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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Keeping a Mamba Mentality
Jordan Poarch

A little over a month ago we were out for practice. The boys were just about done their warm up and I, with cones in my hand, was in the process of setting up an extended technical warm up—a simple passing progression to get the legs going. Hutch approached, in usual Hutch like fashion, coming closer and closer as I figured the next drill. Typically, our conversations start prior to his impeding approach. He typically says “Hey Poarchie" or “How’s it going brotha." But this time, he started with none of these, which threw me into state of shock and angst as he came closer and closer. I knew …at that moment... something was afoot. Hutch’s unorthodox approach that day was followed by a question. “Poarch, what do you think about giving a chapel talk?” Distracted and seemingly ambushed our beloved Chaplain, I succumbed to his request. I tell this tale not only as an introduction but a warning to future students and faculty members that find themselves in similar situations. If Hutch does one or all of these things… he will ask you to do a chapel talk. 

I wasn’t always just a soccer player. If you asked six-year-old Jordan, according to my parents, I actually wanted to be a farmer. Random I know, considering we never actually lived on a farm and Pittsburgh isn’t exactly farm country.  When we moved to Delaware, I got my first taste of organized sports, I even tried football. Many of you here tonight remember our good friend Jake Myers ’12. He was a teammate of mine during my M.O.T  football debut. He was also someone I genuinely feared on the field. We had this barbaric drill called Oklahomas. Moffit would agree that the drill was meant to separate the men from the boys, ya know. Real hardy stuff. There were two opposing blockers, one offensive, one defensive with a running back and an additional defender on defense. The two blockers would occupy themselves while the offensive player and the defender went head-to-head. Jake, strong and committed to the sport—he’d been playing for two to three years, vs frail bodied Jordan, shifty but mistaken. Despite being successful at the end of the season, the constant clashing and faceoffs with Jake made me reconsider the “fun” I was having. It was soccer from that moment on. The sport I fell in love with. 

You see my family, didn’t just play sports, we lived them. Weekends were spent traveling, whether out to Hershey for soccer game or to Vegas for my older brother’s AAU basketball tournaments. We were always on the move, the prototypical soccer family—minivan and all. I do think my parents enjoyed it. Maybe our experiences as kids allowed them to reminisce on the “better days"—my dad at Hackensack Christian in New Jersey, a three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball and baseball, and my mom as a varsity swimmer, track athlete, and even cheerleader. For me, I think this passion for the game of soccer, maybe even sports in general, started with my parents. The distinct yelps from my dad during games. Which is funny because I heard these same yelps in our double overtime victory vs DMA. Ultimately this was how we were all so invested in athletics as a family—it bonded us. I think the natural progression for someone who has genuine love for something, especially something that can be turned into a profession, is to try to make a career out of it. I ask myself now: When was the moment when I thought to myself, This is who I am, This is who I identify as, or This is what I want to do for as long as I can? Success for me is signing a professional contract for soccer. In hindsight there were multiple key moments that reinforced this idea.  

The first was during my freshmen year at Virginia. It’s worth noting that coming from Delaware and not being from a top club or academy program, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea how good at soccer kids around this country could actually be. I started off bad. There were a group of 11 starters, you got another group of 11 as the subs, and about three players sitting off in corner during scrimmages in practice. I was one of three sitting off in the corner. I wasn’t a technical with the ball and I wasn’t confident at the time. I just wasn’t good, ya know. Fast forward a month into the season, I was able to break into the travel squad, the group of 18 who traveled to away games. Eventually I would break into subs and following that, then make my debut as a starter my freshmen year. In my head, If I was able to make such significant improvements to my game in such a short amount of time, who’s to say I couldn’t be pro?

The second moment was during my sophomore year. We had added some really good players to the team. One of them being a kid named Jordan Allen. A winger who made the decision to come to UVA rather than sign a homegrown contract to Real Salt Lake, a major league soccer team. At that point, I had established myself as a starter at the right back position. We had a game against Radnor, one of those preseason exhibitions matches to see what worked for us as far as formation and substitutions went. I ended up playing arguably my best game of soccer... ever.  I defended well, got forward, and connected with the other Jordan and created some scoring chances. It always helps when others take notice of your successes, and my coaches had good things to say as well as my teammates. What took it over the top was when Mr. Allen, the other Jordan’s dad, came up to me to ask where I had played Academy growing up. I said simply, "I didn’t play academy, I actually played for Kirkwood soccer club in Delaware. have you heard of it?" The club, he says… I said no, the state of Delaware, have you heard of it. It was in that moment where I knew other people were taking notice and that this dream of becoming a professional soccer player wasn’t some fantasy of mine. I had gained confidence over the years, I had made improvements to my technical ability, I was truly balling.

I want to take a moment to shed some light on what I believed the proper mentality of an athlete was at the time. I would go on to wield this mentality or ego in the years following college at the peak of my athletic career. This mentality is best described by the Great GOAT himself. Kobe Bean Bryant, the one and the only, Black Mamba. He trademarked the phrase “Mamba Mentality” and described a mindset for constant self-improvement in the pursuit of your highest potential in life. There are five traits of the Mamba and I want you all to raise your hand if you wield each characteristic. A mamba is honest: honest about their work ethic, their strengths and weaknesses. A mamba is optimistic: you look on the bright side of things, even if you can’t see them in the present. A mamba is passionate: you possess that fire, it’s that inner rage that answers the question, Why am I even doing this? A mamba is fearless: you have to be willing to get outside of your comfort zone. The last trait is an interesting one… a mamba must be detached. I think he was referring to being sometimes distant from anything that isn’t the goal or aiding you in achieving it. 

