It has already been eight months since Olav Sieljes left for the US. At the time he was 17 years old en was pursuing his dream of playing soccer and studying in the US. This all sounds very straightforward but it clearly isn’t. Ton Sieljes, Olav’s father, presents a view behinds the scenes in this guest blog into how this adventure came to be and how they, as parents, dealt with everything.
My name is Ton Sieljes. Married with Marian, together we are the proud parents of 4 beautiful children. Stef (22), Yvonne (21), Olav (18) and Annemiek (16). Very different in character, different educational backgrounds, and still they have a lot in common. They are all athletes. Very driven also. We try to teach them to find their own way in life, make them clear that everyone is able to achieve a lot on their own level. If you want it bad enough, and are able to sacrifice enough, and when you don’t get distracted by setbacks along the way, you will make it.
But this is about Olav, because he is the reason we as parents came into contact with KingsTalent. I can’t remember the moment exactly, but I think Olav was 14 years old when he first came with the idea to study in the US. Right… nice idea Olav. Education in the Netherlands already costs a lot of money (is what I thought at the time, now I know that it’s probably one of the cheapest countries to study). But it seemed it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. The idea remained.
Olav contacted a soccer player from a local Hoofdklasse club who actually did play college soccer in the US. His experiences were unforgettable, Olav became increasingly more inspired. His study capacities (HAVO) were sufficient for admission into a US college. Would his soccer qualities (youth soccer at division level, KNVB-North U16 selection, at age 16 playing in the second senior team 2e Klasse) also be sufficient for the necessary athletic scholarship? Somewhere in the news we learned about KingsTalent, after an interview by phone the initial enthusiasm became an indisputable goal. “Mom and dad, this is what I want!”
So, as said in the first alinea, this was a case of “if you want something bad enough, and are able to sacrifice enough, and when you don’t get distracted by setbacks along the way”, than it is possible. Also we as parents, despite being worried about our 16-year old son maybe going halfway around the world to study and play soccer, obviously couldn’t go back. We gave our full support in pursuit of Olav’s dream. We still had a few questions. What are those guys at KingsTalent like, what is their motivation, what about the cost of it all, what do we have pay and when do we have to pay it, and what if the entire process fails?
An information meeting in the PSV stadium in Eindhoven gave a lot of clarity about the matter, and gave us an especially good impression about Paul and Han de Koning, and of KingsTalent in general. The process and the costs where transparant. The enthusiasm was very clear. No false promises. We as parents gained a lot of confidence and got the right feeling. But, especially Olav’s mother, also gained the idea that this could become serious and that we could lose our youngest son for quite some time. Of course, it’s his dream. We have to support it… But this is pretty hard for us, parents.
The whole circus started. Handing in a lot of information for the player profile on the website. Taping an introduction-pitch. Taping video material from different matches and trying to make a representing highlight video. Gaining information. How realistic is the chance of a full scholarship? Can we, to cover other costs, turn to the Dutch study loan system and which conditions do we have to meet? What about health insurance? If everything goes ahead, what about the student visa? A lot of questions… luckily we could always depend on the support and assistance of KingsTalent.
The date became 9 January 2016. Showcase, recruitment day, whatever you call it. Olav could show off his qualities during a practice and a match while being watched by a number of attending US college coaches. At that moment Olav had no clue he would be back at the showcase one year later. To tell a new group of recruits about his first six months experience of studying and playing soccer in the US… But back then this was still unknown. Olav felt he played ok on the showcase of January 2016. But there was also doubt. He was still 16 years old. One of the youngest kids there. Even though he was able to handle himself physically. He did play on his favorite position, “on 6”, defending midfielder. But for the Americans physical aspects of the game are immensely important. So then still, also doubt remained.
After the showcase players were invited to meet with one or more attending coaches. Olav didn’t get picked for a meeting. And at that moment he was not amused! We as parents repeated “If you want it bad enough, and are able to sacrifice enough, and when you don’t get distracted by setbacks along the way, you will get there”. We reminded Olav that the showcase match video’s would be distributed by KingsTalent among a lot of coaches in the US, there were still a lot of opportunities.
