A goal in mind

By George Lee

Former professional footballer Steve Brown talks to us about his next goal to become a professional golfer and how age is not an excuse for setting big dreams.

Steve Brown’s professional football career spanned over twenty years. He was part of the much-loved Wycombe Wanderers team that reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 2001. After retiring at 37, he joined the FA before heading over to Arsenal, where he now leads the team spotting young and future talent. He is passionate about his job but in his spare time, his mind is very much on golf. At 55, his goal is to gain professional status in two sports, football and golf. Steve Brown has a huge presence. He is serious, considered and determined to get results. With sport on our minds this month, I wanted to ask him about retiring at 37, and the motivation behind his goal to achieve professional status in a second sport.

Steve Brown with the Wycombe Wanderers (2nd row, fifth from the left)

Chronological age is an excuse

We start off talking about Tom Piddcock. The night before we spoke, he had won the Olympic Gold in the cross country cycling event. “Why does he win? It is his mindset”. The power of the mind is central to Steve Brown’s philosophy on life. “Elite sportsmen are driven, they have the mindset to achieve, to be the best.” I ask him how important chronological age is and he is, as always, straight to the point: “Some people conveniently use age as an excuse as to why they can’t achieve something. You need to set goals and determinations and believe you can achieve them, chronological age is no excuse.”

The importance of experience

Our conversation takes us to experience. He talks about the young and talented English footballers who captured our hearts during the Euros this year. He talks about their energy, speed, and potential. He is a big fan. But he shares something which gets me thinking. “People talk about the youngsters when they play the field, how much energy they have, and how, as you get older, you don’t run around so much.” He pauses, and asks if “…we run around less as we become older because we are less physically able to, or because we have more experience and we know when to run?”. For Steve, it is clear: “it is because you have more experience…you know when to run and when not to.” I wonder if this is why we are seeing more older professional athletes, forgoing the historical ‘retirement’ ages. Is it the combination of sports science helping our bodies go on longer, combined with the wisdom which grows with experience that leads to the likes of Roger Federer still dominating their field much older than athletes historically? Something to think about.

Steve also talks about the importance of sharing this wisdom across generations. He speaks fondly of his mentors on and off the pitch when he was younger.  The knowledge and wisdom of older players, along with members of the support and management team were key to his success. Now, Steve is passing this gift of knowledge, experience and wisdom to the next generation in his role at Arsenal.

Steve Brown (right) and Robbie Savage at the FA Cup Quarter Final, 2001

The sense of purpose, of connection with other people, are key to living well at all ages

Retiring at 37

I asked Steve whether it was hard to retire from football at 37. “Absolutely not,” he declares without hesitation. With a football career free from injury, he suddenly found himself with a knee injury which would have left him unable to play for nine months. With his distinctive clarity, Steve said he knew that was a good time to stop. He also had other things he wanted to pursue. He was lucky – Steve was driven and had a strong sense of what he wanted his future to be. Not all retiring footballers are quite as fortunate. Steve tells me that the divorce rate of professional footballers is around the 70% figure. “The sudden lack of a team, the loss of camaraderie, a disappearance of purpose and routine often has a huge impact on us when we retire, but this is particularly true for professional sportsmen working part of a team.” The sense of purpose, of connection with others, are key to living well at all ages.

Steve Brown playing on the Praia D’el Rey course, Portugal.

Turning professional — Take 2

So to golf. Steve’s real passion. It feels like a perfect game for him. It needs a determined mindset, the grit to put in the hours to practice, and a desire to win. It is also about wisdom and life experience. “It is a game that improves with life lessons,” says Steve. “Golf isn’t the pit in your stomach, split-second decision making, adrenaline-fuelled game that is football. It is about clarity, reflection and experience.” Steve has seen the benefits of having people of different ages in his life, and this is true in who he plays golf with. He shares how he loves playing with people of all ages, learning something from everyone he plays with, whether it is the 80-year old widower he plays with regularly, or the 14-year old golfing genius. He says he loves playing with the younger players. He recognises his younger self in them, their frustrations when they hit poor shots, and how their lack of life experience can hold them back. So, is Steve confident that he will get the professional status he wants in golf? “Absolutely”, he says, “it might take me some time but I will get there.”  I have no doubt that whether he is 60, 70, or 80, Steve will reach his goal.

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Health & Wellbeing

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