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the need for a network

building a network can be hard. but it's something that anyone who moves - interstate, overseas, or even just to a different house, experiences.

moving to the UK has been the second time i've been without a network, the first being when i moved to the US in 2011. but, as i mentioned in an earlier post, my experience in the US was extremely different. although i was moving countries, i still had a safety net of sorts with regards to having roommates, teammates, and coaching staff who actively recruited me. in the UK though, this has not been my experience.

when i first arrived, i had my partner's family. but i was a stranger to them as they were to me. i was on my own to organise everything i needed. a car, a soccer team, transport - to grocery stores, to car dealerships, to soccer trials. they did provide me with a roof over my head though, and i am extremely grateful for that.

come mid-January and i had finally secured a team. i really thought things would start feeling easier at this point - i had a team, a purpose, and a car. many of my basic needs were met. except they weren't. i didn't have accommodation - i never knew where i would be staying each night so i could never set up a base anywhere. but the biggest thing i was missing? a network.

despite signing with a team, i don't feel any more connected to the people here than i did 6 months ago when i was living in Australia. and i think a large part of that has to do with the life of a semi-professional athlete. most players have a second job. and most of them travel over 1 hour to training. what does this mean for the team? it means that there's no opportunity for those incidental interactions. it means you're not going out to eat with each other after training - you're going home to your family. it means that everyone is an individual - with their own lives, their own friends, their own families, and playing soccer is just one of the things they do rather than the only thing they do.

in a professional environment, this is different. you're around your teammates as much as you are your coworkers - full time. that's why so many players in these environments establish strong friendships; because they have the opportunity to do so. so what happens when you don't have these opportunities?

failing to establish a network puts you at risk. Robert Waldinger and Mark Schulz discuss at length in their book The Good Life how important connections are for long-term health and happiness. when you don't have these connections, when you don't have a network, you experience pain more significantly, you take longer to heal, and you feel more alone and isolated. you also become at risk for mental illnesses. this was me in the US - after i tore my second acl, i realised my network was flimsy. i no longer had soccer. i only had three friends who weren't my teammates. study wasn't challenging me. my family lived in another country. and the only network i had, my relationship, was unstable.

the other week i found out about the passing of a soccer coach from back home - someone who i had only just worked with prior to coming to the UK and whom i had every intention of learning from upon my return. i struggle with death at the best of times, let alone in another country. and the worst part about all of this? is i had no one here to talk about this with. i remember sitting at my rental place crying, thinking, i don't even have anyone i can call right now.

i totally get connections and friendships take time to build - it takes time to trust someone and become vulnerable with them. it takes time for people to see value in you and your abilities. but it's almost impossible to do this when there isn't the opportunity to do so. you could argue that it's on the individual who's moved to establish these connections, to put themselves out there, but having been someone who's moved countries twice, it's fucking hard to get by let alone put yourself out there. although, i have tried. i'm trying to put myself out there with coaching. i'm asking for opportunities to shadow coaches. i've asked to run private coaching sessions. and i've tried using soccer as a common ground to establish deeper connections with my teammates - but i get left on read. not even a 'no sorry, i can't', just ignored. most nights i sit at home, by myself, waiting for my partner and family to wake up in australia. meanwhile i have teammates who live less than 10 minutes away, yet teammates who have not once invited me to hang out. and i'm not sure about anyone else, but i've never really been someone who just invites myself to places.

some people get excited about the prospect of a clean slate - of starting 'fresh' somewhere. but starting fresh means starting from scratch. sure, it means no one has pre-conceived ideas about you, but it also means you have no reputation. no credibility. you have to fight for EVERYTHING. your character is unknown. your potential unrecognised. people are less likely to advocate for someone they know nothing about. you're on your own, in not just a physical sense. so what am i suggesting?

i'm suggesting that if you're around anyone who has just joined your workplace, just joined your team, moved countries or cities, can you be an olive branch? can you extend invitations for them to join you, away from the convenience of a workplace or team, into your home, to an event, or even just out for coffee? because this olive branch might just be the one thing that keeps them grounded, keeps them hanging on. i think this is one thing that the club back home does really well - especially with internationals. they welcome them into the team - they get invitations to things like the Fringe festival, to dinners at christmas, to social events at the beach. they get picked up and dropped off at trainings. invited into people's homes. and team dinners occur weekly, providing regular opportunities to connect off the pitch.

a friend i finally got to meet in the UK was talking about someone who had moved from Australia to the UK and how she was so lucky to find him. because if she didn't, she probably wouldn't still be in this country. and i've thought about that a lot - about how one person can be the difference between someone feeling welcome, feeling like they belong, feeling like they can make it work and someone who just says fuck it and gives up. so how can you be this olive branch? how can you be intentional with making someone feel welcome? how can you be a part of someone else's network?

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thank you for sharing your experiences and how much we can all relate x

Thank you 🙏 for such amazing supportive words you are truly a blessing and we miss you back in SA. Can’t wait till your back Artty and Lexi

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