Over the course of his career, Tommy Smith has been an ever-present figure in the Championship, played over 300 games in England’s professional leagues and the MLS, and won 50 caps for the All Whites. Below, the MK Dons defender reflects on his journey to senior football, and the qualities that have helped him to thrive in an array of professional environments.
In This Article
The Drive to Succeed
The challenges of professional football are huge, yet most players never even make it that far. When asked about his own progression from youth football, Smith attributes much of his success to hard work.
“All I wanted to do was be a professional footballer,” he says. “And when I got closer, I wanted it more and more. Throughout your journey, you see people fall by the wayside. I used that as motivation to do extra training and work on my weaknesses. I did extra sessions with fitness coaches to get quicker, fitter, and more agile.
“I had that dedication. I didn’t want to fall short because I hadn’t tried hard enough.”
Transitioning to Professional Football
For many footballers, the next step — maintaining a career in the game — is the hardest; the demands of professional environments can be hard to comprehend without experiencing them firsthand, and can catch many young players by surprise. An ability to adapt and then apply oneself is therefore crucial for any individual on the cusp of senior football.
“Being honest, I went into my first pre-season off-the-pace,” explains Smith. “I hadn’t appreciated the jump from part-time football to a full-time environment, and I probably wasn’t fit enough.
“But, while it took me some time to adjust, I think I went from strength to strength once I did. I had brilliant coaches who helped me to adapt and grow. I tried to improve every day. And, eventually, I got my break in the first team.”
Thriving in Challenging Environments
Smith’s career highlights include ten seasons in the Championship — widely considered one of the toughest and fastest leagues in world football. So what is his advice for thriving in intense, highly-competitive environments? “You must be physically ready for it,” he says. “You need to prepare, rest, and recuperate properly in order to go again.
“Mental strength is equally important. The games come thick and fast, but everybody is in the same boat. At that level, you never go into a game 100% fit. There’s always something — whether it’s tiredness, illness, or little injuries — but you need the mental capacity to grind through it.
“I think that mentality probably comes from my younger days,” he says. “My dad always emphasised the importance of perseverance and never taking the easy way out. I worked immensely hard to get here, but there are also many people who have helped me along the way.
“It’s been a fantastic career so far. And hopefully there’s still a lot more to come.”
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