After speaking with veteran midfielder John Thorrington, a famous sentiment of American writer John Maxwell’s immediately came to mind; “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”
The talented 33-year-old has played in England, Germany and now the United States. Many role models have paved the way throughout his career, but the League veteran has also endured many personal setbacks. Through it all, Thorrington continued to “adjust [his] sails,” and lead each team he featured for, both on the field and on the sidelines.
“I had a lot of really good role models, in terms of older players, who were very influential on me,” explained Thorrington.
The experienced midfielder has been learning from players and coaches and pieced together leadership styles he finds effective for 16 years. Those 16 years of competitive play, however, brought with them several injuries.
“So, being injured is terrible,” admits Thorrington. “I can’t think of much that’s worse for a professional athlete, but it’s unfortunately been something I’ve had to deal with throughout my career.”
Athletes respond to injuries in different ways—some use injuries as an excuse and some use injuries as a time to learn. John Thorrington has opted to take the latter route and learned to lead in a unique capacity.
“The way I look at is, it is terrible, but a way you can sort of try to make the most of it is by taking advantage of taking that step back,” Thorrington states resolutely. “It’s tough to lead— it’s a different type of leadership when you’re injured because you’re not kind of ‘in the trenches’ with the guys, which I find more difficult.”
Unfortunately, injuries have sidelined many D.C. United players this season, and each report the same feeling—that itch to get back in the fight.
“’I’d much prefer being, as I put it, ‘in the trenches,’ battling alongside my guys—which, thankfully, I am now,’” said Thorrington, visibly relieved. “So, I guess just being injured, you do get that slightly different perspective.”
For some of the younger players, being injured and taking “a step back” might give them an opportunity to learn from the veterans on the pitch and tweak their game accordingly. Thorrington, on the other hand, understands his role and finds himself using his position to help the younger members of the Black-and-Red.
“I’d say overall I think we’re a young team. I’m not young,” said Thorrington with a smile when asked what he tried to bring back to the team once he returned from injury. “I try being more of a facilitator—helping other guys who are young, exciting, dynamic players. Helping them and putting them in good spots to do well.”
Looking back, Thorrington puts his job as a leader in perspective. He wants to win, as all
professional athletes and competitors do, but acknowledges that his legacy is more than a winning record.
“When I think down the line, my influence will be in how I influence these younger players because I’m not going to be…” he pauses, “We’ll see how many more years I have.”
Most recently, Thorrington and his wife have welcomed their second child into the world. The time-worn saying that “having a child changes everything” resonates with Thorrington.
“I guess the biggest change for me is it kind of helps remind me of what really matters,” explains the proud father. “But, I think in our job, we can kind of make playing soccer the ‘be all’ and ‘end all.’ And those days when you come back and you have a rough practice, or you get injured, or you lose or whatever it is— you come home, and you see your kids. I think it helps kind of give you some instant perspective of what really matters.”
This isn’t to say Thorrington doesn’t take his job as a professional soccer player to heart.
“I love what I do, and I think it’s such a privilege to do what I do,” stated Thorrington. “And, obviously, I’m taking it as seriously as I should.”
Anyone who knows the Thorrington would agree that there is no need for the clarification—his hard work speaks for itself and inspires his teammates. Thorrington rides his bike to training everyday and is one of the most vocal and active players on the pitch day in and day out.
“I just want to win,” said Thorrington plainly and simply. “And whatever the coaches ask me to do, in terms of a role – on the field, off the field – I trust that these guys know what they’re doing. And because of that, I’m happy to do whatever they ask of me to help our team win.”