The Untold Story of Teteh Bangura

Salem, Oregon. 2009. 

It's summer between university seasons. My best friend and I chose Oregon more concerned about flyfishing prospects than football development. On the drive out West from Indiana we spend a week sleeping in the back of the truck fishing our way through Montana’s famous rivers to Maupin, Oregon (the flyfishers will understand). We arrive in Salem and the training is absolute crap. At the start of the first session my friend and I look over at each other, both of us thinking the same thing, “We left Maupin early for this? We could still be in Montana.” Our hearts are broken.

To be fair, the players are okay, three future pros, some high-level amateurs and a few hot shot Poms. The problem is that the head coach hasn’t a clue. At the very best, he’s a high level elementary Phy Ed. teacher and "today, we're learning soccer.” On multiple occasions throughout the season we train from 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm. 4-hour long continuous sessions with no breaks multiple times per week. It’s either absolute genius or utter nonsense. I know what my girlfriend thinks when she flies out from Minnesota to spend a week observing 20 hours of deliberate purposeful crap. 

Again, to be fair, the team does okay through the first few games of the season. We’re something like 2 wins and 2 losses in our first 4 games. The highlight coming in the first game when this Guatemalan guy bangs in a screamer to win in front of 1,500 fans in the home opener. It’s hilarious really. A thousand or so people paying five bucks at the gate to watch amateurs coached by a group of clowns. The head coach wears penny loafers and a suit four sizes too big. You can’t make it up. That’s exactly what it is, a circus.

That’s until Teteh shows up… 

Suddenly, every single cent of your five bucks is worth its’ weight in gold. The next time you watch Teteh play it will be in front of a sold-out 30,000 for Scandinavia’s biggest club. You’ll be paying way more than five dollars.   

I’d love to know what’s running through Teteh’s head when he first shows up at training. I know what I’m thinking. “What in the world is this guy doing here?” Then, he tells his story.

Teteh’s the leading goal scorer in the Sierra Leone Premiership, and he’s left Africa in search of a new deal and to make it big in football world. He’s looking for an opportunity. He's also in limbo. Teteh’s been cut by everyone and their grandmother. He’s trialed for MLS clubs and USL clubs and Semi-Pro clubs across the United States and been told N.O. by everyone. Not good enough. A journeyman in the circus, Teteh arrives at our doorstep to be the star in our crappy little show. Making peanuts at the bottom of the totem pole.

Teteh scores a hat trick in the first game. In the next game he scores another goal early before receiving a straight red card for trying to kill a guy. In his returning game, he scores another hat trick. The game after that he scores another two goals and receives another red card, this time two yellows to be fair to him. If he’s not smiling and scoring goals by the bucket loads, he’s an unpredictable and enraged killer.

In his short time in Oregon, Teteh takes the circus to Soleil level. It’s fun while it lasts. Then before you know it he’s gone. Teteh lasts 6 - 7 games before getting the boot from his host family’s house. That’s the last of Teteh. Bye bye Bangura. 

The season continues in circus fashion with the team finishing in the top half of the table, certainly an overachievement considering the clowns. Teteh remains in our minds though. Not so much in the sentimental sense, but more so in a “what the hell was that?!” kind of way.

A year passes and I’m perusing the web at the university library when this flashes across my screen. “Manchester United Transfers: Teteh Bangura To Be the New Face?” I do one of those head jerks backward when the car stops too fast. I must be mistaken until I click and read… 

I just keep working at it, I do my game, I love to score. I have said this all the time—I don't care about dribbling or skills or something. I just want to score." That's what AIK Solna forward Bangura said after he scored four goals for his team against Halmstad in their 4-0 win. 

The 21-year-old Sierra Leone striker was about to join English Premier League side Newcastle, however, problems over the work permits broke the deal down. Attracted by the talent and scoring prowess of the in-form striker, United is closely following the Bangura to strike a right deal.”(Bleacher Report). 

The article sounds accurate to me. In the brief time that I knew Teteh, he certainly didn’t care about anything other than scoring goals, including red cards or getting kicked out of his host family’s. His words “I just keep working at it, I do my game, I love to score” resonates. The library starts to feel like it’s wobbling, but that can’t be because I’m in Indiana. I'm studying the anthropology of sport in a hoosier library. Teteh's living, breathing and tasting football world. "What the fuck am I doing...?"  

Teteh makes the move to Sweden. He begins at the bottom of the totem pole, yet again, before making the big jump to Allsvenskan giants AIK. He scores a bucket loads of goals, something like 15 goals in 15 games, and makes his million $. The rest is history.

