Professional football (soccer) is very demanding. Top midfield players in the English Premiership are covering over 13 kms/game and the top forwards are sprinting as fast as 35 kilometres per hour. Midfield players will complete up to 50 passes/game and the top forwards in the EPL are now sprinting (on average) over 960 metres.
I get approached most days by young players on how to secure professional playing opportunities in Europe. That is the easy part!
The most important part is focusing on how to attain the performance levels required to play professionally. How many players from North America are currently attending talent identification opportunities and fully understanding what the performance requirements are?
If you as a young player aspire to play at the professional levels it is very important that you understand the following:
The performance requirements to play professional football
What your current performance levels are – technically, tactically, mentally and physically
What are your performance gaps versus young academy players at professional clubs in Europe
What is you action plan to close these gaps?
I personally believe that there are a lot more players from North American capable of playing professionally in Europe if they can understand these four things :
The demands (Technically/Tactically/Physically/Psychologically) to play at the professional level.
1) The performance demands of the modern player
Obviously, young players are not expected to currently match the performance levels of the EPL’s top players today. The modern game is very quick and players that play at the professional level must be excellent technically, capable of reading a game tactically, be mentally strong and have strong physical attributes. Player data such as distant covered, number of sprints, spent speed, number of passes complete is now widely available so young players should start to study the performance demands of their positions.
2) Your current performance standards
Through the performance partnerships that we have developed we can enable players to measure their physical performance levels in games, test themselves technically and physically and compare their results to the current data that we have on academy players at professional clubs in Europe. Due to the high demand for these services we are now offering this service online – so any player worldwide can have access to it.
3) Analysis of the gap in performance between you and the academy players in Europe that you are competing against for professional playing opportunities.
It is critical that young players in North America understand these metrics and have a firm understanding on the areas that they must focus on for improvement. We provide very clear graphic illustrations on what these gaps are. Some players can become disillusioned with this data and are reluctant to embrace the challenge of closing this gap. However, we have placed players at professional clubs (in Europe and at MLS academies) and opportunities are there for those who choose to put the work in on a daily and consistent basis.
4) What is the action plan (Individual Learning Plan) to close any performance gaps?
Once the performance gap has been established then an Individual learning plan must be established – which is an action plan on how to improve performance levels. This process should be backed up with additional testing and analysis to track development and ensure that players are on track to attain the high levels of performance that are required.
It has been my experience as a coach that only a very small percentage of players who desire to play at the professional level will follow this process and design an environment that will fully support their goal. The one’s that do will fight through the inevitable struggles and set-backs, they will put in the required work that no one else is willing to do and they will back themselves to overcome the odds.
As a species we are naturally competitive. Our most competitive players will be the one’s who are capable of overcoming the odds and playing at the professional level. These are the players who are constantly challenging themselves competitively to exceed their previous performance levels.
What we have learnt is that young players in North America can B.E.A.T. the odds and play at the professional level, providing they adhere to the following formula:
B.E.A.T = Best+Energy+Accelerate+Tenacity
You must fully commitment to being the Best. Bo Eason in his book “There’s No Plan B for your A-Game” outlined how he as a young athlete wrote up a declaration to play in the NFL at a very young age. He fully committed his life to this goal, even when every college in the country turned him down. He defied the odds by becoming the 1st player within his local area to play professional sports. He achieved his goal by making a firm declaration to achieve this and by designing an environment to fully support this.
You must ignite what they do with high Energy. What do you see when you watch the game’s top players like Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, George Best, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Pele play? You see a deep passion for the game and a relentless energy to keep pushing themselves beyond normal boundaries.
You must Accelerate the learning process with significant hours of deep practice learning. Andres Ericsson outlined the benefits of “deep practice learning” to achieve expert performance in the following research paper. Learn more . The quality of the training process plays a greater influence on skill acquisition than simply the quantity of hours. Young players with 10,000 hours of deep learning practice will be so much further ahead than other young players competing for professional playing opportunities. The young players we profiled who have graduated to playing for professional clubs all trained by themselves at home or with their friends and pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones to accelerate their development.
You must be Tenacious to go the distance. Becoming a professional athlete is a marathon, not a sprint. Many young soccer players still believe that they will attend one Player ID camp or train in front of professional coaches for one week and will be selected. They focus more on the Talent Identification process than the Talent Development process! Young players get selected by professional clubs for the 10 years of work that the have put in and on the future player that they might become. Theo Corbeanu was first identified by Wolves in 2012 in Canada and ended up signing for their academy in 2018. Young players must be mentally strong to overcome the inevitable set-backs and positively cope with the struggles (over many years) and be tenacious in never giving up on their dream.
Most importantly keep fostering your love of the game! Then, start studying player data from top professional players playing your position to fully understand the performance levels required to play at the professional levels. Next step will to look at the technical and physical performance levels of academy players at professional clubs within your age-group. We can assist with that.
Provide support to your child by helping foster a love of the game. The more a young player enjoys the sport – the better they will be at it. Keep your child focused on loving the game and reinforce that practice will make them them better players – there are no short cuts.
Encourage your players to take ownership of their development process. Assist them by suggesting a home training program see they can spend attritional time at home learning soccer’s fundamental technical skills.