Most of my classmates got money for good grades. The better grades they had at the end of the school year, the bigger pocket money they’d get – as a reward. But this was not the case in my family. There was no negotiating. What was said was also done. It’s the kids’ duty to study hard and get the best possible grades, right? It’s normal to try your best in life, and not because it can get you some cash, but because you want to feel good about yourself.
I was highly motivated, and not only about school grades. It was the spring of 1999 and there were only a few weeks left before the UEFA under-16 European Championship, which was taking place in the Czech Republic – in particular, Moravia. The towns of Lanžhot, Blansko, Prostějov, Kunovice, and Zlín all hosted matches, with the final to be played at the Olomouc stadium on the 7th of May. I wasn’t as presumptuous as to think I’d get to play in the final, but what if?
And it almost happened.
I yearned to be selected by coach Štěpán Oldřich so much that I pushed myself harder and harder. On Thursdays, I didn’t have football practice, but I still went for a jog with my dad. As a former track and field athlete, he was hard to keep up with. And even on days I had practice, I’d still take the ball and go to the woods to work on my skills.
On Christmas, when most people just stuff themselves with food and watch televised fairy tales, I made myself do plyometric exercises. I was sweating like a pig, my muscles were burning, but I kept imagining myself walking right behind the team captain on the 25th of April, at the opening match of the championship against Germany.
Even when playing street hockey, I had these visions. You run up and down on the concrete with your stick for maybe five minutes and then you’re exhausted and need to be subbed. “I hope this helps,” I thought to myself.
And it did.
I must admit, it was a little selfish of me, feeing this good about myself when I was excelling in everything. But I also know how hard I worked and how much I sacrificed.
My mindset was still the same: “Work hard to prove to everyone without a doubt that you’re reliable. Do everything so that one day you get to be the best. Give me a task, and I’ll do it!”
And when I thought I might cut myself some slack, I had my dad to keep me on the right path. He knew how to cut me down to size: Sometimes I would play a great game, but he would notice me showing off towards the end, and he’d tell me: “Don’t you think you should knock it off next time? You’re not world champion just yet.”
At first it made me angry, but he was right. I had to grit my teeth and next time, there was no horseplay during the match.
But then I was very happy when he did praise me. Sometimes he would say: “Hats off, no mistakes today. This is how it’s supposed to look.”
Then I was over the moon and I’d want to discuss what he liked about the game all through dinner. And you know me: Once I get going, nothing can stop me.
Except my mom: “Can you please stop with the chatter and just eat?”
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!