How easy it would have been for Teteh to call it quits when he arrived at the circus show in Oregon. How simple it would have been to let the cascade of failures keep him from rising to the rivers' surface. 

"Keep working at it. Do your game. Love scoring goals.” Teteh Bangura

Big Mac

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 

~ Henry David Thoreau ~ 

We’ve got this theory in player development that it’s not the best that make it. At least, not the common interpretation of what it means to be the best. i.e. “Billy was the best player when he was 11. You should have seen him back then."

Rather, the best player is the player that 1. Turns up. 2. Works Hard & 3. Listens. It’s this player, the player that’s able to do numbers 1, 2, & 3 repeatedly over a long period of time that is not the best, but becomes the best. As a trainer and coach, it is this player that you invest in long-term, set alarm clocks for in order to make calls across time zones, and commit to for the long haul.

It’s a practical idea really. To become very good at something, the best, a person must commit him or herself to a comprehensive body of work grounded in 1, 2, & 3. In football terms this is typically a 15 - 25 year process of consistently turning up, working hard and listening. That’s a long time, 7300 days, give or take, of racking up second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour. Ask one-hundred 11 year olds, “Who wants to be a professional footballer?” and every hand goes straight up. Rephrase the question, “Who’s going to turn up for training, work hard, and listen for the next 20 years?” Four hands remain. Those are your future pros. 

It’s not just about putting in the time though. As we like to say, “You can sit in McDonalds your entire life, but that won’t make you a Big Mac.” Turning up is the bottom bun, the cholesterol bomb's foundation. Hard work is the substance, all the shitty shit in the middle: processed meat, puréed onions, homogenised cheese, and special sauce (read shit sandwich). Listening or “not listening” (Zlatan), being able to discern the good information from the bad, is the gourmet sesame bun on top. Under the critical assumption that the player is an environment where deliberate purposeful practice is taking place. Easier said than done.

Every player wants to be a Big Mac. Not many are willing to do what it takes to become one. Few players commit themselves entirely to the process. Few stay in the game long enough to finish the journey. It’s the bacon and egg dilemma. Who gives more to breakfast, the pig or the chicken? Which player is going to be the bacon? Which player is going to lay an egg? Which player is going to be made of all the shitty shit in the middle - the substance - to make the transformation into a Big Mac? 

Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen. Turn Up. Work Hard. Listen.

Tall Poppy

“I’ve accomplished and experienced enough “impossible” things to realize that nothing is impossible, and every day I crave the challenge of proving that… Every dream you imagine, everything you see and hear and feel in your sleep, that’s not a fantasy, that’s your deep instinct telling you it can be real. Follow those visions and dreams and desires, and believe what you know. Only you can turn those dreams into a reality. Never stop until you do.

~ Tim Grover ~ 

I believe that children need permission. Permission to believe in themselves. Permission to think BIG. Permission to dream grand dreams. Permission to chase after their most “absurd” and “delusional” desires. Permission to see their greatest visions become a reality. Permission to follow their instincts through. Permission to deny the voice of a status quo telling them “You can’t. It's impossible."

Too often the dreams, visions, and desires of children are thwarted by fixed minded adults. Adults that were once children themselves with dreams and visions and desires of their own. Adults that were never granted permission as children to grab their greatest ambitions by the short hairs and pull. Adults that have realized everything in life is impossible outside of the 9 - 5. Adults that can't sleep well enough to dream at all.   

Give a child permission and they stand a chance to be a Tall Poppy. A human that never stops growing. A person that blossoms and rises above the crowd. A realiser of one dream after another. A beast that fails to acknowledge failure. An opportunity winner.

Every child needs a champion. Someone backing them saying, “I believe in you.” Someone telling them, “You can do whatever you want to in this life.” Champions are needed. The children are everywhere. 

1.) Show Up...  2.) Work Hard...  3.) Listen...

You Have Permission

“Culture is about permission. It has to do with what’s acceptable and what is not, and who says so... Culture is a system of permissions. It’s about the attitudes and behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable in different communities, those that are approved of and those that are not.”

~ Ken Robinson ~

HERE, you have permission to think BIG.

HERE, you have permission to dream. 

HERE, you have permission to imagine.

HERE, you have permission to create.

HERE, you have permission to explore.

HERE, you have permission to believe. 

HERE, you have permission to work hard and try your very very best.

HERE, you have permission to fulfil your potential.

HERE, you have permission to wonder what “overachieving” really even means.

HERE, you have permission to care about what you do.

