Why Adversity is a Precious Gift to Student-Athletes

Adversity is a precious gift to student-athletes

No elite athlete I’ve ever met – youth, collegiate or professional – has ever told me they reached the pinnacle of their sport because a clear path was laid out for them. Nor have I heard anyone credit their success to their parents’ having complained to their coach that something wasn’t fair. On the contrary, every successful athlete I know tells a story of how they made it to the top in spite of – or perhaps because of – the adversity they’ve faced.

My own story of becoming a professional soccer player is no different. My family emigrated to London from Sierra Leone when I was just a preschooler. As a single parent, my mum worked several jobs to provide for my brother and me, which meant she rarely had time to attend any of my matches, much less take me to practice. A strict disciplinarian, my mum allowed me to play soccer, provided I kept up my grades and attended church – no excuses.

I got the message: I hit the books, went to service every Sunday, and learned to navigate London’s public transportation system on my own for the two-hour journey to practice each day. Being of humble means, I often went without many of the material comforts my classmates enjoyed and I relied on the generosity of other families to pay for essentials like boots and uniforms. But soccer was my life and I made the most of the resources that were available to me. I was determined to succeed.

Today, instead of spending my days playing soccer on a Premier League pitch, I help families transition from youth sport into college and beyond. And in my current role as coach and recruiting advisor, the lessons of my youth are as important as ever. When parents ask me how to help their children become successful my advice is simple:

  • Let your child fail. From Tony DiCicco to Thomas Edison, some of the most successful people in modern history agree that failure is the best way to learn.

  • Allow them to take ownership. If your child puts in a poor effort and rides the bench, they must own the outcome. If they don’t seem to care, that also tells you something. Either way, you can’t do this for them.

  • Get on with it. It’s true that life isn’t fair. Instead of complaining about injustice, teach your child how to be a resourceful problem-solver and overcome obstacles.

Although I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time, I now see adversity as a gift. My difficulties helped me develop resilience and an understanding that discipline and hard work will eventually lead to success. Now, when challenges arise, I never question whether I can handle them. Pressure? No problem. I’m completely confident that I can cope with stress, disappointment – and even success – without losing focus. If that’s the attitude you’d like your child to develop, the best gift you can give them is tough love.

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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at

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