Young Footballers and Coping With Rejection
June to August is a challenging period for young footballers released or “cut loose” by professional football clubs. Life can become tough after spending years of training and playing for their academy. The majority then struggle to find a new club using agents, parental links or attending trials.
Pitfalls, Self-Doubt and Pressure
Sonny Pike: The Greatest Footballer That Never Was opens up in a insightful, absorbing, no holds barred and, at times, disturbing story. Going even further in its insights, we see the pitfalls, self-doubt and emotional and psychological pressures of failing to make the grade as a pro footballer.
The book describes the enormous expectations of Sonny set in motion from the age of eight. It was as this age that a wider audience started to recognise his skills and goal-scoring ability. Sonny engages the reader as he recounts his experience as a “wonder kid” as ambitious scouts and agents pursue him relentlessly.
The Boy With the Golden Boots
He received the label “Sonny Pike, The Boy With The Golden Boots” and became a local and national star as he appeared on TV, made guest appearances around the country and received sponsorship from various sports clothing manufacturers.
He talks openly about the moments in his life that affected his personal and emotional development, including family life, his relationship with his father and his education on hold. There was also the intense pressure to “live the dream”, the collapse of his parents’ relationship, his sister’s mental health breakdown and sectioning following initial television “stardom”.
It is clear that his father only saw Sonny as a “commodity” to produce revenue as he hunted for sponsorship and other deals for backhanders.
Advice From Ajax Amsterdam
The pressure on him to perform increased at 11 when he went for a trial and trained with Ajax. Sonny (and his father) failed to comprehend the
advice from Ajax. Unfortunately, this is common with young footballers when professional clubs release them. Ajax told Sonny’s father, “Sonny is a good player, but he isn’t any better than what we already have”.
Many parents and grandparents will relate to the pressures Sonny’s family endured. Hours and hours were spent on his training, as many families do when chasing the dream of professional football. In Sonny’s case, his “fame” as the wonder kid involved a never-ending treadmill of planned television appearances, publicity, sponsorship appearances, and deals.
The Burden of Expectation
A crucial factor for Sonny came at 15 when QPR failed to offer him a contract after a three month trial at QPR. He became depressed and details how he contemplated suicide. The burden of expectation became too heavy for him to bear. This experience highlights that the main challenge facing boys and girls who dream of football as a career is not getting into an academy but how to take the giant step into full professionalism.
Clubs must take more responsibility when they monitor and review the performances of the youngsters scouted for stardom. In particular, they should offer counselling and career alternatives in case dreams of stardom fail to materialise.
The book raises vital questions of whether professional clubs that operate academies offer sufficient specialist and targeted support.
Do they address the resilience, tenacity, grit, and determination to face the challenges of rejection? Does their system offer advice on coping with coaching demands, building team relationships, fitness and strength levels? Can their trainees cope with the issue of overcoming tricky spells, in particular release or rejection?
Sonny opens up about how his depression led to vulnerability and falling under the influence of others. This vulnerability displays itself, mainly when his mother’s new boyfriend involves him in the illicit sale of viagra.
He realised that he had to change when he was under lock and key in a police cell. He was fortunate because he had positive role models supporting his challenge to regain self-esteem and get back on an upbeat track.
Readers will benefit from reading about the mental strength support given to Sonny by his football coach Terry Welch, the help of his mother and particularly his wife and his children as he restructures his life successfully.
The analysis of the pivotal points in Sonny’s failure to achieve, his mental health problems and his rehabilitation with positive help from others make this a must-read for parents of aspiring youngsters and coaches at all levels.
About the Reviewer
John T Morris (BA(Hons), MEd, MPhil, DipPsych, CertEd) is an FA coach. He specialises in developing positive mindsets to promote motivation, resilience and other skills to improve performance levels.
John has worked with youth team players at teams including Fulham, Chelsea, Wrexham and QPR to address critical issues, including rejection.
He is also a graduate of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Lancaster and Open Universities.
His research developed positive “growth mindsets” to promote motivation and tenacity. He also trained resilience and other personal skills to improve performance in sport, learning and employment.
About the Publisher
The History Press is a British publishing company specialising in the publication of titles devoted to local and specialist history. It also claims to be the United Kingdom’s largest independent publisher in this field. The company produces approximately 300 books per year and has a backlist of over 12,000 titles.
We hope you enjoyed “The Greatest Footballer That Never Was, by Sonny Pike and Seth Burkett”. For more of our book reviews, please click here.