined how this mental strength allowed him to continue studying and pursue his football career at the same time. The scholastic and sports settings though require different approaches. Matteo revealed that he has two distinct mental attitudes towards school and football. A true duality emerged as he explained that his approach towards studying is “mainly rational” while he manages to excel in football thanks to his “irrational part”, from which Matteo manages to access his strongest motivation. It was surprising to understand how far Matteo is able to separate his two careers, allowing him to get the most out of both.
My question regarding his future was quite trivial but his response gave me a better understanding of Matteo’s way of thinking. He answered that big satisfactions like being drafted by the Italian national team have convinced him that a successful career in football can be achievable. He added that he realised that he could persevere in football when he started to see the sport as a job and he still enjoyed playing. For these reasons, Matteo has decided to continue studying at university and at the same time working on his football career. He stated that a successful career in football “is a dream, but you have to be realistic about it”. This irrational versus rational attitude is what has brought him to try to find a compromise between football and school as he is currently searching for a university which would allow him to study and play for a team at the same time.
Overall, I was able to understand in-depth how the mind of a professional athlete works, opening my eyes over the world of the young students that follow a sports career. As the interview was heading to an end, Matteo made sure that I added one last aspect. He talked about how players of mainstream sports like football are overexposed, while athletes who practice other disciplines which are even more demanding “receive no credit”. It made me realise the sheer determination and motivation that certain athletes must have to follow their dreams even when their efforts are not recognised by others.
I believe that everyone, especially at our age, has something that motivates them, a dream they want to achieve and Matteo made me understand how important it is to follow that dream, regardless of how difficult it may be to achieve.