Luke Vercollone: Man on Fire!

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Photo Courtesy Isaiah J. Downing/Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

Editorial – Luke Vercollone turned 36-years-old a couple of weeks ago. You might imagine, then, that the midfielder is past his prime. Judging by his performances for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC this season, including a man of the match performance and goal of the week contender in the recent 4-0 victory over Reno 1868, nothing could be further from the truth.

Vercollone is a phenom. The longest serving player in the league, this season he surpassed 20,000 playing minutes spanning more than 300 USL games, over 11 years, with 3 teams.

He’s never been a bit-part player either, clocking up at least 20 appearances every single season. He’s been the model of consistency, reliability, and professionalism. And he’s playing this season as though it were his first – but how?

Luke Vercollone: Man on Fire!

It may be that somewhere in an attic hangs a less than flattering portrait of Vercollone, but the secret to his youthful vigor is likely more straight-forward and less sensational. As a professional soccer player, focus is given to the four pillars of the game: technical, tactical, physical, and psychological. Vercollone has certainly worked hard to master those components over the years, but there are four ‘personal pillars’ that seem to have impacted his success every bit as much. He candidly discussed these personal components with Last Word on Soccer. We hope these insights are illuminating for both fans and young pro’s trying to make their way in the game.

LWOS – In talking with you this season, trying to understand not only your longevity in the game but also the high levels of performance that you continue to hit, there appear to be four ‘personal pillars’ of huge significance in your life: health, mindset, faith, and family. Is that a fair summation, and if so how does each of these pillars positively impact your performances on the pitch?

LV – Yeah, absolutely, I like the idea of the ‘personal pillars’. Starting with health and fitness, I make that a priority. Just this evening I took a cold bath – those are never fun, but they help! I take responsibility for doing band work before training and doing core work on my own. My warm ups are going to take a little bit longer, and the same with recovery. Staying on top of my fitness in the off-season was huge as well. I set goals for myself, whether that be running 1 mile in 5 minutes or 2 miles in 11 minutes, or running the incline in less than 26 minutes, or crushing the beep test.

LWOS – So in setting those goals, are you using your past performance as a yardstick or using your teammates as the measure of where you need to be?

LV – I use myself. The other guys couldn’t keep up, they’d have no chance… (laughs)

LWOS – I believe it! In addition to exercise, how does an athletes diet change over time?

LV – Diet is also very important. As you get older you get fewer ‘cheat days’ – they catch up to you more quickly! So I’m more mindful now of particularly my sugar intake. It’s about establishing good habits and maintaining them. At the end of the day, it’s all about discipline. When it comes to fitness, discipline is massive.

LWOS – Moving on to mindset, a term so often bandied around these days that it’s meaning has been diluted somewhat. But what does mindset mean to you, and how specifically has it helped you during your time with the Switchbacks?

LV – I know the term ‘mindset’ or ‘growth mindset’ has become sort of cliché, but I think it’s super important. When I have a growth mindset, I’m looking at every situation as an opportunity to learn, grow, and to get better. The struggle is that we don’t want to make mistakes. We’d rather run from mistakes than accept the possibility of messing up. Even players like Ronaldo, Zlatan, Carli Lloyd, maintaining confidence is even a challenge for them too sometimes. For me, it’s about valuing mistakes. Setting aside pride and ego, and really embracing those opportunities to learn and grow, seeing them in a positive light rather than focusing on the negative.

LWOS – That’s probably easier to do after the fact, but how do you do that in the midst of a game, embracing mistakes and learning on-the-fly when you still have the emotion associated with an error you’ve made?

LV – That’s the challenge. A soccer season has a lot of ups and downs. You’re going to miss a penalty kick or do something that loses a game. Trying to clear that from your head and fill that space with something positive is really hard sometimes. You have to continue to develop mental fortitude and toughness, and for me, that comes from having perspective and faith. Like any exercise where you’re building strength, building a growth mindset requires continuous focus and effort. I wish I’d known to develop those mental habits at a younger age, which is why we (‘Pro Performance‘, the growth mindset-centered company that Vercollone started in 2016 with Switchbacks teammate Jordan Burt and fellow professional James Riley) are hoping young players can learn from us. We’re trying to help them embrace mistakes and have a positive perspective towards failure, recognizing that it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not challenged enough.

LWOS – You mentioned faith, what impact do your spiritual beliefs have on your professional life?

LV – Especially in those moments when you fall short, it’s important to know who you are. I know I have a creator. I know I was created by God, created for God. That helps me so much, knowing there’s far more to me than just being a soccer player. There’s a lot more worth to me than that. You missed a shot, you missed a sitter, you lost a game, you know what? God still loves you – how awesome is that! Keeping that perspective, even though you feel terrible in the moment, it’s the truth and it helps.

LWOS – As a happy husband of 10 years, and proud father of 4, how does that final personal pillar of family inform your career?

LV – Win or lose, at the end of a home game when my kids run out to me on the field, it puts things into perspective for me right away. We when we lose, it sucks, I feel terrible, but look at this…my kids still love me, they’re healthy, happy, beautiful kids, praise God! When we win, that’s awesome as I get to celebrate with those people who mean the most to me, my family. As athletes, we put so much into performance and into results which is a good thing because it got us where we are. But for me more so it’s about having an eternal perspective, about prioritizing; faith and family before football makes all the difference.

LWOS – I can definitely see how having your family on-hand at homes can mean so much, but how then do you deal with being away from them 50% of the season? How do you draw strength from your family when you’re not with them? 

LV – For any young player starting a family or considering starting a family, that decision to have this life isn’t just theirs; it’s a decision they make with their wife. I’m so fortunate that my wife, Andrea, is so supportive. I’m very blessed. If Andrea couldn’t support this life, I couldn’t do it. When I’m on the road I miss my family so much and feel guilty that I’m away from my kids, but there’s so much sacrifice my wife makes. I know it’s hard on her. When I’m home and she goes out on a lunch date and leaves all 4 kids with me I’m like, ‘Hurry home! These kids need some adult supervision!’

LWOS – (laughs) I hear you! I’ve only got two and I feel that pain whenever I’m holding down the fort!

LV – It helps that we FaceTime a lot, I can still tell the kids bedtime stories and pray with them. I am so blessed to have the love and support of my wife and kids, though. It means so much to me.

LWOS – So in closing, a lot has been made of your 36 young years of age this season. So for any young pro’s reading this, do you have any final words of advice that might help them both extend and enhance their careers? 

LV – I don’t even think about my age. I just take every day as it comes, and see every day as a chance to get better. As for young players, I’d encourage them to ask themselves, ‘What motivates me?’ For me, it’s a sense of purpose. I feel like these talents were given to me for a reason, and I have an opportunity to glorify God with them. I’d also say autonomy and mastery are important. By autonomy I mean saying this is up to me, you get out what you put in. And mastery, having that desire to get better every day. That’s what motivates me personally. I don’t play soccer for the money, I just think this is the best job in the world! I get to run around in the sun kicking a soccer ball, winning some games; I love it!

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