I began writing this story in February 2009 and updated it regularly until August 2013.
“This story is one of the most inspirational stories ever! I am a huge soccer fan and player, and one day hope to go Pro, but I haven’t been getting as much recognition as I would have liked, but I know I’m really good and can do it. This story has made me believe and never give up, and if I become a professional one day, I owe some of my success to your story, and I’ll call you randomly to say thank you.”
Fellow soccer fanatic,
Cornwall, CT, USA
I was fed up with myself!
Or, rather, I fed myself up.
I was 30 pounds overweight and growing by the day. All the while I kept convincing myself that one day very soon I’d get back into shape. Not that I really did anything about it. You know, I’ll start next week. The week after that. Next Month. Next Year… and here I am at 38 – out of shape and pretty much disgusted with my inability to make a real change in my life.
At 38: What shall I eat next?
Although I work from home and have all the time in the world, I just couldn’t seem to find the energy to improve my physical well being. I’m not the type to go to gym, I hate running without a cause and I get pretty bored from riding a bike. I needed some sort of target, some sort of goal.
Hmmm – goal. That’s exactly what I needed!
Many, many years ago I was a soccer goalkeeper.
At 16: The good ‘ol days…
My childhood dream was to become a Pro goalkeeper. And I must say that I got really close to it. At 18 I made the squad of a professional 1st Division team in Israel. But I didn’t stick with it, stopped playing, and life just took me in the opposite direction. Although I haven’t touched a soccer ball for over 20 years, I’ve always been carrying that childhood dream with me. I mean, I know it’s not realistic, but even today at my “old age” I often childishly fantasize about one day becoming a professional soccer goalkeeper.
I’d probably still be fantasizing at the age of 80, if it wasn’t for my wife, Naama. On our ten year anniversary, I surprised her with a diamond ring. She, in turn, surprised me with Eitan, a professional goalkeeper trainer. I don’t think Naama understood what she was getting us both into when she scheduled a training session for me with Eitan.
On that very day, when I donned a soccer goalkeeper jersey, strapped on gloves, tied those cleats and smashed my brittle bones on the hard ground in an ill-fated attempt to stop a ball, on that very day, I set out on one of my most far-fetched adventures.
I’m going to interrupt the story here for a moment and clarify one very important point so you don’t think that I’ve gone completely off the wall. I know that at my age people don’t suddenly become professional athletes. I know my chances of suddenly becoming a Pro soccer goalkeeper are like that of a blubberous sea elephant doing cartwheels on an iceberg. Yet, as I set off on this adventure, I choose to believe only in the world of fantasy.
And that’s exactly what I told Eitan when we met again and I announced to him that I was beginning a rigorous, self-imposed 90-day training camp. I’m sure that at first Eitan thought I was a UFO. But fantasy is contagious and as the days went by I could sense that Eitan had boarded my spaceship on route to the stars.
My Coach, Eitan
Eitan, 33, is a professional trainer who specializes in coaching soccer goalkeepers. He was once a soccer goalkeeper himself but gave up and today is a goalkeeper coach of a 1st Division team. With Eitan’s help, I planned my 90-day training camp.
Why 90 days?
I designated 90 days because from my own experiences, real change in most any field can be made during this period of time. Sixty days isn’t enough. 120 days is too far off of a target. Three months, 90 days, is a fathomable period of time that you can commit to and for substantial change to occur.
But it wasn’t enough just to set a 90-day time frame for the training camp. In this world of fantasy, I still needed a realistic target. One I could hone in on and actually reach.
Going Pro in the first 90 days, or even joining a team, was completely unrealistic and too far-fetched (even for my highly imaginative mind…). So, my main goal for this period of time (aside from not allowing any goals ;-), was to lose 20 pounds and reduce my body fat to less than 21%.
At the outset, I weighed in at 200 pounds (91 kg) and had 24% body fat.
My main concern was injury. My body hadn’t been subjected to any sort of physical training for years. I couldn’t move a muscle for about two days after my first session with Eitan and it was clear that I needed to provide my body with extra support during my training. I searched around for a masseuse and found Keren, a clinical integrative massage therapist (i.e., my savior!).
My Savior, Keren
So what did I do during these 90 days?
What I didn’t do is work.
I had very little time nor energy to work on my Web sites. Luckily my sites have reached a point where they continue to work for me while I’m off playing make-believe. I did continue to perform on stage with “The Wandering Israeli”, however, although it’s a nice income, I’ve never considered that “real” work.