A lot of exciting weeks followed. Then there was an email from Sterling, Colorado. David Groves had just taken over the men’s soccer program at Northeastern Junior College. The previous coach was fired due to bad results, the athletic department thought it was time for a change of management in the soccer department. A new, ambitious program was started. David had studied the KingsTalent showcase footage and saw Olav as an important part in the newly formed mens’s soccer team of the “Northeastern Plainsmen”, or: the men of the northeastern plains of Colorado, on the foot of the Rocky Mountains. By the way, Olav is born and raised in the plain in Holland called the North East polder (Noordoostpolder). Coincidence?
First we informed at KingsTalent. How do we have to see this interest? What is a junior college? What can we expect in terms of scholarship, what will be the costs of study? And the scholarship offer, will this be negotiable? Again we got excellent advice and we decided to get in touch with David Groves. A Skype interview followed. Conclusion: We as parents had a good feeling with this coach, with the school and with the education opportunity. Olav’s enthusiasm could no longer be contained. This was really happening. After a few Skype meetings with the coach the deal was done. It was official. There was joy, but of course there were also worries for us as parents. What will happen when your 17 year old son actually moves to the US, a few monts later?
First there was period of arranging things, a lot of things. In the Spring of 2016 Olav was first of all preoccupied with getting his HAVO degree. If this wouldn’t happen the whole adventure was off. Next to playing soccer Olav was also going to start his studies in Colorado. At first we as parents had the feeling that this was not the most important part, understandable. Eventually the choice was made, ‘Business’ was going to be Olav’s major in the US. We would have plenty of time to arrange all the affairs, it was end of March/beginning op April 2016 at the time. Olav wasn’t expected in the US until August. Mistake. Eventually time became a real pressing issue due to the many things that had to be done before he could get on the plane. But here again, we could always count on the support and assistance of KingsTalent. That was very nice to experience.
To use an American phrase: “the rest is history”. Olav left for Colorado in August 2016. Living his dream. Currently 18 years old, but still the youngest player of the Northeastern Plainsmen men’s soccer team. Despite that, he is team-captain of a big 33(!) player team selection. Competing in the NJCAA, Division 1 level. He plays as a center back and started in all the Plainsmen games. Studies are going fine. He has made a lot of new friends over there, including some friends for life, we think.
Olav plays in a team with white Americans, Afro-Americans, two French players, one Britt, Australians, a Pakistani, one Honduran, Jamaicans, Mexicans and Brazilians. All with very different backgrounds. Different cultures. Rich, average income and poor. Christian, Muslim or nothing at all. Olav played games in Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah and North California. He celebrated Spring Break in Miami, Florida. Playing in one team with such a diverse group of players from all different backgrounds and still all pursuing one common goal, for Olav this is amazing! And we as parents share his opinion. Because his understanding of the world is widened by this experience. In The Netherlands we like to classify people, put people in a certain ‘box’. He learns to think differently. And this is just as important as his GPA (study results) and the soccer statistics that Americans love so much.
Olav does get homesick sometimes. We are very close as a family…. Luckily there are modern means of communication. And he has his parents, his brother and especially his two sisters who encourage him. I think we have more contact with Olav now then we would have had when he would have studied in Groningen, for example. And he is never homesick for long. If he would be we would tell him to get on the first flight from Denver to Amsterdam. But this never happens. Because even though we miss each other, he is happy. And so are we. Winterbreak was great, having Olav home again for a month. Celebrating Christmas and New Year together.
“If you can dream it, you can do it”. Nice American slogan. For this we give ourself, as parents, a little bit of credit. “A life changing experience” it says prominently on the KingsTalent website. Every word is true. Those credits are for Paul and Han de Koning. Thanks guys!
Ton & Marian Sieljes, Emmeloord.