Amr Aly, Partner, at Mayer Brown in New York. At left, 1984 playing card of Amr Aly who competed for the U.S. Olympic soccer team in 1984.

Not many people know what goes through athletes’ minds as they compete in the Olympic Games. Amr Aly is one of them.

The Mayer Brown partner and patent litigator played soccer for Team USA in the 1984 Los Angeles games, giving him some insight into the emotions of the competitors now arriving in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday.

“In ’84, soccer was still not a big sport in the United States,” Aly said. “But for us, the players, it was a milestone to be playing in front of your home crowd. We felt quite a bit of pressure to perform well.”

Like most Olympians, Aly’s trip to the games that year was his one and only. But he said the lessons of elite soccer stuck with him as he worked his way to the top of his chosen field: litigating high-stakes IP matters for the likes of Cisco Systems, Motorola Solutions and T-Mobile USA.

“The ability to study opponents, to quickly identify and stay away from their strengths and hone in on their weaknesses—I was able to parlay that into the legal profession, and it has served me well,” he said.

National coaches first noticed Aly during his freshman year at Columbia University, when he joined a friend to try out for the national youth team in 1980. The coach was impressed and invited him to compete for the 1980 Youth World Cup in Australia. Eventually, he worked his way up to the full national team, and in 1983, he was in a pool of college players selected to train for the 1984 Olympic games. (Aly also won the 1984 Hermann Trophy, which recognizes the country’s best collegiate soccer player.)

The 1984 games were the first Olympics to allow professional soccer players to compete. Aly suddenly found himself on the field not only with college athletes, but with seasoned pros as well. He ended up as just one of seven college players selected for the team.

Team USA didn’t make it past the first round that summer in LA. But it squared off against Egypt in one of its three games, giving Aly, who was born in Egypt, a chance to play with some of his childhood heroes.

“Some of these guys were the Michael Jordans of Egyptian soccer,” he said. “I remember the coach joking a couple of times, saying, ‘I don’t want to see you chumming up to the Egyptian players.’”

Aly said it can be tough for athletes to stay fully focused on their performance if they embrace the spectacle of the Olympics. That may have been the silver lining of the soccer team’s relatively early exit–it gave him a chance to sit in on other competitions and enjoy the show.

“The Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “You want to soak in as much as you can of the event.”

Reprinted with permission from the August 3, 2016 edition of © 2016 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.