When starting off on this adventure, I knew that the first thing I had to do in order to reach my target was to regulate my eating. Me? Regulate my eating? Yeah, right. I’ve never dieted in my life. I love to eat, thrive on pastries and cakes, and I’ve got a merciless craving for chocolate.
However, there was just no way to work around a training diet. Just imagine a soccer goalkeeper with an excess of 30 pounds trying to dive for a ball. You dive. And then you land smack down on the ground in the very same place like a sack of 38-year-old potatoes. Mashed potatoes, that is.
As for my training regiment during these 90 days, Eitan helped me with setting goals and building a program that included soccer goalkeeper training, Pilates, running, biking and weight training.
There were many moments during this time that I was on the verge of calling it quits – especially during the first few weeks. You’re out there running, hyperventilating like a fish out of water and this sweet little voice in your head is rationally explaining to you that what you’re doing is completely nuts. “You’re too old for this sort of stuff,” the voice would tell me time and again. “What you really need to do in order to be happy in life is order a double-burger, fries and a chocolate sundae (with extra nuts!)”
I think that what helped me most to shut this little voice up, was knowing that after 90 days I was a free man. There was a light at the end of this diet and training regiment. And I didn’t bother myself with what would happen afterwards.
Another thing that really helped me get through the rough moments was going out and pampering myself with high-end goal keeping equipment. The best gloves, the best pants, shoes, and all that other stuff I never even dreamt of asking my parents for when I was a child. Now I could afford it and, besides, if I ultimately didn’t become a Pro, at least I’d look and feel like one.
(By the way, I made an online purchase of some cool goalkeeping equipment at great-save.com. The next day I got an email telling me that they couldn’t complete my order because international orders involve too high of a fraud risk. So I sent them a link to this story and asked them to reconsider. I got an immediate reply that the order had been shipped :-)
By the end of my camp I think that I had spent more money on my goal keeping equipment, my training with Eitan and my massages with Keren than what I spent on Naama’s diamond anniversary ring :-)
During this time I had also become close friends with Eitan. Twice a week, during our one-on-one workouts, he’d work me to the bone and I’d drive him crazy with all my babbling about becoming a Pro soccer goalkeeper. Dreaming was the best way for me to cope with the pain and my aching body (and talking about it was my way of swindling a few more seconds to breath before the next drill…).
At some point I started interrogating Eitan about why he had dropped his own aspiration of being a Pro soccer goalkeeper. He must have had some sort of dream to succeed. Every athlete does. And he’s five years younger than me. Why, then, didn’t he want to play?
He said he was too old for that kinda stuff (i.e. dreaming) and when I continued to badger him, he’d punish me with some agonizing drill just to shut me up.
Then one day, about two months into my training camp, something very strange happened.
As we were getting ready to start practice Eitan looked at me with a slightly embarrassed twinkle in his eye and said: “Listen, I don’t know how you’ll react to this, but I’ve decided to start playing again.”
“Huh, you, Eitan!?,” I asked. “Aren’t you too old for that kinda stuff?”
Eitan, my coach, who had long ago dropped the idea of playing, had just rekindled his dream and signed on to play with a 6th Division team. I was so excited for him that for a moment there I felt such a sense of accomplishment as if I was the one who had joined a team.
As we neared the end of my training camp, I began to think about the next stage. I was making progress as a soccer goalkeeper, but Eitan and I only trained one-on-one. That wasn’t enough. I needed to test my newly honed skills in the framework of a real game. I asked Eitan to check if I could come practice with his new 6th Division team.
He did make an attempt, but told me that the coach wasn’t interested in a 38-year-old goalkeeper who hadn’t played for 20 years.
So instead, Eitan arranged for me to take part at practice with a team… of 12 year olds. Yep. It was a bit embarrassing at first. Then, once we started playing, it got even more embarrassing as those little tykes kept scoring on me.
Once every two weeks, under Eitan’s supervision, I’d get weighed and measure body fat.
On the ceremonious 90th day of my training camp, I stepped on the scale and… 180 pounds, 20.4% fat!
90 days later…
And here are some “show-off” photos from my final practice, exactly 90 days after I had set out on this adventure.
Protecting my goal (and showing off just a bit… :-)
I had reached my first target. I was in decent shape and ready to start moving forward towards my goal of going Pro. I felt really proud of myself. I was vibrant, alive and very, very… sore.
I decided to take a break from setting goals, dreaming and training and begin a 7-day vegetating-camp during which time my main goal was to do absolutely nothing and eat absolutely everything.
And that’s exactly what I set off to do.
That very day I got home from practice, grabbed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s “Chocolate Fudge Brownie”, sat in front of the computer and just followed my optical mouse.
