The Loyal Soldier

guest post from David Jones

Sunday evening…MD plus 1…MD minus 6…

That’s MatchDay plus 1 day, MatchDay minus 6 days)…

I’m making notes on how my next week will be planned out. That is how I’ve thought and planned my week for almost 20 years. The days postgame and the days before the next game. It isn’t 9 to 5, Monday to Friday and making plans for the weekend. It is “living for the weekend” but in a different way.

Whether footballers are aware of it or not, that is how we’re programmed. I found it one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things about being a footballer. Planning my week knowing I’ve done everything possible to perform for the upcoming game and how I can help my body recover before I have to go again.

Pressure. Emotional highs and lows. A status. Expectation. PURPOSE. These are just a few of the mental aspects playing football provides. Unfortunately or not, this won’t last forever.

As you approach retirement from competing in professional sport there are many things that suddenly present themselves that you’ve never had to experience before. The obvious financial pressures when good salaries abruptly stop when maybe, you’re hoping or even expecting a few more years. The purpose and fulfillment that sports brings has been your source of mental wellbeing and when absent, you can initially feel a sense of relief and a mental respite. But all of a sudden you find yourself seeking the same sensations from somewhere you don’t know how to find.

I think we can agree the transition from competing in sport to another job description can be – probably will be – an uncertain place. The familiar and the habitual traits of a sports career I find are so falsely reassuring and most of us think this is where we will be indefinitely. The new is by definition unfamiliar and untested.

As I come closer to this potential new landscape, I feel there is certainly a need for a kind of closure that is essential in most transitions in life. I’m reminded of the stories of many Japanese Communities after the 2nd World War that were savvy enough to understand that their soldiers would find it very difficult to integrate back into normal society. They understood that the Soldier’s identity was so attached to being a “loyal soldier” that they needed to associate themselves with a much bigger identity to rejoin their communities and families. These communities had a ritual in which welcomed and thanked their “loyal soldiers” for their service but it was now time to return as a man, husband, father, fisherman, or whatever path they took.

I’m not comparing going to war to the life of an athlete, and I’m not suggesting we need to “re-enter society”, but we as athletes are trying to navigate the next stage of our career. Discharging our loyal soldier is about reassessing pre-learned thinking and beliefs. We have learned so much from our experiences – both successes and failures – and maybe in football discharging our loyal soldier means letting go of some of those lessons that served us well but no longer have a purpose? Whatever the answer, I think we need to do things considerably better.

So then, what next for me as I reach 35 with the inevitability of retirement approaching fast? The short answer is, “I don’t know”. I’m doing my UEFA coaching badges, various business courses in Sports Marketing and entrepreneurship, and I’m starting a Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship next month. I’m also doing media training and TV work. I have been lucky to have a career where passion and enthusiasm has always come naturally and I’m searching for those essential elements in my next career path. I don’t want to pursue a career after playing, climbing the ladder of success, only to realise when I get to the top that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

I’m experiencing as much as I can and I’m learning that throughout my career I’ve equipped myself with many skills that are invaluable in the workplace. Skills I didn’t necessarily know I had or took for granted in the sporting arena; discipline, teamwork, creativity, ambition, focus to name a few. Athletes all seem to possess a real sense of internal self esteem. The ability to know why you do what you do, a deep realisation that your opinion is important and you have a value. In addition to this we are strong decision makers, have attention to detail, have an unrelenting determination and have a great ability to use stored information from past experiences to respond under pressure – what a skill set! All these attributes are transferable to any environment whether on or off the field.

I certainly don’t feel ready for retirement from playing, either from a physical or mental point of view, but I am excited and driven to see what lies ahead beyond it. Whatever I choose to do, I will approach it with courage, patience, and imagination. My Sunday evenings will still involve the detailed planning of the week ahead.

That said, it may be a different type of MD plus 1 or MD minus 6 that I’m planning for.


David is interested in media work and collaborating on other footballing related projects. To reach out to him or see  examples of him in action, use the links below.

LAPS Members can discuss David’s post on our Community page.