Player Insider: My Journey to Barça Academy

Written by: Djibril, U-18 Barça Academy player

I was born into a soccer family. My dad had kicked a ball around with friends when he was growing up in Mali, West Africa as I think all kids there do. On my mom’s side my grandpa grew up playing soccer in Germany. He moved to the US when he was 10 and played in college and still plays sometimes at 70 years old. I got to play a lot with my grandpa when I was little because my mom and brother and I lived with him for 4 years so my mom could help take care of my grandma who died of Alzheimer’s when she was 57. That was a sad time but soccer always helped make me happy as it was always around us.

My mom and her siblings played soccer when they were growing up and it was my first sport too. I’ve gone to Colorado Rapids games since I was a baby (even though I used to be terrified of Rapidman, the mascot, when I was little) and I started to play when I was 4. I ended up playing a year up since I was so big and kicked so hard. When I was 9 my team moved up into the competitive league. They wouldn’t let me play up and wanted to put me on a new team so I quit soccer for two years. At that point, soccer was mostly about having fun with friends and I didn’t take it very seriously.

I still played soccer at recess, but I really ended up missing playing on a team. By the second year I was dying to play soccer again and was so excited to tryout that Spring. I made the 4th team which was OK, since I was really out of shape and hadn’t played for a while and I was just so happy to be back on a team. Before I quit soccer I had mostly played defense, but liked striker as well. I had never played in goal before but my new coach was a goalie and asked me if I’d try it. I really, really didn’t want to, it seemed really foreign and boring. My mom finally got me to agree to try it just once and got me some goalie gloves for $12 at Play It Again Sports. They turned out to be super thin practice gloves, but we didn’t know the difference at that point and I played my first game as the keeper with those. I was kind of terrified, but it turned out to be fun and I did well.

After that people started recognizing me for playing keeper and pretty quickly I lost my nerves and started having fun and really focusing on learning and getting better. Most people wouldn’t guess it, but I have actually suffered from anxiety. It was hard for me to try new things and hard to be on center stage. But when I’m in goal, that all drops away and I’m in the beautiful game, in the moment, reacting, directing, working with my team to keep the ball out of the goal and working to do our best together and hopefully to WIN!

At the same time I was struggling to get all my other schoolwork done as I started working more and playing more and more soccer. For my 12th birthday, I asked for a lawn mower and my mom found me a used one on Craigslist that I used to start mowing lawns in the neighborhood. In the winter I would shovel snow. Around that time I started walking a neighborhood dog every weekday and cleaning my mom’s office too. I’ve always had to pay for my phone and data and make my own spending money and I’ve pitched in with some of my soccer costs too.

My mom works really hard and has supported me and my brother by herself since I was a year and a half old. She always tries to find ways to help us do what we’re passionate about. She has helped me do a lot of the soccer things I wanted to do and paid for my uniforms, training gear and gloves (which definitely aren’t the $12 version anymore) but once I started playing at a higher level, traveling more and needing more gear I started pitching in myself.

I’ve always been pretty good at doing things for myself. We didn’t have a car until I started playing for the Rapids so I always bused or biked myself to and from school and practice. My mom has always had to work a lot so I’ve always had to do my own cooking and I’ll admit that I’m not always good at choosing the best nutrition or eating breakfast or remembering to make and bring a lunch. I noticed when I would get my nutrition dialed in, even for short stretches, I played better. When I had breaks from school where I could sleep more, I played better then too.

Going to the Barça Academy means so much to me. It is exactly what I need to take myself to the next level in all ways. It has boost my confidence as we all started in a new environment at the same time. It has given me a fresh start with soccer, school and myself as they are what I’ve focused on. I’ve bonded with my new coaches and teammates. We train the Barça way, which has improved my level of play, and I’m able to focus a lot more on building myself as a person rather than being pulled down by distractions. Eating regularly, getting good nutrition, getting good sleep, being less stressed about school and commuting has all helped me become a better player here at Barça Academy.

I enjoy being a leader among my peers and taking that onto the field as well. I’ve been a captain for three of my teams and my mom is always telling me that she sees other kids gravitating towards me and that I should “use my powers for good”, and I try to do that here.

Being a part of the Barça Academy is absolutely a dream come true and I’m so grateful to be here!

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