Fuel Your Purpose: Richard Sanchez
Finding Betterment in Sport, Culture, and Family
— Anne Mercer
"People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.
We started the Fuel Your Purpose series to tell the stories of the fascinating individuals we have the honor of meeting through our coffee. The stories you read are, of course, a condensed version of a much larger conversation. It’s my job to capture our conversation using concise language that still holds true to the meaning behind each story.
These conversations inevitably delve into deep topics: overcoming personal traumas, missing loved ones who have passed on, finding light in the darkest of times. Yet, while exploring these complex stories, inevitably our conversations find meaningful moments of joy throughout.
When Richard Sanchez, goalie for the Hartford Athletic soccer team, walked into our shop and struck up a conversation with our barista, Taki Tanaka, we knew the world needed to hear his story. Richard’s quiet, calm, and confident demeanor spoke volumes. And during our conversation, this same demeanor rang true throughout every difficult topic and joyful moment.
Born in Los Angeles, California to a Mexican family, Richard’s love of soccer was inspired by his dad.
“He played in the local Sunday leagues out in California. He would always just take me to his games and put me behind his goal where I would watch him do his thing.”
Although Richard is 6' 4" today, he had a difficult time getting picked up by the different local soccer clubs as a young child with a small stature. So, his dad decided to create a team for Richard to play in, and the rest is history. His career started as a forward, but when an opportunity to play goalie opened up, he dove in full force.
He jokes that it’s his disdain for running that made him gravitate towards the position. But in reality his reasoning is a bit deeper.
“I was about 14 or 15 years old when I thought, ‘Wow, this is actually a cool position.’ You're either the hero or the villain. Some people like to score goals and they get a buzz out of it. But for me, it's blocking a shot and seeing the devastation in the forwards’ faces.”
Even with his tenacity and drive, Richard’s professional soccer career hasn’t been linear. And, the trials and tribulations of being a professional athlete aren’t always easy to carry. But as you’ll soon see, his unique perspective and deliberate actions keep him on track for a full life.
It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Ni De Aquí, Ni De Allá
When Richard was a teenager, his career progressed to the elite level, culminating in an opportunity to represent Mexico in the 2011 U17 (Under 17) World Cup. Being a Mexican American athlete, this was an immense honor. “It was a dream come true for me.”
Growing up in a Mexican household in Los Angeles, Richard was always surrounded by Mexican family, culture, and friends. When he started dreaming about his ideal soccer career, playing for Mexico in a World Cup tournament—and winning—was at the top of the list.
Spoiler alert, he accomplished his dream.
However, he noticed something interesting about his experience. As a Mexican American, Richard felt that in America, citizens saw him as Mexican. Whereas in Mexico, even though he is fluent in Spanish and grew up in a Mexican household, the citizens saw him as American.
“There’s a saying in Spanish, ‘Ni aqui ni alla,’ which is ‘Neither here nor there.’ So it's about finding that balance of both cultures. I'm very appreciative of Mexican culture and what that has taught me. But I'm also very well aware of what the US gives me and the chances that it has brought to me. So I’m appreciative of it all, but was really proud to represent Mexico during the World Cup.”
It was this balance that kept Richard moving forward toward his new career goals, finding contentment in each new challenge and environment.
After his success with the U17 Mexican National soccer team, Richard continued on his professional career trajectory later playing for teams such as the Chicago Fire, FC Dallas, Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, Tigres UANL, and now the Hartford Athletic.
The Motivation to Always Be Better
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.
As any athlete will tell you, there’s a moment when it all clicks. Your focus narrows in, the sounds of the crowds go silent, and you’re locked and loaded on the task at hand. As a goalie, Sanchez understands this singular experience better than anyone. In the blink of an eye, his individual actions can decide the outcome of a game.
It’s this kind of power that keeps Richard motivated to hone his craft.
“It's about being able to perform under pressure. When you have all this spotlight and all this attention, you begin to ask yourself, ‘How can I just focus on my craft to continue to do better.’”
Throughout our conversation, Richard continued to drive home a singular, vital topic: the desire to always be better.
“At the end of the day, I have this God given talent. I don't think I can be any more motivated than just that. Right? For me, it's intrinsic—actually wanting to do better day in and day out, not just as a soccer player, but as a person as well. And I know that the sport can open a lot of doors for me so you know, as long as I'm healthy and able to do what I can to continue to play, I'll do it and continue to strive for better things.”
