My name is Paxton Joseph Ballard (27) and I am a current player for FBK Karlstad.
The Early Years:
I’ve been playing football since I was a little kid. My father is English, so football is in my blood. I think I always had a ball at my feet growing up. Funny enough, at first, I actually pursued tennis as a professional sport.
That was until I was allowed to stay up until 2 a.m. on a school night to watch England play Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. When I saw my dad's eyes light up, the singing from the fans, and the passion behind the game -- I was hooked! It was new to me because football was rarely televised in America.
The very next day, I came home and told my parents that I no longer wanted to play tennis, but instead, wanted to play soccer professionally.
When I was young, I was released by F.C. Westchester. I spoke to my father about what a blessing that was not too long ago. If I was never released at a young age, I probably would have never joined Eastern F.C, the club that helped me enormously through the years, and ultimately introduced me to Joe Funicello and SoccerViza.
I played the majority of my youth soccer for Eastern F.C., a club I am forever grateful for. I did the traditional American soccer route and played in high school and then moved onto a small D2 school in Albany -- The College of Saint Rose.
Ray Franklin, my former coach at Eastern F.C. introduced me to SoccerViza.
SoccerViza has been immense in my development and my career. Before SoccerViza, I had signed two professional contracts in England. I thought after having that on my resume, it wouldn't be hard to find more clubs and further my career, but I was mistaken. SoccerViza put me back in the ‘shop window’ when no one was bold enough to stick their neck out for me.
If I’m being completely honest, there was a time that Joe (Owner and Director at SoccerViza) and I did NOT see eye to eye. I was a young athlete with ambitious eyes and chasing after a deal to play in Australia. After it fell through, we had a disagreement (in the grand scheme of things it was my fault). However, after a few necessary years of growth and maturing, I was reconnected with Joe and Soccerviza. Now we have a strong relationship. I also have a place where I know I can go to for guidance and a company I can back with full confidence.
Honestly, I was a ‘late bloomer.’ I didn't 100% believe in my ability nor see my potential until my sophomore year of college. Throughout that summer, I signed with a PDL team, Real Boston Rams, who had a partnership with the New England Revolution. Training and playing with top D1, academy, and first team players for a summer not only sharpened my game, but proved to me that there was something to pursue in the game of football.
Struggles & Difficulties:
"Quitting" is a strong word and not in my nature. There's a time for perseverance and a time to let go. I don’t see myself abandoning my love for this game altogether -- ever.
In the past, I've struggled with being released, my clubs (that's plural!) going bankrupt, concussions, broken promises, living in a foreign country with little to no money, etc. These simply seem to be a part of the game at this point.
My biggest challenge personally would have to be in 2014, at the height of my parents’ divorce. That summer, I had booked a one-way ticket to England to make my dream come true. The hardest thing for me, was leaving what felt like a war zone and I was abandoning my troops. I was at such an inner conflict. Playing and living in a new country with no safety net knowing that the people most important to me (my parents) were going through hell.
* Side note: I say this with FULL confidence knowing that regardless of how I felt neither of my parents would EVER keep me from pursuing my dreams. They encouraged my decision. *
I would highly recommend getting immersed in a professional environment as soon as possible. There are clubs in America that are slowly trying to implement this now, but nothing compares to where football is the culture (i.e. Europe or South America).
Also, PLAY PLAY PLAY! So many times, American players, including myself, turn their noses up at a level that we think is "below" us. Therefore, we focus on training instead. Training, nutrition, sleep and learning are all important ingredients, but it’s PLAYING the game that improves the player. A price cannot be put on the value of match experience.
Finding the reason to pursue soccer as a profession is very important. At a young age, there was a lot of me that wanted the glory. I'm not saying it's wrong, but I've learned that if this profession is pursued from selfish ambition to make money or to look like what we see on social media, unfulfillment and burn-out are going to be the outcome.
As I've matured, and most recently found my Faith again, I have realized what a blessing this game is. This perspective has allowed me to see a bigger picture of how my profession can be used for good, to share my faith with others, and ultimately as a vehicle to lead me where my next chapter lies.
The Right Doors Close and the Best Doors Open:
Perfect example: I was going on trial to another team in my division, and at the last minute they pulled out. Two weeks later, after a SoccerViza combine, I was signed by an even bigger and better club in Sweden. It was extra sweet when we played and beat the team.
Combines – Good Idea or Bad?
The idea of combines is awesome. Especially in a market like America where there is so much talent that goes unnoticed. However, many companies and even professional clubs have exploited these young hungry players for profit! I've been on the receiving end of my fair share of these types of "opportunities.”
SoccerViza doesn't BS. If you can play and have the essential tools that it takes to play PRO, they will do their best to help. Combines can be difficult, and the timing must be perfect. Out of hundreds of players, you must fit the match and profile of what a club is looking for. You can be the best striker in the world but if a club is looking for a center back, you'll be overlooked. That's the reality of the game.
I believe in combines wholeheartedly. Don't stop after only doing one! Increase your chances and associate yourself with a company like SoccerViza, who won't turn their back on you if they believe they can help.
I am thankful for everything that I've learned from my parents, my coaches, my teammates. I’ve flooded my brain with the sport and ultimately my greatest teacher – Jesus.
Playing professionally is certainly much more than cool training/match photos with a witty caption and a few emojis on Instagram -- that’s for sure! It's honestly a dream to play the world's sport as a profession. I love every second of everything that goes into it. Everything is where it needs to be.