Sam Blackburn knew very little about the state of Alabama growing up. Yet, this is exactly where he was heading to on a scholarship in 2009 with the University of Mobile.
And he loved every bit of it.
Over a 4-year period; Blackburn played in a national college soccer final, developed lasting relationships and in his own words “took a little piece of the south” back with him in the form of his girlfriend Ambri from Mississippi!
You quickly get the sense that Blackburn’s experience abroad has had a major impact on his outlook on football and life. He is grateful for the opportunities football has afforded him and appreciates every moment.
“The biggest thing I learnt (about playing in America) is that’s it not so much about the results. It’s more about the relationships and the people you meet”
“I specifically remember, after losing that championship game, feeling sad- not that we had lost- but that I would never get a chance to play with those players again. You’ve got to value the time you get to spend with your teammates”
Since returning home, Blackburn is now passing on his wise words to the stars of tomorrow.
As Football Development Officer at Capital Football, Blackburn leads coaching and community football projects in the Wellington region. He admits that young footballers today are provided with more career alternatives than ever before.
“When I was coming through as a teenager, you either got one of a handful of positions in the Phoenix youth setup or you went to America. Whereas now you can enter all sorts of academies, play for youth or Stirling Sports teams, or even play professionally in Europe. It’s great to see”
Given the choices available, the importance of mentors can’t be underestimated. Blackburn- who himself represented Team Wellington at the age of 16- understands the unique pressures placed on young footballers.
He loves using his experience to help others reach their goals.
“I’m very lucky to have a job where I’m able to work with kids who share the same dreams and wear the same shirt that I did. That makes me pretty proud to be part of that same journey with them”
Now in his first season back with Team Wellington after time abroad, Blackburn is nothing but impressed by the quality of the Stirling Sports Premiership.
He is happy with his performances although he does admit there is one thing he is yet to achieve- a goal! He cannot wait to get one into the back of the net for his club.
Jokes aside, his main goals are to help Team Wellington win back-to-back Premiership titles and deliver strong performances in the Oceanic League.
As for the future, Blackburn would love to develop a career in coaching. He would like to put something back into the sport that has served him so well.
As a qualified junior and youth coach, he has already started this journey. As with his American adventure, Blackburn will take on his next challenge with confidence and appreciate every moment he is lucky enough to experience.