Sport and study in the USA - 'Life Changing Experience’ - Thom Derks first weeks

Thom Derks: First weeks @ MercyhurstU Pennsylvania

You are in the States for almost two weeks now, how are you doing?

Thom: “I’m having a great time here. We practice twice a day and it’s very intense. Besides practice we have breakfast, lunch and dinner with the entire team. Whenever we have some time off in the afternoon, we play FIFA matches, watch a movie or watch a soccermatch. In the evening everybody goes to bed on time because this way of life takes a lot of energy.”


Can you tell us something about your school and environment?

Thom: “The school where I study is Mercyhurst University in the city of Erie. This city has about 100.000 inhabitants and lies on Lake Erie like the cities Buffalo and Cleveland. I haven’t been in the city yet. Since I arrived here in Erie we trained twice every day so besides the local Walmart I haven’t seen anything of the city yet.”


What were your first weeks like? What did you do?

Thom: “I flew to Toronto and there I got picked up by a teammate. The first few days we stayed there and explored Toronto. We also played soccer with friends for two days on an indoor soccer field, which was a lot of fun!
Once we got to Mercyhurst the new players first had to get their physical; a medical check-up by a hospital and the medical staff of Mercyhurst university. Luckily everything was allright so I could join the group practice.”


What does a day of a student-athlete look like?

Thom: “Wednesday the 26th of August the school program starts. So we train in the afternoon at 3 pm. Before and after the training I have classes. It’s also expected for a student-athlete to train additionally on his own.


Is pre-season as tough as expected?

Thom: “I was prepared for a tough pre-season, so for me it’s ok. It’s definitely a lot tougher than in the Netherlands. All these practices are hard on your body but when you start out with a good fitness it’s fine. I received a work out program from my coach with exercises, work-outs and practices. A good preparation goes a long way. Besides that we do a lot of practices with the ball. We have played two practice matches so far against Division 1 teams: Cleveland State University (2-2, with an assist!) and Niagara University (0-1 win!). These results are pretty good for us, although there is still a lot of room for improvement. In the mornings, on the days of the match, we had a 1,5 hour practice. That’s tough!”


What’s the level of play like? Is it comparable to soccer in the Netherlands?

Thom: “The level of the first 20 players is very high. Fitness, mentality and the playing style of ‘always giving 100%’ is very tough to start in. The soccer level of play is about the same as I have played at Sarto (2e klasse) and Wittenhorst (1e klasse) in the Netherlands. Although the fitness, stamina and mentality here in the US is so much better, that’s the real big difference. We play 4-2-3-1 where the midfielders have to position all the way into the center of the field. The flanks are for the left- and rightback. My position is left midfielder. It’s our game play to win the midfield with our 5 players there and then find the backs and striker to attack.”


How was the reception by your teammates?

Thom: “Our team has more than 40 players! With these players we practice every day. Everybody hangs out with everybody, we are like one big family. I was immediately taken into the team!”


Are there any thing noticeably different from things in the Netherlands?

Thom: “The coach made his statement today: “school is number 1, but soccer is more number 1”. Playing sports here is very serieus and very professional. I’ve had more practices here in the last 10 days then I had in two months in the Netherlands. It’s nothing like the Netherlands, where there is practice on the Tuesday and Friday evenings and people complain about one tough practice. I also really enjoy watching the American Football team play, because the stands are packed during a Football match.”


Any additional thoughts :)?

Thom: “I can’t wait for the start of the season. We start with 5 tough home matches, This can make or break the entire season. But we are all very confident that we will get the results we need.”

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