HERE, you have permission to be a professional.

HERE, you have permission to be goofy.

HERE, “crazy” and “weird” are compliments.

HERE, you have permission to try, as long as, you try and try again.

HERE, you have permission to fail, as long as, you don’t quit.

HERE, you have permission to stand tall for something. 

HERE, you have permission to be the very best.

HERE, you have permission to be yourself.

Opportunity Winners and Losers

"When opportunity knocks, be ready. It can knock you out if you're not prepared for the impact."

~ Tim Grover ~

There are two sorts of people in this world; opportunity winners and opportunity losers. 

Opportunity winners see opportunity in all things, at all times. Opportunity losers on the other hand, either see opportunities and do not act or are so blind to them in the first place that opportunities continually bolt past them in Usain fashion.  

The athletic arena, particularly the football pitch, is an insane revealer of opportunity winners and losers. Every team, business and organisation is desperate for opportunity winners — yearns for them — players and humans that show up, work hard, make the most of every opportunity and strive to bring the best out of themselves and others. Objects in motion, opportunity winners - e.g. cleaners - are constantly seeking the next obstacle to bash or person to prove wrong.

Opportunity winners thrive in the company of discomfort, understanding that the pathway to "success" is lined with stumbling blocks and that it’s all the little things that count, every bead of sweat and ounce of heart (a-t-t-e-n-t-i-o-n t-o d-e-t-a-i-l). It’s so obvious. Yet, opportunity winners are few and far between. 

Opportunity losers are everywhere though, walking arenas and fields blindly, drifting from place to place and time to time, not realising the opportunity always in their immediate presence. 

Be Kind. Do Good. Seek Opportunities Everywhere.   

Youth Football Development: Bounce

“If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.”

~ Ken Robinson ~ 

A brief note on youth football development:

In comparing New Zealand with 1st rate footballing nations (Brazil, Spain, Germany, Holland, England, Iceland, etc…) the average Kiwi does not spend nearly close to the amount of time playing football in structured or unstructured environments between the age of 5 and 10 years. Therefore, upon entering the academy setting at the ages of 9, 10, 11 and 12 players are often technically inefficient in regards to footballing actions, i.e. dribbling, passing, striking, first touch, etc...

Although much of the training in the academy aims to address the technical attributes of each individual player (passing, dribbling, first touch, etc...) most trainings and practices centre around the teaching of game understanding and complex decision making. In order to train such things (decision making and game understanding), which require higher levels of cognitive thought, players must first and foremost be technically proficient (good passers, good dribblers, etc…). If players are not technically proficient, the trainer must devote more time to developing the technical side of the player (which can often be done out side of the academy alone); therefore, compromising valuable time spent focusing on game understanding and complex decision making (within a group of players; team) - key attributes that the modern 21st century footballer must begin developing as early as possible.

The best way for a young player to improve his or her technical proficiency is to spend more time at home - outside of the structured training environment - playing football. Young players with ambitions of playing the game at the highest levels should be spending time with the ball nearly every day outside of training by themselves or group of peers.

Having said that, the school holidays are a great time for players to improve technical proficiency. Instead of taking a break from football, please encourage your player to spend more time with the football “making it their best friend.” Most importantly, players should enjoy spending time with the football, as enjoyment is arguably the most critical component when it comes to a player's longevity in the game and the continued desire to learn, develop and grow.


What is Mentalenty?

It is everything.

It is the corny combination of two words. 

It is what the best organisations search for. It is what the best teams recruit. It is what the best teachers teach. It is what we should be trying to foster in the minds of all young people.  

Super humans that understand the significance of the present moment and its undeniable link to the future. Major players that live in the present - giving the here and now their full attention - and understand that a sound process is the fastest (not always fast) and only way to sound results. Opportunity winners that seek growth along every bend, twist, up and down on the long and winding road.  

Mentalenty is stick-with-it-ness. Angela Lee Duckworth G - R - I - T. The ability to keep on keepin’ on when the going gets tough. To delay eating the marshmallow while still finding joy in the highs and embracing the difficult learning lows. Mentalenty is pure hard work ~ 10,000 hours ~ i.e. a lot of, deliberate purposeful brain bending practice. Perhaps most importantly, mentalenty is never being satisfied with “success.” Whatever that means...

Talent is god given. We do not acknowledge it. Talent is born. We do not worship it. Talent talks. We do not walk with it. Talent is natural. We manufacture it. Talent is an empty shell; a farce for fools - a fantasy. Acknowledging talent is the failure to recognise that every single success story was forged through failure after failure, road block after road block, small victory after small victory and hard work working hard. If not, then tell me, who on earth has the responsibility of hand selecting the chosen few destined for success? Let me have at em’!