A few clicks later my mouse had led me to the Israel Soccer Association’s Web site. I don’t really know why it brought me there, but I just tagged along passively. My mouse led me through the different divisions, we spent time looking at the team pages, browsed through individual player pages and just sniffed around.
But then something very weird happened. The only explanation that I have is that I overdosed on that Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream and blacked out (or rather, “brownied out”). When I came back to my senses, I was on the phone with the coach of a 5th Division team. And if that’s not enough, I was in the process of asking him if he needs a goalkeeper!
Now, I’m not to blame for this audacity, of course. Ben, Jerry and my optical mouse are. But I think the coach was even more bewildered than I from this very unexpected phone call. He said something in the sense of: “I’m not sure who you are and how you reached me, and if you would have called yesterday I would have politely told you to take a hike, but it just so happens that my first-string goalkeeper left me this morning. Can you come to practice today?”
Huh? Today? Hold on a second, I’m vegetating… Sure, I’ll come.
“Oh, and one last thing,” he said, “How old are you?”
“Me?, Ummm… Well… Thirty (cough – eight)”
There was a long moment of silence on the other end. But in his haste he had already invited me to practice, so he couldn’t really back down now.
I took another heaping spoon-full of ice cream, and another one, and one last one. My half-day vegetating camp was over. On the eve of the 90th day, I was going to try out for a 5th division semi-pro team.
I almost made a U-Turn when I reached the “Hapoel Pardesiya Football Club” field. I had never heard of this team in my life up till that very day, although they are located just 10 minutes drive from my house. There’s nothing more intimidating than arriving to a new team in the middle of the season. You’re a total outsider. And the fact that most of the players on this team are in their early 20s made it even more foreboding for this old timer.
But I went out there and just protected my “goal”.
At the end of practice the coach came up to me and said “Elad, welcome to the club”. I had just become a second-string soccer goalkeeper on a 5th Division team (after only 20 years and 90 days!)
Now I can retire :-)
On the way back home from my first real practice, I called Eitan and informed him that I was now playing one division higher than him ;-)
He said something very nice. It went something like: “Elad, with you, reality overshadows even the wildest imagination”. I took it as a really big compliment.
Before I go, here’s one last thing about setting goals. When I was a child, my parents put up a poem on our fridge. Throughout my childhood, until I left home at 17, it was hanging there. I’ve read it hundreds (if not thousands of times). It’s called “The Man Who Thinks He Can” written by Walter D. Wintle.
Now it’s hanging on my fridge and I hope my girls will run into it just as many times (I’ve taken the liberty to call the poem “The Girl Who Thinks She Can…” ;-).
So as I walk over to open my fridge and finish off what’s left of that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, I’ll leave you with the original poem that has so deeply inspired me throughout my life and has helped me understand that setting goals is the key to realizing them:
The Man Who Thinks He Can / Walter D. Wintle
If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don’t,
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,
It’s almost a “cinch” you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world you find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.
Full many a race is lost
Ere ever a step is run;
And many a coward fails
Ere ever his work’s begun.
Think big and your deeds will grow,
Think small and you’ll fall behind,
Think that you can and you will;
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you’re outclassed, you are,
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins,
Is the fellow who thinks he can.
That’s the end of the poem, but my story continues…
Although my life has already changed dramatically (in just 90 days!), I will continue to pursue my dream of becoming a professional goalkeeper. I’m sure there are quite a few surprises in store for me in this world of make-believe, and I’ll keep you posted below…
Oh, yeah, and one last thing… If you’ve got any contacts with a professional soccer team (such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool… I’m not picky), send them over to this story or just tell them about this thirty (cough – eight) year old goalkeeper who “Thinks He Can”. Who knows, maybe dreams do come true? :-)
“I am 16 and I too am a goalkeeper. I aspire to become a professional player and hopefully go back to France (I was born there) and play for the national team. I very much enjoy being a keeper and when I play, I feel like I’m flying. When I found your story, I was amazed! I had just found someone who had gone through roughly the same path I was following. Your story has inspired me to push myself to the limits and past them.”
New Westminster, Canada
September 2009 Update:
Could This Be Me?
It’s already September 2009. Ten months have passed since I set out on this goalkeeping/goalsetting adventure. In retrospect, what’s ten months? Not even a year! But in this short period of time, my life has changed so dramatically that it seems more like ten years have gone by.
As I read over the first part of my story, it sounded a bit fictional. But what I’m about to write now sounds to me even more far-fetched. (Luckily I’ve added some photos and a short clip to prove to me that I’m not hallucinating…)
Where were we?
