The life of a professional athlete is one of extreme focus and single-minded dedication. To play at an elite level one often sacrifices many “normal” pursuits. However, that doesn’t mean absolutely everything in a player’s life revolves around game day. Many professional players have other interests and pursuits that are worthy of some attention, and in this series we take a moment to dig a little deeper into that life off the field.
This week we posed questions to Jeff Attinella about his series of children’s books, “It Had to be Told”.
It was really a combination of things. Between the birth of my daughter and my love of sports, the books just kind of fell into place. So many of my favorite memories growing up are with my family watching or being at a sporting event. That love of a shared interest is something that I wanted to make sure continues with my daughter Remy and I.
It honestly got started by just jotting down a story in my phone. I’ve told this story before, but I was headed to a Bucs game – they were aiming for a 9-7 season and I was excited about that (This is their year though!). I knew it’d be a tough task to get Remy to love this team like I do and then the rhymes just started flowing.
Do you have a background as a writer, and if not what made you comfortable getting into such a competitive space?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. To say I have a background would be a bit of a stretch, but I always thought that being a sports columnist would be an amazing “life after soccer” job. Now that I’ve found my own way of bringing the two together, it’s been really fun.
Fortune favors the bold. It never crossed my mind about it being a competitive market because I believe in the books. It’s not just the writing. It’s the story, the artwork and the connection that sports fans can share with their kids that separates them from the others.
What is your approach to writing? For instance, do you write at a certain time or in a certain place? Do you make outlines? Take notes?
Most of my writing is done on the road in hotels or when we are flying from place to place. With our schedule and a new baby at home, it’s the only time that I have to myself to really concentrate and dive into the subject.
I like to learn as much as I can and find out what are the “can’t leave out” moments in a team or city’s history. Every sports team has a legacy and it’s about finding the stories that stir up emotions from the fans and incorporating that into a fun, playful way to tell the whole story.
The Cubs story really got started when they won the World Series. It was this massive moment in sports that the next generation of fans might not really understand just how dramatic it was. I grew up believing the Cubs were cursed and they’d never win the big one and then bam, just like that everything changed. My daughter was only a few weeks old and I just couldn’t believe she was born into a world where the Cubs were the kings of baseball.
The others were just incredible stories. I loved the saga of Lebron James and the misery of Cleveland sports – that was just a really fun story to tell. Of course, I had to write about the underestimated Tom Brady going on to become the best quarterback to ever play the game and then leading his team to come back from a 25 point deficit in the Super Bowl. They were just remarkable stories that “had to be told.”
I have such a long list of stories I want to write – I haven’t really even figured out how to pick which one to tell, it usually just gets going and takes on a life of its own. Fortunately there is no shortage of great sports moments, so we plan on telling as many as we can.
Who has helped you along the journey to your first four books?
My family and friends have been unreal. My father-in-law Wayne had a vision with my stories and found our incredibly talented artists. He pretty much grew this from an idea on my phone to a full blown publishing company in six months, which is remarkable.
My wife Kendall has been grinding on the day to day and dusted off her journalism degree to make sure the stories are written well. All while being incredibly supportive in my soccer career and an amazing new mom to our daughter. I’m not sure how she does it.
My mother-in-law Rosemary has been handling a lot of the technical side of things, plus making sure we are submitted for reviews and working with all the big wigs in the book world. She was a big newspaper publisher for a long time, so she really knows how to help us cover all the steps as we grow.
And lastly, my parents have been a great support system along the way. They flew out from Florida just to help me with my daughter so that Kendall could go join the team at the Book Expo in New York City.
I’m truly blessed to have such an incredible support system around me.
Time will tell. I definitely see it as something I’d love to do for “life after soccer” but I’ve been learning in the business world, everything is one step at a time. Soccer is my number one focus and the books are a good mental break from that. We’ll see what happens down the line, and I hope to have a long soccer career still ahead of me before I become “full time author”.
Does “It Had to be Told” only limit itself to sports or could it be a vehicle for telling all sorts of stories that have never been put into a form interesting to young people?
We branched out of sports with our launch and put our own unique twist on “The Great Space Race”. The feedback for that book has also been really positive. Which to be honest, I was excited about because it is something I’m not as comfortable writing about.
I think for now we are going to stick with sports but down the road as the company continues to grow, there are absolutely historical stories that fit into the “It Had to Be Told” category.
What other stories are you currently working on? What are you excited about adding to the series in the future?
Right now, I’m working on the stories and traditions of Alabama football and all of Pittsburgh’s dynasties. As a dad of a little girl, I’ve got a few “girl power” stories coming up that I’m hoping she’ll love. I have others in the pipeline, but I’ll wait to share those until they’re further along.
I’m most excited about telling the story of my own teams! I’ve written the story of a Tampa team hoisting a trophy (or Cup!) at least 100 times in my head. That’ll be a great day.
It really isn’t to be honest. I think that it is something that has been missing in my life. I love playing soccer and being part of a team but the grind of the MLS season can be just as much of a mental strain as it can physical. The books give me something fun to focus on when I leave the facility each day. It’s provided me with some serious head space which I think has helped my performance on the soccer field. I’d call it my creative outlet.
What do you hope these books will accomplish? What do you hope they will mean to the kids and parents reading them?
My hope is that it will make story time a true bonding moment for parents and kids. Even at nine months old, our daughter loves when we read to her. I hope one day to have a Tampa story to tell and that it’ll be her favorite bedtime story (I can dream…).
Another cool aspect of all of this is hearing that the books are reaching reluctant readers. When I was growing up, I just loved sports, sports and more sports. Now I can merge sports and reading and hopefully reach those kids who are like I was – that’s a proud moment for me.