My name is Christian Schneider and my story is probably not that much different than thousands of young players across the country dreaming of making it to the next level and hoping to get a shot at playing professionally. I’m 22 years old, and I’ve been playing soccer almost exclusively, (nearly) all year round for about 15 years. I’ve always been fast, coordinated, focused, with an excellent field vision. And I hated to lose; but more than anything I just loved to play soccer… and still do. It’s the love of the game that gets me up each morning to train hard and continue improve to realize my dream of playing professionally.
Prior to college, I played on and climbed the ranks of my local Premier, Academy, Olympic Development Program, and school teams in Connecticut. I always played up, and usually smaller than those I played with and against. Although I held my own, this challenged me to not just rely on my natural athletic abilities, but rather to improve the overall quality of my game. I had to be faster, stronger and more fit. I had to be smarter and more poised as a player. This required deliberate study and constant self-assessment, but as I grew, the combination of all these qualities and my efforts eventually allowed me to distinguish myself as a top player in school and my club teams.
The reality though is that at every step of this ongoing journey, there are talented guys who are great athletes, working just as hard and even harder than you. This becomes particularly true as you climb the ranks in academy or play in college. It’s typically at this level that players further develop their skills and study the game to begin to separate themselves from their peers and become viable candidates to play at the next level…or not.
I’m still in the early stages of building my soccer career, but I have been fortunate enough to get some quality opportunities to break through and take real steps to realizing my dream. And although I’ve had some moderate success, I have a way to go and wish I had known years ago what I’ve learned through this process. So, with this as background, I thought I would list below the top 6 things that I’ve learned from my own experiences, and from speaking with others who have broken through, that I hope you will find helpful as you chase your dream:
I continue to train 5 days a week combining lift, on ball skills, shooting, speed/agility and endurance training on alternate days. You never know when you’ll get the call to tryout, so you always must be ready to go. Also, be honest with yourself and train to your weaknesses. Train with a team that will continue to push and challenge you. Lastly, learn something from every tryout you go to and apply it your training routine. This Summer I will be training/playing with USL2 club Western Mass Pioneers.
This is a business and having good network of former players, coaches and advisors will make a huge difference and open up opportunities for you. Chances are that it will be through connections that will get you an invitation to try out and get you in the door. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, start now. To have a strong network you need to have people who like and respect you enough as a person and a player to put their name on the line and recommend you.
If you are lucky, throughout your career you will come across a few people that will make a major difference in your soccer life. As a young player I was lucky enough to train under a coach who taught me the value of working hard, discipline, mental toughness and perseverance. He was tough and pushed us at every turn, but also taught us how to play the game with quality. I didn’t always like it, but I carry what I learned from him with me every day (shout out to Coach Neil). Most recently, I was blessed to have trained in college under Steffen Siebert. Coach Siebert is one of the smartest soccer minds I know. He is a UEFA “A” licensed coach, now with the US Soccer Federation training other professional coaches at the new National Training and Development Center in Kansas City. His book “A League of Their Own: The Secrets of Club Soccer Champions” is a “how to” on sports psychology, tactics and strategy that I learned from and lived by, first hand, for more than 3 years. In addition to the highest level of physical training and preparation, we spent as much time watching film, studying our 400+ page book on tactics and plays, and reading books on the mind of a professional athlete, as we did on the field. Through Coach Siebert, I became a true student of the game and learned what it means to take it to the next level.
It probably goes without saying that a tryout is full blown all day or multi-day interview. In addition to displaying your quality, you always must conduct yourself as a focused and mature professional. I would also recommend that you study up on the team you are trying out for. How many guys do they have signed? What positions do they need to fill? What is their culture like? What is their style of play? What are the values of the organization? Who is the head and assistant coach and what are their backgrounds? etc. Understanding these things will help you to prepare for the trial.
No matter how good your network is, you will probably need an agent to help find tryout opportunities, support you with your contract and managing your career if you are fortunate enough to get signed. This industry is confusing and the process that teams go through to identify talent can be really convoluted. It helps to have an agent with connections that can navigate this process and get you solid chances to prove yourself. I was late to the party on this one and tried to do it all on my own. That was a mistake that I learned at my most recent trail with the Swope Park Rangers in January. Just about everyone there had an agent with other trials lined up if this didn’t work out. I didn’t – and probably missed out on other good opportunities because of it.
Finding an agent is a whole different article, but do your research and, when reaching out, make sure you at least have a good, concise 4-7 minute highlight video and resume that details your accomplishments, career stats and lists what separates you from other players. This is where a site like USSoccerTalent.com can help you out. They created a custom page with all my stats to make it easier for me to reach out to agents and coaches. You can see my page here.
As a player, it’s good to be confident in who you are and what you are capable of. Swag and confidence are good, but to be arrogant and prideful it’s completely another thing. Being overly prideful or confident will limit your ability to learn and grow. Making you difficult to coach and negatively impacting your ability to build relationships that you will need later in your career (see #2). Nuff said.
My story is still unfolding, and I’ve got a ways to go before I can say that I’ve realized my goals, but I have a much better idea now of what it will take to get there. I’ve proven I can play at a top (USL Championship) level with other professionals and rostered players and know that with continued training, focus and the right attitude, I will just continue to get better and break through.
Be smart, keep working hard, learning and growing … And stay laser focused on your dream.