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Stories From Afield • Updated Fri, Mar 1, 2024

On Soccer and Sight-fishing: Ben Sweat

From the early days of his youth to a career as a professional athlete, Ben Sweat has always loved the discoveries and growth afforded to him by time on the water. Over the course of his career playing for professional soccer clubs across the country, Ben has found his own unique outlet through fishing. For him, fishing acts as an important counterbalance to the constant travel, rigorous training, and complete focus required throughout his season. Now — as a defender for Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution with more than 10 years of professional soccer under his belt — Ben has begun to truly appreciate the value of his time on the water. We sat down with Ben to learn more about his journey through the not-so-disparate worlds of fishing and professional soccer.

Ben getting some reps in with his Revs teammates before their game beneath the lights of Gillette Stadium.

Ben getting some reps in with his Revs teammates before their game beneath the lights of Gillette Stadium.

Like many outdoorsmen, Ben Sweat's connection to his passion is deeply rooted in his youth. Growing up on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Clearwater, Ben’s childhood was enriched by the abundant fishing opportunities right in his own backyard. “Since maybe age 9, I’ve been so hardcore into fishing,” he remembers. “I had a buddy who lived just North of me who had access to a boat. We were actually on the same youth soccer team together. He and I would play soccer during the week, and then on weekends, we would fish all the time — every Saturday and Sunday. If I wasn’t fishing with him, I was out there with my older brother exploring our home waters.” Ben has fond memories of afternoons full of snook, redfish, snapper, and other inshore catches from his home waters, where he cut his teeth as an angler alongside his friends and brother.

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Ben and his brother, Jamison, with a pair of healthy, South Texas redfish.

Even from this young age, Ben's commitment and love of sports made them his priority. “I have papers from elementary school writing about being a professional athlete,” he remembers. “At first, I actually didn’t know what sport I wanted to focus on. I played baseball for some time, but after a shoulder injury, I focused all my energy on soccer.” Ben soon dedicated mind and body to learning ‘the beautiful game’ and all its intricacies, constantly traveling for practices and tournaments. With most of his waking hours consumed by soccer, he found himself eagerly awaiting the weekends when he could escape to the water. “Working hard at soccer has always allowed me to enjoy time off the field. Fishing could have been a distraction at times, especially when I knew the weather was perfect to be out there. I knew what I was missing out on — peak season for tarpon, snook, cobia. But when you’re in season, you have to wait. It’s a work-hard-play-hard mentality for sure.”

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Ben bringing the pregame stoke before taking the field for his former Austin FC team.

After 4 years playing for the University of South Florida, Ben's Major League Soccer career kicked off in Ohio, where he was signed to the Columbus Crew in 2014. Since joining the MLS, he has played for the New York City Football Club, Inter Miami CF, Austin FC, and Sporting Kansas City, before recently signing with The Revs earlier this season. Throughout the seasons, Ben’s location has definitely influenced his access to fishing opportunities. “When I lived and played in Austin, I was able to drive 2.5 hours down to Port O'Connor and fish the marsh for redfish if I had a day off.” Ben frequently fished the Rockport area with some of Texas’ top local inshore fishing guides, as well as his brother. “I did some freshwater stuff around Austin too. I got into some big bass on topwater and swimbaits. Texas introduced me to some really awesome people and fishing opportunities.”

Living in Miami during the COVID-19 pandemic also provided Ben with ample time to immerse himself in the local fishing scene. “Our League was temporarily shut down for all of 2020. As much as that sucked, it meant I was able to fish a lot. I explored the backcountry of the Everglades almost every weekend, and the mullet run on the East Coast when it was firing off. I definitely made up for a lot of lost fishing time during that 2020 season.” Typically, the bulk of Ben’s fishing must wait until his offseason — when stacked calendars of workouts, training, and matchplay give way to time for adventures on the water. “Preseason runs from January until the season opener at the end of February,” he explains. “From that point on, it’s go, go, go until at least the first week of November. Assuming the team makes the playoffs, you could play all of November up to the final on December 10th. It definitely limits when you have time off to relax, travel, and fish, but I try to make the most of it.”

