When I was first approached to write a book stemming from an article I wrote for These Football Times that was subsequently featured in The Guardian, I was shocked. For starters, I had been a writer for a while, but I wrote privately. I never published my work until I started writing for TFT. The article, as mentioned in the book, was the launching pad for a deeper idea — the relationship between a person and a ball.
The process of writing It’s Just a Ball may seem simple on paper because that’s where people believe the process takes place when you write a book — on paper. The reality, as I found it, was a book is written on countless long runs, boring commutes, stream of consciousness free writing sessions on napkins or old notebooks at the pub or on an airplane. It’s reworked and discussed at length with people in snippets to the point of exhaustion that can make a writer overthink everything and anything. At least this was my experience. For years, I toiled at what I thought people expected me to write and deliver. For years, I became obsessed with new ideas that stemmed from my own experiences as a player and as a coach.
I wrote, deleted, rewrote, and refined each page to the point I had to stop the project the first time I attempted to write the book.
For one, I was conflicted on where the book was going. I wanted it to be personal, but not necessarily about me. I wanted to share the common language of football from my perspective, which I found was multifaceted and complex, yet I was missing the simplicity and beauty of what it means to love this sport. So, hours turned into days that turned into weeks, months, and years of research, drafting, editing, and working with a brilliant and patient editor at Bennion Kearny.
After several years of slowing adding to the book and hitting walls of writers’ block that seemed to come in waves that would never crest, I decided to do what I call “the rewrite”.
Many writers can attest to this, but we often try to write with the audience at the forefront of our mind and at our work. We try and craft each word envisioning what people will think when they read the words. And this is where I went wrong. So I dove back into my notes — those initial notes about why I should write a book — and what I found was a new purpose that was there all along, I just overlooked it.
On the top of a sheet that I used to draft my first skeleton outline, I wrote, “What connects us all in this game? The ball. It’s just a ball.”
I started the rewrite and dedicated myself to capturing the feelings of being a young boy playing with a ball. Days on the streets running with a ball at my foot, games where I saw myself evolve as a player, systems of development that I studied that I could finally see manifest in my own players’ development, bridges from other disciplines like music, theater, art, writing, or other sports connecting back to soccer.
And so, back to the start I went. I redrafted the book word-by-word, memory after memory — some painful and regretful, others beautiful — all potentially lost to the sands of time, but now captured in-print.
With each case study, interview, article, or story there is a personal anecdote. But that is not what is most important about this work. What is most important is you, the reader. I want you to read the book and I want it to take you back to when things were simple and most pure because whether we are playing at elite levels or we’ve hung up the boots for good or we never played the game and just enjoy watching it as fans or parents — it was always about finding one’s self out there with a ball underfoot.
I realized this was not a how-to guide for developing top players. This was about the experiences that we all share, overlook, misunderstand, and spend our time pondering that relate to life and the game.
It finally became clear that I was writing a book for you, the reader.