Couple talent with strong mentality and you have a dangerous beast on your hands. A monster sparked by the human's inherent love for learning. An animal with a mindset set on growth and maximising potential. A happy being that sees the indisputable correlation between the quality of this moment and the quality of the future. A strong person that fails to abide by the status quo.   

“Don't let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.” 

Eckhart Tolle

Be Kind. Do Good. Work Hard. Enjoy.


"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."

~ Mark Twain ~

Someone once told me, "sacrifice the immediate for the benefit of the future." I listened for a long time, until now.

Stop making sacrifices. Make decisions. Choose. Be deliberate in thought and action. Do not sacrifice. 

What greater pursuit is there than a life lived deliberately? To pour one's entire energies into the tank of becoming the best one can be - footballer, scholar, writer, trainer, flyfisher, mother, father, compassionate human, the lot…

Somewhere though, someone got confused. Instead of making decisions, he or she began making sacrifices. Instead of framing actions with deliberate intent, actions became sacrificial. e.g. "If I want to be the best footballer I can be - to pursue my maximum potential in the field - I have to sacrifice all the above: free time, friday nights, friends, family, food, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, relaxation, enjoyment of the immediate present now.

Here’s the question though, when did the deliberate pursuit of something become a less than proposition? When did a life of purpose, or a desire to maximise one’s potential, take a back seat to life's most immediate pleasures? When did a life lived deliberately become associated with sacrifice and loss instead of reward and gain? Since when did devoting oneself entirely to an idea - a purpose - a dream become delusional? 

And yet, still… heavy chunks of metal on wings glide effortlessly through the sky before our very eyes, the mere touch of a single blue button separates loved ones across the globe, and football boots are now neon green and orange high tops. When did deliberate purpose lose its correlation with utter joy and happiness? Perhaps it’s that truly meaningful moments are made from years and years of hard work, toil, grit and refusing to quit despite the many road bumps along the way. 

It is a beautiful privilege to discover purpose and passion in life. Instead of sacrificing the immediate for the benefit the future, frame decisions as deliberate and supported whole-heartedly. Accept the process. Commit to it. Enjoy the pursuit. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Do not sacrifice it away. Surely do not sacrifice your one wild and precious life.  

Be Kind. Do Good. Be Deliberate. Don't Sacrifice.


"Now so much I know, that things just don't grow if you don't bless them with your patience." 

~ First Aid Kit (Emmy Lou) ~ 

You've got to catch them and continue to catch them, until they are able to catch themselves.

Catch them when they are fixed. Help them see that every opportunity is an opportunity for growth. There is no other way. 

Not judging them too early. They are still young and just beginning. Bless them with your patience. Watch them grow. 

Catch them and continue catching them, until they are able to catch themselves. 

Inevitably they will end up catching you. 

Be Kind. Do Good. Catch Them. 

Don't Eat The Marshmallow

In the world I reside - youth football development - marshmallows are everywhere (watch the above video for reference). Big, pink, fluffy, cavity causing, marshmallows tempt the tongue tips of youth football players and their families everywhere. 

Youth football marshmallows come in many forms. Complacency creeps into little Johnny's feet when selected for the A - squad. Academies praise the physical prowess of a physiologically mature ten year-old over the technical and problem solving abilities of a miniature prodigy. Coaches thrive on "boot and scoot" tactics, encouraging players to smack the ball safely from the back instead of forcing the team to learn how to play out of the defensive third. Parents live for the adrenalised rush of watching their kids win over witnessing children learn how to solve complex football problems. The number of U-17 National team superstars (95%) that never fulfil their footballing potential or go on to play in consecutive world cups let alone sign professional contracts. Marshmallow pitfalls are omnipresent in the world of youth football development tripping up players and their families by the multitudes.

Marshmallows are soft and so are the players and families that eat them too soon. If the ultimate goal is to become a professional footballer - the most sought after profession in the world - an elite youth footballer, as well as those supporting him or her, must have an audacious ability to delay gratification. Yes Mum, that may mean not bragging about your son or daughter being the best player on his or her highschool team. Coaches with ambitions of winning tournament trophies just to collect dust on attic shelves may have to reframe their approach. Maximising a young footballer's potential often means choosing the adverse decision over the popular one. Making decisions with development and growth at the core. Deliberately seeking out struggle. Finding value in failure. Taking uncomfortable risksEncouraging loads of mistakes that may prove costly at first. Emphasising learning at all costs over a winner takes all attitude. 

