For this month’s Teen Idol, we sat down with Tyrelle McLeod-Bentley who has such a passion for football and travel. Along with his mate, Junior Osei-Tutu, he started his own business, Student Athlete Group. Read on to find out more about their inspiring story.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up as quite an active and enthusiastic kid. My love for sport and the challenge it provided was the reason I fell in love with football from the age of six. I would always prefer to be out and about on weekend mornings instead of staying in and watching cartoons. Playing sports as a kid taught me skills that would be long lasting; consistency, hard work and desire – all key attributes that have transferred into my personal and professional life. After committing years of sweat and time to football, I was rewarded with a scholarship to study in the U.S – an opportunity I grabbed with both hands. Fast forward two years and I was happy with what I managed to achieve so far – One Conference final and one National Championship at two different universities. But the following season I was made ineligible (not allowed to play sports) because some of my grades did not transfer and at the time it happened it felt like a make or break moment. I persevered through it and doubled down on my training and six months later my boyhood dream came true and I was offered my first professional contract in Sweden.
2. How did you come up with the idea of starting a football scholarship programme?
It all happened in our dorm room in West Virginia. My co-founder Junior and I were discussing the lack of support international students receive when being placed in the U.S and after speaking with many of them we found it was a common problem. So, once I finished my time in Sweden we set out to create a service which is fully focused on the student-athlete and the support they received. This thinking lead us to develop our unique three-step process, which has now become the 'SA Way' and is a major part of our offering.
3. What has been the highlight of running your business at such a young age?
The highlight has certainly been the people the business has allowed me to meet and the places it has taken me. From networking and PR opportunities, I am now fortunate to have friends working at some of the biggest and most influential companies in the world. Adding to that, through the work we have done I’ve travelled all over the UK, Europe and various parts of the U.S to meet coaches, run events and spread the word about our offering. Ticking all the boxes of reasons we started the business.
4. Have there been any difficulties when running your business?
Certainly- a good idea is never enough!
Bootstrapping is probably one of the most difficult ways of growing a business - even more so when you're young and don't have a black book full of contacts to lean on. We have had doors shut in our face, not taken seriously because of our age and even had people think it was a scam. All of these things made us work harder to build up the brand, customer loyalty, reputation and form good relationships with academic institutions, sports organisations and major publications. At first, it can be difficult but as you become more confident in what you do, naturally people trust you and are less likely to question your credibility.
5. How do you manage to stay motivated when you have a lot of work to do?
We simply just get on with it. I’m not sure if our thick skin has been built due to the experiences we have had so far or if it's a repercussion of our time playing sport because we are always motivated and pumped towards our goal. During the early part of running the business, we would work seven days a week non-stop but we found our productivity dipped after a period of time. Now, we manage the workload much better – so it's 1,000 mph during weekdays and we make a conscious decision to switch off during weekends and enjoy stuff that people in their 20's should do.
6. Where do you see Soccer Assist in 10 years time?
We have now added the Student-Athlete group as a new vertical, which will allow us to work with athletes from over 24 different sports in placing them to U.S universities.
Our vision is to become the no.1 sports scholarship agency in the world and to be at the forefront of the student-athlete experience. Within 10 years we will have a global presence and would have had future Olympians and sportsmen and women come through our program.
7. Do you have any mottos or quotes you live by?
As life is full of ups and downs my favourite quote comes from the legend Bruce Lee when he states “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
8. Do have any advice for young people interested in starting a business of their own?
Look within yourself, focus on your strengths and find people to complement your weaknesses. It's all about connecting the dots and the easiest way to do so is go out there and make things happen. It won't be easy at the start but as one door closes another one opens so as Bruce Lee says - become like water my friend!
If there’s one thing we can learn from Tyrelle’s story, it’s that as cliché as it sounds, dreams really do come true – but not on their own. Work hard, persevere and stay inspired. Who knows what you’ll achieve when you put your mind to it, but we bet you’ve already got an idea.