I have played with and against some top players over the years. Some of these players have ended up out of the game, where others have gone on to be full time Professionals at the highest level. If you want to get to the top level, here is a players guide of 10 things I believe if you can crack, can help to get you there..
1. The will to win
Whether it’s a small-sided game, 1V1 or a warm-up game of head tennis, the best players want to win no matter what. For me, this is an intrinsic drive and a fear of getting beat or the reward of winning which creates this. In football, it's rare for players and teams to be happy to draw a game, there needs to be a winner and a loser. The highs and lows in football are sometimes difficult to manage, so here’s a quick tip –
"don’t get carried away with the highs, and don’t beat yourself up with the lows. Keep a level head, and work hard!"
Imagine playing at The World Cup. 60,000 plus fans in the stadium and millions at home, watching your every touch. All eyes on you = pressure. Dealing with this pressure is something that footballers have had since the age of 8. First getting into an Academy after months of trials, staying in the Academy and proving yourself against other internal and external players. The competitive nature of the sport is non-stop. Losing games, loss of form & getting through difficult times such as injuries is another resilience builder - Its easy to give up during tough times, but they also make you stronger!
3. Avoiding and managing injury
Injuries are part of the game and always will be. You can’t prevent them from happening, however you can give yourself a better chance of not sustaining certain injuries, or to prevent them from happening again (mainly muscular injuries). The less injuries you pick up, the more you can train and play.
Prehab - looking after your body is a key part of being able to perform at your best on the pitch. Pre-injury prevention such as activations, strengthening & stretching are a way in which to prevent injuries.
Rehab is important once an injury is sustained, rest & strengthen to allow you to get back on the pitch at your best.
4. Understanding the game
With today’s modern game and the different formations and ways of playing, the best players are able to adapt their roles to suit the team and the way the manager wants to play. There are rotations happening left right & centre at the top level, players can quickly recognise when to fill spaces or pick up an effective position.
PRO TIP to improve your game understanding: watch as much football as you can, watch the players in your position & what they do in/out of possession.
Re-watch your own games and see what you did well/ what you could have done better. Better yet, book a game analysis session with us so we can help!
Having a strong mentality is key to being a top player in today’s game. Dealing with mistakes and staying positive is a task in itself. It’s easy to hide and go through the motions during periods in training/games. Start challenging yourself to be braver in and out of possession!
Everyone gives the ball away, even at the highest-level mistakes are common. The best players keep a high level of self-belief and can deal with internal and external pressure by keeping calm, believing in their ability and not letting a bad spell effect their game.
6. Affecting the game
Taking chances, willingness to take someone on & make something happen, goals & assists, defending your box. There’s lots of ways to affect the game that can help your team to win. Start to think how the players in your position affect the game and how you can start to affect your games more.
PRO TIP: always look to play forward first.
It’s not always on to play forward, sometimes you have to recycle or start again, but for me the best players are the bravest and ones that like taking chances. You might mess up or give the ball away but that’s fine, react positively, stay positive & try to affect the game!
7. Becoming a top athlete
The older you get, the bigger the pitches and the faster the game becomes. Get fit. If you can be one of the fittest on the team, its going to make you become a more desirable player because reverting back to number 6, you’ll be able to affect the game the more you can move! To be able to compete to the best of your ability, you need to be fit & strong so get in the gym, work on your speed and fitness as part of your training schedule!
8. Understanding your strengths & weaknesses
There’s a reason Ronaldo doesn’t drop deep and try to spray diags, or Van Dijk doesn’t try to dribble past players. These players know their own game inside out and do what they’re good at consistently.
PRO TIP: Write down your strengths and work-ons regularly, this will give you a good indication of where you’re at, what you’re doing well & what you need to spend a bit of time working on.
9. Mastering your position
Learning the ins and outs of your position to become reliable and trustworthy to the team and manager will give you a better chance of being picked, and more game time will help towards confidence and consistency. If you’re getting caught out of position as a defender, or not getting into good positions as a forward player, you’re less likely to affect the game, which will affect your chances of performing, so watch players in your position, ask Qs & learn your position!
Turning up every training, every game and playing near your best is difficult. If you can be consistent in your game and aim to be a 7/10 each week, you will become a better and more appealing player. Some games you might feel 'off' mentally, or that your passing/touch is letting you down, in this situation, here's my tip
PRO TIP: Work twice as hard if you’re not having a great game, this way you are giving back to the team and affecting the game out of possession. ‘Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard’.