As we always strive to provide our audience with quality content, we are very excited to present an interview we recently did with Ryan Thompson, goalkeeping Coach of the University of South Florida's Men’s Soccer Team, Founder of RTG Academy, Ex Professional and Jamaican National Football (Soccer) Player. Last week we got a chance to sit with Ryan and learn more about his journey from playing cricket in Jamaica to competing in some of the most prestigious competitions in European football.
So Ryan, how did you get involved in the sport of football (soccer)?
Growing up in Jamaica, everyone played sports and in the beginning there would always have guys playing soccer in the streets. One day, my high school soccer team needed a goalkeeper and my friend persuaded me to be the goalkeeper as I had experience being a wicket keeper in cricket. I had never been a goalkeeper before before but immediately jumped in and had a good game! From there, my friend got me to try out for a local club team, which wasn't hard as I always liked to try new things and challenge myself. Next thing you know, I made the team! Even though I was good at cricket or track & field, I was becoming good as a goalkeeper and was soon presented with the opportunity to go to the US with my local soccer team. It was actually the first time I had ever flown on a plane and couldn't believe that through soccer I was getting such unique opportunities. I had never gotten much from playing cricket or track and field so ultimately I focused mainly on playing soccer.
When did you first realize that you could go to college in US playing soccer?
From my first trip to the US, I experienced some ups and downs such as missing one of the soccer tournament trips to the US, but I decided to keep my head down and focus on growing and getting better as I never wanted to miss another trip to the US with my team. Gradually I became better and better, leading me to get opportunities to compete at the National Level such as the Jamaican Under 20’s where I was getting more opportunities to travel to different countries for competitions. Slowly I started to realize that I was reaching a glass ceiling in Jamaica and realized that I needed to leave in order to continue my journey with the University of Tampa, who recruited me to play for their men’s team thus allowing me the opportunity to study and get my degree.
What was the plan after competing at college?
To be honest, I thought I did more than enough to warrant an invite to the MLS combine. I had all the hopes and confidence in the world that I was going to get drafted after having a great college career and proven international experience but it never happened. Of course moments like that were really disappointing and I was heartbroken, but I decided to pursue my dream and focus on opening new doors for myself. I continued to experience disappointing moments such as getting injured in the USL combine and teams wanting to sign me but choosing not to as I was an international player. The reality that I might have to return to Jamaica was surfacing, but one last opportunity came up where I went to Maine to play for a Professional Development League (PDL) Team to gain more exposure. During that moment, I had a lot of distractions but was still able to do well prompting the coach to approach me and say, “Ryan, what is your plan?” and to be honest, I didn't know but I wanted to keep my dream alive. The coach told me, don't worry, that he had a contact in Ireland and he would be more than willing to refer me. He reached out to Michael O’Neill the then Shamrock Rovers FC coach. I couldn't be happier. I jumped on a plane and headed to Ireland where the coach offered me a contract to be a first team goalkeeper after impressing him on trials. From there, I stayed hungry and had to make many sacrifices but it was all worth it. I won trophies with the club, competed in UEFA Champions League and Europa League, leading me to be the first Jamaican player to compete at that level.
What was the deciding moment that pushed you into coaching?
It was actually last year when I finished representing Jamaica in the Gold Cup, I started to look at all that I had accomplished over my career and decided that there was not much left for me to achieve as a professional being 32 years old. So I decided to start a goal-keeping academy where I could focus on assisting other kids to pursue their dream in soccer whether it is to compete collegiately, professionally, or even nationally.
Having recently started your own academy, what is your mission with the academy?
I want to teach kids that nothing is going to be given to them, that you have work for it, and even if you are given something, you have to demonstrate why you deserve it. So the mission is really preparing people to be successful in life, not just goalkeepers in soccer.
I know you mentioned how tough it is for goalkeepers and how there are many aspects of the position that can be transferred into real life situations, can you speak more about that?
Goalkeepers have a lot of responsibility, we make saves after saves, but when you make one mistake, everyone is against us. So I train my goalkeepers that this is life where you could do a hundred good things but mess up one time leading to someone judging you, but that doesn't mean you should stop doing good. The trainings are going to be hard, you are going to make mistakes, but you are going to learn how to overcome it regardless.
What advice can you share for any aspiring professional athletes that might be reading this?
You have to stay prepared for whatever opportunity it is that you are seeking out there. Everyone thinks that it is easier, but you have to be willing to run the extra mile, willing to give up things you enjoy in order to make your dream of becoming a professional athlete a reality. Your WHY has to be greater than the next person’s WHY who is competing for the same spot on a team as you. Lastly, even if your dream is to play professionally, prepare yourself for life after it as being a pro is only temporary.
We want to thank Ryan again for taking the time to speak with us about his journey to date and we wish nothing but success with his new academy in Tampa.