So having been so heavily influenced by Kobe and his alter ego the mamba, I spend four years after my last college game 100% invested in making this dream of a reality. Some of you may be asking yourself... what does that look like, how does one become a pro? 

Its' training four times a week and getting in the gym on your off days. It’s working side jobs so you have enough money for random summers in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania and new York to get semi-professional games under your belt. Many of you remember seeing me at the cash register at Dunkin'. I wasn’t doing it for fun. It was a necessity at that point. Professional combines cost money and if you were lucky enough to get invited for trial, air fair and accommodations aren’t paid for.  

It was cycle. work, train, wait for the next transfer window to open up. Transfer windows were essentially a two-month period where a team could legally sign a player. In that window, I’d go to trial or combine and most times, do well, but then hear nothing from the staff. Sounds morbid, but I happily did it because that was who I was at the moment. A player training to be a pro. That’s what it took. It’s the love, it’s the passion, it was my identity. These are all things that kept me going. 

Alas, all good things must come to an end. It was the winter of 2017. I had got in contact with an agent in Trinidad and Tobago who had some contacts in the Czech Republic. They were organizing a two-week long trip to the Czech Republic; we would have some games against some lower-division teams while local scouts would identify some players that could play at higher levels. Excited by the opportunity I worked to get the funds I needed and booked the plane ticket from D.C to Vienna, Austria. This wasn’t my first trip abroad, unlike my soon-to-be teammates who were waiting for me in Austria. I was mentally and physically ready. The agent from Trinidad and Tobago brought 13 or so players from the country, so I was one of the two Americans on the trip.  We spent the first few days training, nothing too crazy because we had our first game four days after we arrived. Again, I was probably the fittest I had ever been, confident—as I’d been on trial before and I knew what was at stake. The first game was basically the Caribbean All-Stars plus Jordan vs a fourth division team outside of Znjojmo, Czech Republic. 

I played well, but wouldn’t say I played my best. I had a goal and an assist in a 3 to 1 win. Shortly after the game, a rough looking man with a cigarette in his mouth comes up to me and says “good player, eh." This was one of the scouts from Czech. He says, “I think you have what it takes to play at a very high level.” He proceeds to tell me that he wants me to drive into Prague tomorrow to meet with some of the coaching staff at Sk Prague and discuss the terms of a trial. My heart begins to race… All of the hard work, the time, the effort, the mental will power it took for me to keep going. It was all going to pay off. That night I’m researching the team and find out that they often win their division and play in the champions league. The champions league is arguably the best soccer tournament in the world where the top teams all across Europe battle. It is said that the winner of the tournament is best team in the world. You can only imagine what was going through my head. Am I about to play in the champions league? I begin to look at player salaries … SK Prague’s bench players were getting paid over 250 thousand euros a year. I’m excited but stricken by nervousness all in the same time. The next morning I had practice with my Caribbean fellows and I was set to leave with the Czech man that afternoon. It was winter so it was cold. We made sure we did a proper warm up before getting started. technical passing, a little possession drill, and some shooting at the end. I’m ecstatic at this point and happy as ever to be this young boy from Delaware in this foreign land about to finally achieve the dream. I pass the ball forward for a layoff so I can shoot. I score. I head to the back of the line. I do it again, pass, layoff shot. The third time I go through the progression I pass, gather the ball off of the layoff and lineup to shoot. It was a routine shot, after a decent warmup, so my body was in no way cold or unexpecting of the motion my leg and foot going through the ball. My foot makes contact with the ball and I immediately feel a jolt go up quad. From my experiences in the past I knew what a quad pull felt like. I also knew what quad pull would mean for this trip, the potential trial in Prague, and in hindsight what it would mean for my soccer career. I went to Prague but to sightsee. 

It is hard to put into words how that moment affected me. I mean, I was very close to engaging in something so life-altering. And yet it all went away during a shooting drill and because my chicken legs couldn’t hold up. Who would have thought? This was the last time I made the push to become a professional. 

So what now, Jordan? This was the question I asked of myself when I got home. All of your life you have been a soccer player. You played in high school and college, you’ve spent the last four years of your life training yourself mentally and physically. What to do now? Well, it depends who you ask. Which leads me to my closing points. 

Sometimes people see something in you before you see it in yourself. Just like there were moments that I was certain that it was my calling to be a professional soccer player, there were and there will continue to be moments where people will lead me towards other paths. 

I spoke with my family, my immediate support system. That I love dearly and will forever be grateful for. Although we shared so much time together at sporting events, they were the first to tell me I was much more than a soccer player. That I was someone who was kind, and put others first. Someone who is passionate and can inspire others. 

I spoke with Tad. The first thing he said was he knew me long before I was some big-time athlete. That I was curious about the world and that I had this innate ability to motivate others. 

Even in my time playing soccer, the “identity” or “calling” didn’t come right away. So how could I expect another path to be paved instantly? These things evolve over time. It’s something that we all struggle to find, through the ups and downs and often the craziness of life. You all are at a wonderful school where we ask you engage in ideas and activities that you might not have considered before. Continue to take risks in this never-ending path to find yourself. If you need any inspiration, look at me. It was three years ago when I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do outside of soccer. A couple of conversations with some genuine people, some successes some failures, and with a bit of hope and faith... I’ve arrived as dorm parent, soccer coach, and admissions associate. 

What is important is that we do things to the absolute best of our ability. Mamba mentality always and forever. Be honest, be optimistic, be passionate, be fearless, be detached at times. Do all of these things but listen and look for the “call."  If not in one moment, it will be in another. 

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