I had just joined a 5th division team as a second-string goalkeeper. Most of my new teammates were in their early 20s… And here comes this old fart jumping out of a dusty closet. How do you even begin to connect?
But that’s what’s so brilliant about soccer! If you “speak” soccer, nothing else matters. Your age, mentality, culture, background – they are of no consequence. You just get out there on the field like everyone else and play your game.
Within three weeks of training and two games on the bench as the backup goalie, I began to feel very much at home with my new teammates.
Although a 5th division team in Israel may sound like something quite amateurish, it’s far from it. Even I was surprised at how professional and passionate people are. There’s a really strict practice regiment, you arrive on time, you don’t mess around, serious team meetings are held before games, referees, line referees, sometimes even large crowds – it can even get quite stressful and physical at times.
But I must admit that there’s something comforting about being a second-string goalkeeper. No pre-game stress. Goalkeepers usually aren’t replaced, so you know you’re not going to play. Only on very rare occasions does a goalie get hurt or is red carded and has to leave the field. But that just doesn’t happen, so I enjoyed the relaxation of being on the bench and not having to cope with the stress of playing.
Until… just three games into my comeback, our goalie got red carded!
It was the very last minute of my third game on the bench. I just gazed in disbelief as the referee threw him out and then I buried my head in my palms. Oh NO! Next week I would make my debut after 20 years I hadn’t played in a real game.
I’m going to fast-forward here so this story doesn’t go on forever.
The night before the game I was so excited that I barely slept. I’d doze off, dream of me on the field allowing some pitiable goal get by, and then wake up in a startle. Just like a little boy before his first big game.
The next day I made my debut. Here I am:
My first game after 20 years…
I played 40 minutes, kept a clean net, and then something I couldn’t even dream of happened… I was red-carded and thrown out for touching the ball with my hand outside the box. Pathetic, but at least I didn’t get scored on :-)
I went on to play a total of five games throughout the remainder of the season – two wins, one tie and one loss. Before every game I’d get the pre-game jitters. It was a sensation I had completely forgotten. In a way, it was similar to the excitement before going on stage in front of a crowd. After all, a field is like a stage. But on the field, as you’ll soon see in the clip below, the excitement is so much stronger and the crowd is so much more emotional that there’s really no comparison.
I did discover, though, that my experience on stage helped me deal with the mental aspects of playing the game which is no less important than the physical side (where I am obviously at a disadvantage…)
I was also fortunate to play in our biggest game of the season. I allow myself to say “fortunate” in retrospect. During the long hours before the game and especially during warm-up in front of a crowd of over 3000 (!!) people, I was asking myself: “What the hell am I doing here?!” (We don’t usually play in front of such large crowds…)
It was an away game against the first-place team. An Arab team from a city called Taybe. There’s always more tension when playing against an Arab team. There’s more police presence and the crowd can get pretty riled up. But again, that’s also what’s so beautiful about soccer. On the field you “speak” a common language and not the violent one that’s so often spoken off the field.
“I want to start of by saying that I am a 34 year old Muslim man who totally got inspired by your story. I was born in Pakistan, raised in Canada and now live in USA. I was browsing through your site and ran into this story. You hit hit home with your soccer story. I played semi pro soccer in Canada back when I was 17 years young and stopped for one reason or another but have never stopped dreaming… As you were talking about your chocolate cravings, sweet tooth, past soccer life… I swear, it was as if you were writing about my life. I just wanted to tell you that YOUR SOCCER STORY HIT HOME!!! How true: Muslim or Jew, on the soccer field you are all just soccer players…what a great game!!! Thanks brother.”
St. Louis, MO, USA
This team from Taybe hadn’t lost – nor tied – a single game throughout the entire season. I don’t think I can begin to explain the sensation of playing on such a “stage”. Until a year ago, I never even considered it as a possibility. And there I was, Elad Shippony, on my own field dreams…
Ten minutes into the game I broke my thumb. I immediately felt it snap. Crack! But I guess that my body was so “high” on endorphins, adrenaline or whatever else it is that numbs the pain, that I just kept my gloves on and continued playing until the end of the game.
We tied 1-1 and I felt as if I had just won the World Cup, World Series and Superbowl all at once :-)
I can’t really explain what I felt, so I’ll just share with you these few photos and a short clip below:
Could This Be Me?
Here’s a clip that doesn’t do justice to the crazy atmosphere during the game:
For such an experience, I’d break it again. I swear!
