The day a player is signed to a professional contract, it’s assumed that person made it.
All those early morning practices, multiple sessions over one day in extreme conditions during formative years brought said player to where they land today: Professional athlete status.
Shouldn’t need anything more – once that player puts on the uniform they've already made it, right?
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It’s been well documented on this site as well as among Philadelphia’s soccer writers Gaddis’ unwavering commitment to his craft, but this offseason he took it a step further, taking advantage of the NSCAA Convention hosted in the town where he plies his trade. Gaddis, 24, sat in on multiple sessions to learn how a more effective all-around defender should play.
“When you attend sessions and you then go coach other players it makes it easier to translate when you’re playing,” said Gaddis told philadelphiaunion.com. “I coach kids sometimes too, and when you are trying to teach somebody else how to play, they make you process what you should do when you’re trying to play. You’re like ‘Okay, I see why I made the mistake.’ I can’t teach this because I myself don’t know how to thoroughly do it yet.”
“Soccer is a perishable skill. When you stop thinking about it, or when you stop working on it, your touch goes away, you’re thinking process goes away. So you got to always get better, both mentally and physically.”
To aid in "getting better," Gaddis took part in four sessions over a two-day period entitled:
- “Future Coaches: A Lecture towards Diploma”
- “Increased Speed of Play and Speed of Thought”
- “Defending: A Progressive Method to Implement Defensive Principles “
- “Dictating the Game without the Ball: Collective Organization for Recovery of the Ball”
The last one was presented by former Chivas USA coach and current Red Bulls assistant Robin Fraser.
Quite the coursework for a player entering what will be Gaddis’ third season as a pro.
“As a defender, you can always get better at the little things you work on,” Gaddis said. “Take pride in your defending. I want to see what ideas, how forwards are thinking, and what’s critical for them so those particular courses are important for me and the development of my game. These coaches with years in the game are taking the time to give best practices, so why wouldn’t you listen?”
One thing Gaddis beams with whenever he steps on the field is an immense amount of pride of not just being a player in the game, but steadily becoming an impact African American player. During the convention, Gaddis made a point to join the Black Coaches Association and attend a social meeting. He realizes the rarity of black head coaches in the pro and college game and has aspirations of adding to the number after his playing career has concluded.
“I think it is rare that through this process my club coach was black and my college coach was black,” said Gaddis of his club coach in Indianapolis and in addition to West Virginia University head coach Marlon LeBlanc. “I have aspirations of being a coach after the game. It sounds cliché, and I don’t want to sound like every other black athlete, but soccer wasn’t a way out for me to do something different, soccer was different and I enjoyed the uniqueness of it all. Like I said, it’s pretty amazing that two black coaches helped me and gave me a platform to play. I don’t think I would be at certain areas where I am now if I didn’t play under them to be truly honest.”
Gaddis also gave back to his community organizing a toy drive in Indianapolis, a town he says he’d like to go back and help grow the sport. For now, however he’s a professional representing his hometown in Major League Soccer as he hopes to take all he learned over the offseason and apply it to maintaining a starting role on manager John Hackworth’s new look Union.
“Personally with my mentality, it excites me because I like competition,” Gaddis said after a morning training session at YSC Sports. “It still lets you know where your game is. It lets you know, ‘Ok yeah, you put in the work.’ I was once in that position and now that I am on the receiving end of it, like I said, I enjoy the competition and I’m excited about it. You can’t run from any of that.”
He then paused, glanced a sly grin and added:
“If you’re not a competitor then you shouldn’t be here.”
What do you think of Ray Gaddis’ game? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org