As the Euros get underway, the focus is firmly on the national teams, but watching the football with my kids throws up personal feelings, emotions and memories. With my own memories of sporting triumphs and disasters, I have decided that those memories should only be shared on the rare occasions that my old team mates get together for a drink.
My daughter was born in the middle of the fantastic summer of 2012, when we celebrated the Euros, Andy Murray won Wimbledon and of course, and when the Olympics came to London. Sport was high on the agenda, and I had wild hopes and ambitions for my children to grow up playing sport.
I can’t believe that I started researching how to develop talent. I was reading the excellent book, “Bounce” by Matthew Syed, and I picked up two key messages. The first was that talent is over rated, that there is no substitute for practice and the magic number of hours required to become a champion, was 10,000 hours. The second message in the book was that champions start early. Matthew describes how several well-known sports men and women started as young as two. And I thought, why leave it so late?!
At that point, I knew my destiny was to introduce sport to babies. I wanted to let babies play sport from day one, the day they left the hospital. Inspired, I set up a toy company called Little Sport Star that is now available in the UK and in the USA on Amazon. Over the last four years, I have designed tennis toys, golf toys, cricket toys, rugby toys and of course football. The concept is really simple, all our toys are sports themed but they are all designed for babies. They still squeak and squash, rattle and roll – it’s just that they are also sporty!
I knew that I was onto a winning concept when my first customer was England and Arsenal football legend, and father of six children, Paul Merson. Paul was always one of my favourite players and I remember vividly when he scored his penalty in the World Cup 1998 against Argentina, even though the England team went on to lose that penalty shoot out. As well as a sporting legend, I always thought that he just seems like a really great bloke.
I met Paul by chance having a pint with his family in a bar not far from where I live. His youngest baby, Freddie, maybe six month old at the time, was sleeping in a buggy. I introduced myself and told him about the imminent launch of our football activity gym for babies, which I suggested would be ideal for his son. With very little persuasion, he became our first customer.
I had a chat with Paul some months afterwards and he told me that Freddie loved the football activity gym. I should add that Paul knows quite a lot about babies, as he has six children. He told me his son “loves the gym, particularly the roar when he scores a penalty.” He also commented “I told my old team mates that I had bought my son a football activity gym, and they thought I was having a laugh. When they saw it, they thought it was fantastic”. On this basis and according to the 10,000 hours rule, if little Merson keeps up the practice, he might just be a saviour in a future crucial penalty shootouts, just like his daddy.
I have to confess that I was not so much a footballer at school. We didn’t have Little Kickers or Socatots in my youth. My local team were not the greatest; I have memories of losing 11-0 playing an away match in the rain, but I still love the beautiful game. I love the Premiership, how it pulls in the best talent from around the world and that it is not always the most expensive team that wins. I love the Euros – that despite our political views about Europe, football still unites us.
The message I will be giving to my children is that you can be whatever you want to be – the world is full of opportunities. My big ambition was always to start my own business, to become an entrepreneur. I will always back them but I will share with them the lessons that I have learnt from sport. I want them to persevere to be the best. I want them to practice more than the next person. I want them to make mistakes and I want them to learn from those mistakes. Without doubt, some of the best lessons in life, come from the sporting arena and there will be a lot of lessons in life from these Euros.
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