Editor’s Note: We were fortunate enough to sit down for an interview last week with former North Carolina Tar Heels star defender Ryan Adeleye, who is now playing professional soccer for Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel’s Premier League. This is Part I of our two-part interview with Ryan on the challenges of living abroad, pursuing your dreams, the importance of networking, working your way up within an organization, and other great life lessons. (You can read Part II here.) We think that you guys, our student readers, whether you are competitive athletes or not, will be able to take some of Ryan’s advice and apply those lessons learned to any career field you are interested in – be it finance, education, business, non-profit work, athletics, marketing, etc.
How did you begin to plan for your professional soccer career?
I graduated a semester early from UNC to prepare for the Major Leage Soccer draft. Ever since my freshman year of college, my coach had told me to consider graduating early – to plan ahead. So I did just that – every summer I took summer school classes, and I got my BA in psychology. Finishing my education was very important to me as well as to my parents. If you want to do both – school and sports, which you can do, it means you have to think about it early. Always plan ahead.
How did you land in Israel?
I had a few experiences with sports agents in the United States – they weren’t positive experiences to say the least, and I decided to pursue my professional career abroad. Through some connections I ended up getting hooked up in Germany with F.C. St. Pauli in Hamburg. I was about 21 years old at the time, and while I had a good trial with the German team for about a month, it was a numbers game, and in the end they promoted youth team and reserve team players “from within,” rather than taking the chance on an American outsider.
I got invited to play on the USA’s National Maccabi team – and travelled to Israel to compete against players from around the world. I’d never been to Israel before but it was exciting – a great experience. Our team of Americans played in a friendly match against Hapoel Be’er Sheva – and even though I only played a half or so, the Israeli coach came up to me after the match and asked me to try out for a professional contract. In soccer, you never know who is watching. You always have to play the best you can. [Editor’s note – in business too!]
It all happened so fast. I impressed the coach on trial and I was offered a professional contract to play in Israel’s Premier League. I’ve been here for about a year and a half.
What was life as a “rookie” like last year? What were the emotions? How did you stay focused?
It was a very volatile experience, because breaking into the team is so competitive. You can go from being in the starting eleven – to not even being included in the final 18 man roster for a game. Training is very important. My first year, any opportunity I got to play, I was happy. There were highs and lows but at the end of the year I got to play 3 or 4 games in a row, and scored my first ever professional goal in a win over Netanya. That was a sweet experience.
The reason I was able to stay so focused was because of my great support network. The team is like a family. It works the same in college sports – you have “built-in friends;” you are part of a team. And it doesn’t hurt that you are from the United States in a foreign country – everyone is interested in someone from the United States. We have good camaraderie and one of my roommates and best friends now is also a professional player, Siraj Nasser.
Click here for Part II of the interview with Ryan Adeleye, where the pro athlete takes a look at the importance of mentors, networking, long- and short-term goals and his post-soccer plans.