During this coveted time off, Ben loves nothing more than getting back to his inshore, light-tackle roots. “I love the shallow water artificial game,” he admits. “I fished a lot with my older brother this past offseason — who only throws a fly rod these days. Fly fishing is definitely a newer part of the game for me, but I’ve definitely devoted a lot more time to it as I’ve fallen in love with it.”

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Ben with a nice snook sight-fished on his home waters near Clearwater, Florida.

In many ways, Ben views fishing as complementary to his work on the field. As with lots of professional athletes, Ben’s competitive drive was never limited to the pitch alone. “I’ve always been competitive — in sports, video games, and fishing too,” he admits. “Whether I'm on the boat with friends or fishing by myself, I want to ensure I take advantage of every opportunity, every shot. I feel you have to be disciplined when you're on the water. Soccer has taught me to compete with myself — to perform and produce — and when I do things wrong, it sticks with me. That's now a part of my DNA.”

Years of dedication, repetition, and time on the pitch has not only made Ben a fierce competitor, but also an excellent communicator, which certainly doesn’t hurt his chances on the water.

“When you're on the field, you have a split second to make a decision or tell somebody ‘man on’ or ‘move right.’ It's the same as if I was poling my brother and I have to say ‘look, there's a redfish coming at 11 o'clock, 20 feet.’ It’s a quick opportunity. Having played professionally for over 10 years now, 90% of what I do every day is habit, instinct, and muscle memory. Sure, I learn new stuff tactically, but my technique and athleticism — that’s baked into who I am. I've been a hardcore fisherman for over 20 years now and I can tell you it’s all about building good habits for long-term success.”

For Ben, certain aspects of time on the water — particularly pertaining to gear and tackle — feel less akin to soccer, but are no less important to his success as an angler. “Soccer has such a low barrier to entry from a gear perspective,” he explains. “All you really need is a ball, some boots, maybe a pair of shin guards. On the other hand, fishing gear can get as expensive and complex as you want it to be. Fishing has a very gear-intensive culture. I've been blessed with some amazing endorsement partners over the years — Under Armour, Adidas — so I've never had to worry about access to great soccer gear. I couldn't imagine if I had to go out to train and think about the same kind of stuff I'd have to think about with my fishing gear. It’s a very different mindset.” In spite of this difference, Ben finds he actually enjoys the nuances of fishing tackle. “I mean, it's part of the challenge, right? When I’m fishing during winter in super low, clear water, I might have 20 pound tippet tied on and realize I have to drop down to 16 pound test to get a bite. Then, maybe I get the bite, but I’m more likely to lose the fish and I have to adjust my whole fighting strategy. The color of the fly, the size of the hook, topwater versus subsurface… I have to make so many decisions on the water around tackle, but I love that part of the game too.”

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Ben about to release another nice fly-caught red from his SUP.

Despite Ben’s underlying intensity around fishing, he acknowledges that it allows him to decompress and escape the demands of his work, if even for a bit. “It's so easy to get caught up with competition and performance when you’re a professional athlete,” says Ben. “It's draining both mentally and physically. I get to escape through fishing, and I get to stay in touch with all my friends when they send me photos and videos from the water. The community is a huge part of it.”

Ben’s life as a professional soccer player has certainly been enriched by his deep connection to the water. Despite the challenges of balancing his athletic career with his love for angling, he has found a way to maintain a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction through balancing the two. As he continues his journey through the wild world of soccer, Ben entertains the possibility of turning his fishing passion into a professional endeavor — maybe even obtaining a captain's license and introducing others to his obsession. “I would love to do that. Hopefully I have another 5 to 7 years in my tank. Then, I guess we'll just have to wait and see where life takes me.” For now, though, Ben continues to compete at the highest level. Whether beneath the lights of his home field at Gillette Stadium or competing on the road, he knows he can always find harmony between competition and tranquility on the water with a rod in hand.

Ben Sweat currently plays for the New England Revolution, and is also the owner of Twin Tails Outfitters.

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