“I’m sorry my mother fired you,” Rose says the next morning, as we’re walking down the road together. 

She pulls her hoodie over her head against the cold wind and I hug her close to me.

“It’s OK. It was all worth it,” I reply. 

She smiles and my heart leaps at how beautiful she is. I still can’t believe I’ve kissed her!

“I’ve got to meet the Professor,” I tell her. 

I don’t want to leave Rose, but it’s my last training session before the final against the Leopards. I need all the professional help I can get!

I make my way down to the field. The Professor smiles when he sees me, but his eyes look sad.

“What’s up Prof? Don’t worry – I know I’ve got to run. No complaints from me today.”

“Ah, Nathi,” the Professor says, “watching you play against the Aces made me wish for my younger years. Coaching is wonderful but nothing beats the thrill of playing.”

He drags a flattened cardboard box towards us, sits down and gestures for me to join him.

“No running today,” the Professor says, “and no dancing. Just talking.”

I feel a little nervous. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not dying,” chuckles the Professor as he notices my worried face, “I’m old, but I’m not that old yet.”

He gestures to the muddy field. “You’ve trained hard physically,” he says, “but that can only get you so far.”

I’m listening intently. I can tell the Professor wants to tell me something really important.

“You’ve heard what people say about me?” the Professor asks

I try to choose my words very carefully. 

“Well they say that you missed a penalty and went…” 

I stop. This is coming out all wrong.

The Professor smiles, “It’s true that I missed a big penalty. But I’m not mad. Well, not madder than most people. But after that I couldn’t play. I lost my confidence. I know what it’s like when you make a mistake, so when I saw you miss that shot against the Leopards I knew that I couldn’t let you give up like I gave up.”

The Professor taps his heart as he speaks. “If you want to be a truly great player you have to want it so much that you don’t let fear, pain or temptation to quit get in your way.”

The old man’s eyes are like laser beams as he looks at me. 

“So, my boy, my question to you is this. Do you want to be a great player enough to make it?”

Image: M Marshall-photography, CC-BY-ND-2.0

WHAT DO YOU THINK? To get to where he wants to be, Nathi needs to learn to overcome difficulties. What helps you deal with tough times?