Are you a player who wants to improve your game? Are you already a great player? Do you have any kind of future aspirations? Maybe to make your club team or your high school team, perhaps college or even a professional or National team? If so, here are three tips (of the many out there) that can help guide you:
Practice, Practice, Practice… But With Balance
A prominent Connecticut high school athletic coach once said, “There are three things more important that this team and this sport: 1. Your Family, 2. Your Faith and 3. Your Education”. There is nothing closer to the truth. Always remember to keep a life balance no matter how good you are and how much you spend focused on the sport. Your family unit will keep you emotionally supported throughout life. Your faith will help keep you grounded through good times and bad and your education will provide you with employment opportunities and financial security well beyond the life of the sport. Because, believe it or not, no matter how good you are, your playing time will come to an end. And for many, that end
comes at an age much younger than they ever think it will be.
That said, stay balanced, but work in as much practice time as you absolutely can outside of your formal training. Take every opportunity to train on your own, even if it’s for only 5 minutes. Play with a ball. Challenge yourself. Juggle for your own personal record, set up a few obstacles (whatever you have) and dribble around them, backwards and forwards. Shoot at a target like a big tree or a wall. Practice a move you’ve seen on television until you can do it with your eyes closed and in a game. Go for a run, maybe alternating sprints between certain points (telephone poles or houses maybe). If your neighborhood friends are around, get a pickup game going, just for fun, and practice your skills. It doesn’t matter how good they are or you are; you will all get better as a result.
Bonus Tip: Being able to Strike the ball properly is one of the most important skills a player can learn early on. Being able to put the ball where you want it at the pace you want it is a critical skill. Experiment with striking the ball with different parts of the foot; inside, outside, heel, sole and laces. Start with trying to hit a stationary target, then move up to passing with another person, eventually incorporating into training and in a game. Ideally, you should be able to strike the ball with any part of the foot, consistently making it go exactly where you want it to go. Once you have that down, try striking different parts of the ball. That’s where it gets fun – the ball will curve, dip and do all sorts of fun things that will be useful during game-play!
Study Some Game-Play
This sounds boring, but it is really important for young players to watch older players and it can really be interesting and fun, especially if you do it with a family member or friend. Every so often, pick a game to watch for a minimum of 30 minutes, either live at a high school/college/pro game or on television. If there are no live options, find recorded footage on the internet. Make sure the game you choose is at a level you ultimately aspire to play at. You want to begin training your mind to recognize situations in a game and how they are handled. While you’re watching, focus on the player who plays your position and the decisions that player makes on the field. While they won’t all be good decisions (we’re all human), many will. Watch for one-touch passes in crowded situations, long balls that switch fields or a even pass back to help alleviate some congestion. Look specifically at how that player moves off the ball, whether it be to receive the ball or just to open up space for other teammates. In defending, watch how a player manages to force play away from the goal. Notice how some players are able to completely command their position on the field no matter how much they dribble or touch the ball.
Bonus Tip: If you’re into video games, you know that there have always been certain things you can do in the game every single time to get the results you want. It’s essentially the same with the game of soccer. For example, using a move to make the goalie lean in one direction and shooting the ball to the opposite direction creates a very difficult save situation and very often results in a goal.Studying game-play will help you identify effective solutions to such situations allowing you to then hone them on the practice field and use them in games once you’ve mastered them. And, don’t forget to share your leanings with your teammates – you never know what they might pick up on or share with you!
Move On, Move Up
Don’t be afraid to seek out a better club team with higher level coaching, players and competition. It’s a hard decision, no doubt about it. Leaving your current friends, teammates and coaches can be challenging. Some will be outspoken and try to influence your decision, others will understand and be supportive. Ultimately, your decision to leave shouldn’t come as an insult to anyone. If you are truly focused on the sport with potential for growth, everyone will recognize that redefining your playing and training situation will help you achieve your goals. Keep in ind that a serious consideration here must be your ultimate coach being able to consider your best development interests as a player, not just thinking about wins and losses. Back to balance…you want to manage both as effectively as possible. Also, keep in mind that you probably don’t want to move to risk sitting on the bench, and particularly you should take extra pause if you’re already in your area’s most competitive league structure. If your current situation affords you playing time, personal development attention and ability to be recognized/noticed around the area’s top league, then you may already be in a great spot. Weigh your options carefully and you will make the decision that’s best for you.
Bonus Tip: No matter where you are, make sure to keep your head up have fun! If you’re constantly challenging yourself as a player, you’ll undoubtedly experience frustrations and perhaps even your share of defeat. This is normal and part of the developmental process. Every day is a new day and every chance to play the game should not only be about improving, but by being a good person and enjoying the ride along the way. As a player, you are an integral part of that process of creating an enjoyable environment for yourself and those around you. By keeping that in mind, you’ll likely find that your path will be more successful and your positive attitude will be contagious!
Ready For The Next level?
If and when you’re ready, these are just a sampling of the things you’ll need to consider to ensure your greatest success as a player. There are many others that you’ll recognize and learn along your journey. Good luck, practice, learn, keep a balance and most of all, have fun getting there!