Often times society, the media or our professions, only highlight one of our many layers as people. Whether it’s what we do for work, what we said, or our public image, we can sometimes experience just a small fragment of a dynamic and multilayered person. But, as the digital and social media era has evolved, so have our opportunities to share our passions outside of our professions. You may know Amobi Okugo, as the veteran professional soccer player (keep in mind he is still only 26), but as you begin to peel back the layers, Amobi, who is the founder of a Frugal Athlete, reveals he is a multifaceted, forward thinking, entrepreneurial, student, and a business savvy, investor. A soccer player first, Okugo, attributes his drive to his first generation Nigerian-American upbringing and his long term aspirations to help keep him focused on his goals both on and off the field.
Take a seat and settle in for this month’s Vibe Sesh with Amobi Okugo.
Q: What was it like growing up Amobi Okugo?
A: I would say growing up it was a unique experience. As a first generation Nigerian-American, it definitely wasn't the standard American upbringing. I wouldn't change it for the world but growing up it was a lot different from most of my friends. I'm the oldest of four siblings and I would say me and my brother closest to me definitely had it harder than my two youngest siblings.
How connected are you to your Nigerian roots?
I feel that I'm very connected to my Nigerian roots. We grew up being raised the Nigerian way. Eating Nigerian food, going to Nigerian events, sticking to Nigerian customs. I think if you ask any 1st-2nd generation Nigerian American they will have had very similar upbringings. I would like to be more connected by going back to the motherland more consistently and becoming fluent in my native tongue. Although I can understand the language completely , my cousins back home still kill me when I try to speak Igbo or pidgin English.
What are some of your earliest soccer memories?
The earliest soccer memories I have was going to the park with my dad and playing soccer until I would get tired and cry. I remember my family members gathering around for the 94 world cup and rooting for Nigeria. Then again in the 96 olympics, I think my parents still have the VHS tapes of those games.
What was it about the sport of soccer that you were drawn to?
Soccer was always going to be the sport I played, just growing up Nigerian, it's the number one sport. A couple of my uncles played at a high level so it was decided if I was going to go into sports, soccer was the first choice. Luckily, I ended up loving it from day one. For me, the constant movement and flow of soccer is the best thing about it. No standing around and you are always thinking.
You were drafted after your freshman year at UCLA. Was the decision to go pro after one year of college difficult for you?
It was very weird to be honest, I had the opportunity to go pro right before I went to UCLA and decided to go to UCLA. Our team had a great season and fortunately a lot of guys from our team had the opportunity to pursue a professional career. After the season, everything happened very fast but I knew I wanted to go pro even though I loved my time at UCLA no matter how short it was, I didn't have any difficulty making the decision.
You are now with your 4th team the Portland Timbers, you started your career with the Philadelphia Union and had stints with Orlando City and Sporting Kansas City. At 26, you have amassed over 150 appearances in all competitions professionally, including representing the United States in the 2012 Olympics. What have you learned from being a professional athlete?
The one thing I learned from being a professional athlete is that all you can do is all you can do and all you can do is enough. As an athlete some things may not go your way but, if you give it your all, and continue to perfect your craft more often than not good things will happen. You may not be able to control how someone views you or how a call may go but you can control the hard work you put into your job. If you do that, your chance will come. It may not be at the moment you ask for it but it will eventually come, your job then is to be ready for when it eventually does come.
Where did the idea of a Frugal Athlete come from?
Frugal Athlete really stemmed from my interest for business and finance. It didn't really register until I saw the ESPN 30 for 30 Broke, documentary that highlighted different athletes that lost their money. It led me to try and find athletes that were smarter with their money but I kept coming across people that lost it all or guys like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant who would never have to worry about their post career. Frugal Athlete, really came about because I wanted to highlight different athletes that were prudent financially and promote those guys.
Where do you see the biggest gap in financial literacy, especially as it relates to professional athletes?
For me, I think the biggest gap is in the information. I feel that it's very hard for professional athletes to understand exactly how their money works. On top of that, when you are making substantial amounts of money at that age you don't have the discipline to sit down and actually take the time to learn how to properly manage your money.
Where and how did you develop your financial habits?
Growing up my parents taught me good financial habits. I've always been a pretty business savvy guy. For me, I think I developed most by just reading different sports business, financial books.
How important is it for you to plan for your future outside of soccer?
I think it's very important personally for me to plan my future outside of soccer. If you think about it, your professional career at best is about 15 years. If you start playing at 20, you are done by 35. You still have another 30 years before you are considered a senior citizen. You have your family to think about. The worst thing a player can do is not think about their transition, because once you are done playing no one really cares about you as a retired player. As a professional you are very fortunate to be in the position you are in so you want to have fun and make the best of it but at the same time it's important to map out your plan.
What is some financial advice that you can offer anyone, not just athletes?
Be disciplined in your budget. I think that can apply to anyone, if you stick to a planned budget you can achieve a lot in your quest to a stable financial situation and build stability within your financial playbook. I think sticking to your budget is the jumpstart to building everything else. If you can't even stick to a simple budget than it's going to be hard for more complex things like investing and stuff like that.
How do you see the financial landscape evolving for professional athletes
It's really evolving. You see a lot of professional athletes showing enthusiasm in venture capital , investing, and having more say in how the make their money work for them. It's really cool to see how professional athletes are growing in this financial sector.
You are currently in school pursuing a degree in Organizational Leader, with a minor in Business Administration and have the goal of going to graduate school too. How important is it to you to complete your college education?
It's very important. My parents came to the states for me and my siblings to have a better upbringing than they had. Education is very important for our family because it's something no one can take away from you. It was a battle convincing my mom to let me go pro when the opportunity came, but I promised I would finish my degree so it's cool to finally finish for not only myself but for the sacrifices my parents made.
Between soccer, a Frugal Athlete and school, how do you find your center and balance?
I try to keep to a schedule. Obviously soccer comes first and I put all my time into soccer when it calls for it but when I have downtime I make a conscious effort to not be lazy and plan out my schedule to commit to school and Frugal athlete. Time management is key
What are Vibes to you?
Vibes to me are positive experiences whether that means like "oh he's good vibes or the vibe was cool" I just think of vibes as positive experiences like no negative energy no stress no drama
How do you Get Your Vibes?
I get my vibes from family, friends, and soccer. I think your vibes come from within by having a positive mindset but for me personally I know I'm always going to have good vibes when I'm around those three things.
Where can we connect with you?