On Tuesday 17 May 2016 the University Of Pretoria Library Services invited Coach Shaun Bartlett to share his life story with the students, to motivate them to overcome their circumstances and stay focused on achieving their dreams.
Here is a very short summary of what he had to say.
"My mother had me at a young age and she had to go work so I ended up staying with my Grandmother. It is never easy when you have fifteen people sharing a three bedroom house and I had to share the 'boys' room with five uncles. It is an unfortunate reality but we have become a nation where kids are forced to grow up at a young age because of the family situation. Sometimes it is not by choice but you just have to make the best of it. I had an absent father, he had numerous opportunities to be there for me but it never happened. I remember at an early age I had to go to his house to ask for money to buy supplies that I needed for school. That is what today is referred to as maintenance money, at the time it was about forty rands but he chose not to pay it and my mother had to work three jobs to make sure that I could be comfortable.
I grew up in a suburb called Factreton in Cape Town, which is between Goodwood and Maitland. Growing up in your poorer communities you are always exposed to a lot of negative things and one of the biggest reasons why I got into sport was stay away from the drugs and the gangsterism. Those sort of things have ruined many people's lives and football was my way out. Growing up there were other boys who were more talented than me but they got involved with the drugs and fell by the wayside.
I always tell my players and my kids that they must always play at their best because you never know who is watching. I was playing in a church league when I was spotted and this person organised trials for me at Cape Town Spurs and I made the selection.
My most important goal has to be my first goal, I was playing for Cape Town Spurs at the time and from there the flood gates opened for a good career after that. More important that scoring goals is to have personal goals in life and I am very fortunate to have had a family that has been supporting me. Writing things down is the easy part, but the satisfaction you get from achieving those goals and ticking them off the list is better that winning any trophy. At the age of ten years I had three goals that I wrote down on a piece of paper and also shared with my grandmother. I told her that I am going to play on TV, I am going to play for the national team and I am going to play in England. Unfortunately she did not live to see me achieve the third goal but when I eventually did get to England I knew she was watching me from above.
Interesting story of how I got to play in England, I was playing in Switzerland and had a good season. Crystal Palaces, who at the time were competing in the first division, which is similar to our National First Division, made a two million pound offer for me. Then there was Charlton who were campaigning in the Premier League offered a loan deal. So I had the option between a guaranteed three year contract or to go prove myself and play for a contract. I chose the option of proving myself, and that has been my take on life. It is easy being in a comfort zone but I always go for the more difficult options. It is easy to chase the pay check and not the passion but I believe that if you pursue your passion then the money will take care of itself.
I am a big believer in introducing the youth to football because it teaches you to have that no-fear attitude and that becomes important in real life, to be able to resist following the popular kids and succumbing to peer pressure. Ultimately, you should know what your goals are and focus on getting there. There is no short cut to achieving any goal, there is no escalator to success. You have to climb those stairs and take it one step at a time. As a coach I am not here only to make better players but to make better men and the lessons that I impart on them they should be able to also use in their everyday lives.
I remember one time I was having a conversation with Quinton Fortune and he shared with me that one of the best feelings he has ever had was when Charlton played Manchester United and he had goose bumps when he looked across and saw another Cape Town boy. Who would have thought that two young colored boys from the flats would be standing across from each other at Old Trafford? No-one could have ever written that script. My parting words to you guys are that if you have the hunger and the drive to succeed, don't let anyone tell you that you can't make it. Keep doing the things that will get you there, there will always be obstacles and a lot of negativity even from people that you thought were your friends. None of that should distract you from achieving your goals and living your dreams."