I’m back to practicing and our season starts next week. I can now say that I play for a 4th division team because one division was cancelled this year :-) My thumb is better now, but my knee is aching :-) I guess that my 39 year-old-body isn’t really living in harmony with my 20-year-old dreams. But I tell you with all my heart (and you may think that I’m crazy), I’d break my thumb over again just to feel that same, blissful sensation.
There’s one last thing I’d like to ask of you. Next time you pass by a soccer (baseball, football, etc…) field or park and see a bunch of old farts running after a ball, take an extra glance and remember…
It’s probably someone’s field of dreams.
May 2010 Update:
What a Happy 40th Birthday!
Another season has gone by. Wins, losses, excitement, pain, satisfaction and a 40th birthday never to be forgotten… but before I tell you how I celebrated, I’d like to travel back in time to 2001, when I was just 31.
At the time we were living in a rented apartment in a rather densely populated residential neighborhood. Our eldest daughter was just born and every evening for almost a year we’d go out for a walk around the block, pushing the stroller and enjoying the fresh air.
On our way to the Falafel stand, we’d stroll past a soccer field that was nestled between all the houses and buildings. I completely ignored its existence. It was of no interest to me and I would barley spare it a glance. Yet, in retrospect, I guess I was just bottling up that long lost dream of mine, and every time I’d pass by that field my gut would twist and turn.
Nine years later by a peculiar twist of fate, I was to arrive back to that very same field to play a game exactly on my 40th birthday. Right before the game I got up in front of my teammates and told them about this special occasion. They all immediately said “Let’s win for Elad…”
I told them I didn’t want them to win for me. I wanted them to go out there and appreciate every second they’re on the field playing. Enjoy themselves. Have fun. Because win or lose, just the fact that I was playing was, for me, the greatest gift in the world.
“I never wanted to be a goalie, nor have I ever left a comment on anybody’s website. Yet, your story is so inspiring and compelling to keep me reading on. And I felt that I must compliment you on having achieved your dream, by sheer determination.
During this past season, I’ve witnessed ever so often how those “youngsters” playing with me are so far from achieving their potential and appreciating what they’ve got. Some of them are very talented and could easily land a spot in a higher division, but they’re so out-of-tune with what’s left of their dreams. They’re too busy rationalizing why they can’t succeed instead of going out there and giving it their all.
And that’s where I seem to come in…
One of those youngsters I was just talking about is the other goalkeeper on our team, Oshri, 26. If I was his age, had his height, flexibility and natural attributes, I would be playing Pro. No doubt. But Oshri comes to practices and games with no passion, no excitement.
Towards the end of this season, Oshri suddenly began to “wake up” and get all hyped during practice. It was refreshing, but rather odd, so I couldn’t help but ask him what was the cause of the sudden change?
This is what Oshri said to me: “Elad, it took me a while, but I just realized that every time I see you out here on the field, running around like crazy, shouting and screaming and getting everyone all energized, it reminds me that my career is far from being over – I still have at least 14 more years to play! And that makes me soooooo happy…”.
Hearing that, to me, is as rewarding as playing.
So now, as the new season rolls in and I get ready for the next stage in my journey to achieve my dream of being a Pro goalkeeper, I’d like to share with you our team photo and my birthday clip… I wish each and every one of you to be as happy on your birthday as I was on this day:
December 2010 Update:
The Essence of Being a Goalkeeper
You get banged up, scraped up and smashed up almost every practice. During a game you get goals scored on YOU, and it doesn’t matter whose fault it was. You make a bunch of “little” and “effortless” saves that keep your team alive, but don’t gain you any sort of recognition because “that’s your job”. And, even if you make a few impressive saves, most often you’re the only one who’ll appreciate them.
Then, one day it happens. It can take a year, five years or even 40 years. It’s that split-second of mid-air flight (caught on video) that makes all your hardships vanish into thin air.
If you’re lucky, by the end of your career, you’ll have a handful of these split-seconds to relish upon.
This here isn’t the “best”, “most amazing”, or “most insane” save you’ll see. Yet, to me, this split-second of physical elevation brings with it a spiritual elevation that defines the essence of being a goalkeeper:
August 2013 Update:
Setting My Next Goal
The time has come to hang my shoes.
I’ve been getting injured more often and I must admit that I’ve got that little child’s dream completely out of my system by now. Although, ultimately I didn’t become a profession goalkeeper, I had one heck of a ride! If I hadn’t set a goal to achieve I would have probably still be feeling as though I missed out on something really big in my life. So now it’s time for me to set new goals and goal-keep them!
Thanks for joining!