I first had the pleasure of working with Charlie Bontis back in 2011 and in 2012 trained Charlie and his Hamilton Sparta teammates once a week to supplement the team’s regular training program. Back then Charlie played as a striker and even during games in training he would inevitably drift towards this position. Charlie scored many goals during his club career and was one of those players who came alive as a player when there was an opportunity to score a goal. Since then he has went on to play for the Toronto FC Academy and is another example of a player who has had a growth mindset to transition from a striker to a player capable of playing a different position at a higher level.
1) What were some of the challenges you faced trying to realize your goal of playing football for a professional club?
When I was first scouted by Toronto FC, I was an attacking player. Over the years, I have changed positions from centre forward to attacking midfielder to winger to right back. In each case, I was challenged with learning a brand new position and it was a challenge at first. I’ve had to learn to trust the technical staff who see my strengths differently than I do. I have even played a little left back this season. Now, I am confident enough to play wherever the coach needs me. This is a gift. What was initially a challenge, has now become one of my biggest strengths. Versatility is an important feature of a good footballer.
2) If you had to advise young players from North America how to succeed so that they can play at the highest levels of the game what would they be?
The most important skill for young players is speed of execution. I find the modern game requires a really high tactical IQ so that you can recognized the sequences necessary to break through no matter what the opposition is showing. I spend a significant amount of time breaking down video. Game analysis is an important skill that I use to build my knowledge of the game and then execute on the field.
3) How many hours do you currently train/week and what is the breakdown i.e. % of hours spent on technical development, tactical development, physical and mental training?
As the years go by, I think that I am spending more time on the mental aspect of the game. When I was younger, I would work on my technique and then as I grew older, coaches would assist me with understanding the tactical side of the game. In recent years, I am devoting more time to my physical development by working out regularly in the gym and watching my nutrition. As I get older, I realize that my emotional and mental strengths are starting to shine through. Ultimately, all aspects of the game reinforce one another so you need to continue to develop them all.
4) Did you spent any hours practicing on your own growing up? If so, how many?
My brother Dino and I played for Hamilton Sparta during my early years. I remember when we used to do extra training with Ian at 1v1 during those years. Ian would spend hours and hours helping us train with the ball at our feet. I think this is still the most important way to train at a young age. Then when we would go home I used to dribble the ball around all day and night long in my house. In fact, I still do it today and my mother hates it!
5) What support do you think young players from North America require in order to succeed playing at a professional club?
Canada has many competing interests which makes it difficult to develop elite footballers. Many great athletes can choose to play hockey, or basketball or even run track & field. I played all of these sports when I was younger which I think all helped me as a footballer. I think young players should be supported to play many sports. They all provide different skills, different physical aspects and different social circles.
6) Any other thoughts you would like to share with young players?
The best advice I can give young players is to understand that NO coach has the final answer on your strengths and weaknesses. I have had many coaches in my short career and each one of them told me something different regarding what I was good at and what I needed to work on. The only thing you can do is learn from each one of them and build your own confidence as a player.