That’s why where I coach, we’re constantly reminding our players and their families, Don’t Eat The Marshmallow. It’s our motto for developing well rounded footballers and people (it's important not to forget that part). It’s our way of communicating to the young player that they aren’t that good… yet, no matter what their mates, the local news, or grandparents tell them. If the ability to delay gratification (to not eat the marshmallow) is the greatest predictor of a child’s long term success in any area of life, it’s about time we stop telling our children how good they are now and start teaching them to never get ahead of themselves and to shut their mouths when the marshmallow's dangling at the tip of their tongue.

Be Kind. Do Good. Delay Gratification. 


"Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you'll suck forever."

~ Brian Wilson ~

There are two sorts of people in this world; opportunity winners and opportunity losers

Opportunity winners see opportunity in all things, at all times. Opportunity losers on the other hand, either see opportunities and do nothing or are so blind to them in the first place that they continually Bolt by in Usain fashion.

The athletic arena, particularly the football pitch, is the ultimate revealer of opportunity winners and losers. Every team, business and organisation is desperate for opportunity winners — yearns for them — players that work hard, make the most of every training session and strive to bring the best out of teammates. Professionals. Real professionals. Players that grab every opportunity by the short hairs and pull... hard. Players that understand it’s all the little things that count, every bead of sweat and ounce of heart. It’s so obvious. Yet, opportunity winners are few and far between. 

Opportunity losers are everywhere though, walking arenas and fields blindly, moving from place to place and time to time not realising the potential always amidst them within their immediate grasp. Having licked the lollipop of mediocrity one too many times, the opportunity loser now just sucks on it. 

Be Kind. Do Good. Don't Lick The Lolli. Seek Opportunities Everywhere. 



Professionalism is standing for something. Professionalism is delaying gratification. Professionalism is the little steps someone takes that add up to one giant leap for mankind. Setting goals that seem impossible at first and committing to them for the long term. That is professionalism. Hoping for an end result is not wise, nor is it professional. Professionalism is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

It’s scary though, this professionalism thing and most never conquer their fear of it. Professionalism can beat you ragged, leaving you gasping for air, hands trembling on shaking knees, heart rupturing. It’s easy to never invest yourself, to refuse your full potential. It’s comforting to say, "I failed because I let my heart sit this one out." "I never gave it my best shot." "The conditions weren't right." "The sun wasn't always shining." Professionalism means that you might put your entire heart and soul into something and still fail. The empire you’ve worked so tirelessly to build, like castles in the sand, may crumble before your feet. 

You fear professionalism because it shows others that you stand for something now. That in the search of a flow - state and for future benefit you are willing to put life's immediate pleasures on hold. You've been taught that standing for something makes you a freak. Self-control is alien. Discipline is odd. That the ability to delay gratification is completely bonkers. They've told you, "Sit down Tall Poppy." "Blend in." "There is nothing worse than an over-achiever." "Rising above the crowd is showing off." " Stick with the status quo." And cutting you off at the knees is their favourite activity. "Take a beer. Take two. Take three. Drink up. You only live once. YOLO." Fuck em'. Society's rules force followers. Professionalism challenges. Eating cake makes you soft. Meaningful moment's are created by years of professionalism. 

They say that nothing great comes easy. Yet, everyone expects a golden ticket from the heavens to fall into their laps. It’s called the lottery and it’s a game for suckers. There are millions of golden tickets waiting like butterflies in a field. Professionalism is the net you need to capture yours. Don’t let it flutter into the atmosphere. Grab it. Hold on tight. It might drop you flat on your face, then again, it might take you to the sky. The moment is fleeting.

Be Kind. Do Good. Catch Butterflies.

A Dying Breed

I remember an incident that happened about 22 years ago... It had already been a few years since I encountered kids in the woods... hunting grouse, bushwhacking up a trout stream... or just plain hiking off the beaten path. Sure... there were the kids hiking the Oberg Trail... the high density stuff. But none exploring the wilds. One June day, around 1991, I was standing on the bridge of the Sucker River on Fox Farm Road peering into the waters to see if I could catch a glimpse of a trout... when suddenly I heard the jubilant voices of boys in the woods. They came from the tag alders about 150 yards in the brush. I saw the tips of fishing poles above the bushes before I saw them. They were excited. They had caught some brookies... and they were hooked. But, that is one of the last times I saw a child in the wild. They're a dying breed...  succumbing to all the technology and the fear of ticks.

~ U.J. ~