For Richard, his mom’s selflessness influences how he interacts with the fans and future generations, always asking himself, “How can I inspire them to be better people?”
“It's very important to take the time to talk to a kid if they recognize who I am and if they have any questions related to soccer. But I also try to give them some sort of worldly advice that can be related to soccer. And, just be an inspiration to them. I’m the kind of guy that wants to give a helping hand and be serviceable to others.”
Richard’s journey to betterment isn’t solely aspirational. He takes active steps, both from a physical and mental perspective, to ensure he lives a life full of balance and joy. Beyond the physical element of his craft, he works with sports psychologists to understand and use various tools to overcome the mental challenges that come along with the sport.
“It’s about finding the tools to get over the hump of losses because in sports, it's a results business, right? And if the results aren't going your way, there's a lot of things that you have to tweak and be better at. So it's about calculating what that is. And sometimes it's things just out of your control and having to be able to deal with that.”
Later on in our conversation, when Richard mentioned, with a smile, that his favorite book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, his entire story made perfect sense.
For those who haven’t read The Alchemist, I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a driving theme throughout the plot: making ourselves and the world around us better.
It’s not hard to see why it’s Richard’s favorite book.
Looking to the Future
“There is only one way to learn... It's through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.” - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.
As the Hartford Athletic’s 2023 season comes to a close, Richard looks back on the season with fondness—despite the team’s record.
“During the past season, things haven’t really gone our way during the game. Everybody has that winning mentality to try and get us out of this rut! It’s just a matter of time before things start coming together and get the ball rolling.”
Even with the challenges of the team, one thing Sanchez couldn’t speak highly enough about was the city of Hartford and its people. Coming from another part of the country, he didn’t know what to expect about us Connecticut natives and was glad to be pleasantly surprised.
“From the day I arrived, the team and the city have been very welcoming. I didn’t know what to expect and have greatly enjoyed all the city has to offer. I've been pleasantly surprised by what Hartford has to offer in the rest of Connecticut, as well as there's very many beautiful landscapes here and just places to be.”
Looking forward to his career, Richard hopes to be playing soccer as long as he possibly can. “Until I’m 45 years old at least,” he says. Fortunately, being a goalie, his dream may become a reality once again.
“It's actually not rare to see somebody in my position be able to play for so long. So as long as I'm healthy and doing the right things to keep my body in good shape. It's definitely attainable.”
While we have greatly enjoyed having Richard here in the greater Hartford area, it has been officially announced that he is being transferred to Memphis 901 FC for the remainder of the 2023 season, as they vie for the season championship.
No matter where Richard’s journey takes him, we know he’ll be soaking up every moment along the way.
Rapid Fire Questions
— "What other hobbies do you have outside of soccer?"
“I like to go on walks. I like to actually visit coffee shops. And I've stumbled upon J. René and Victus Coffee and really enjoy the coffee here. So I do like to just come and walk around and explore the cities that I come to. But then I also like reading as well. I've read several books. I like to watch, you know, different shows on Netflix. And really just connect with people however I can.”
— “Are there any causes that you’re passionate about?”
“The topic of mental health is very big right now. And however it is that I can to help children to be aware of their mental health is something that I, that I tried to, you know, hone in on with, especially through the sport that I'm in.”
— "Do you have a first memory of coffee?"
“The day I found out what a cortado was! I figured out that I like a bold and intense taste. But then I also like a creamy and frothy texture. And I was able to find that within a cortado. So actually, it's big in the Cuban culture and I had it at a coffee shop that kind of just changed my perspective on coffee and have enjoyed it ever since.”
— "Do you have a first memory of coffee?"
“No, not really. I do remember my grandpa always liked to have his black coffee with a nice little pan dulce, as we like to call it in Mexico, a sweet bread. And he would have that every morning and enjoy that.”
— “If you could share a cup of coffee with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why?”
“Malcolm X is popping into my mind. I read his autobiography and was really inspired by his way of thinking and the challenges that he went through during his time. Obviously, racially and politically, but I would just like to dig into his mind and to see what it was that really motivated him to be the kind of person that he was during that time.”
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