Stories of sacrifice are legion among professional athletes. Becoming the best at something not only requires the athlete’s personal work ethic to be faster, stronger, higher than all the rest, it also often requires significant help from their families.
In Canada, the cliche often includes the backyard rink, penny pinching budgets and early morning drives to hockey practice. But the story of American soccer phenom Joshua Pynadath made me ask myself just how far I’d go for my kid’s sports career.
Pynadath is an 11-year-old Californian who just became the first American ever to be signed by Real Madrid’s famed youth academy. His local coach sent the soccer giants a video of him playing, which led to try-outs for both legendary Spanish soccer clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Pynadath impressed them enough to make the youth academy team and now his family is moving from Los Altos Hills, CA to Madrid where he and his younger brother will go to the American School of Madrid.
Canadian David Edgar moved to England at 14 after impressing scouts for Newcastle United in the English Premier League. Luckily his grandmother lived nearby, but his parents still had to send him off at that young age.
Another Canuck, Jonathan de Guzman, left Toronto at 12 to play for the Dutch team Feyenoord’s youth academy and later opted to get his Dutch passport to play for the Netherlands.
Hockey parents in this country have been sending their talented teens away to play for decades, whether for major junior teams or special private schools, but with soccer participation and popularity skyrocketing in recent years, perhaps these types of Euro adventures will become more common. How far would you go? And would you do it even if the odds of your child making it to the pros were still akin to winning the lottery?
Even after all the sacrifice, child sports phenoms like Pynadath aren’t guaranteed to make it. Anyone remember Danny Almonte? Of course not. But he blew minds at the 2001 Little League World Series with his amazing pitching —until it was revealed that his dad doctored his birth certificate and at 14, he was actually too old to play in the tourney. The once-hot prospect went on to a decent high school and college career but was never even drafted by an MLB team.
In 1986, 14-year-old American gymnast Kristie Phillips was called “The New Mary-Lou” by Sports Illustrated and expected to dominate at the 1988 Seoul Games. After a growth spurt and the onset of puberty, Phillips barely made the U.S. Olympic team as an alternate and didn’t even end up going to Seoul. Bitter disappointment after so much time and effort.
It’s a tough call and one only a tiny percentage of parents will be forced to make. Still, living in Spain while your kid plays for one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, isn’t too shabby.
Image credit: Jackie Pynadath