During an interview former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger outlined the importance of young players learning to be “consistently motivated” in order to play at the highest levels of the game.
In his typically thoughtful style, Wenger defined a motivated person as “someone who has the capacity to recruit the resources to complete a goal.”
In summary, Wenger believes that when you look at people who are successful they are the ones who are consistently motivated and always willing to made sacrifices to achieve their goals. This mirrors what I have seen during my time in youth soccer. We have had players join our program at various ages and abilities. The ones that I believe can go on to play at higher levels are the ones who are determined to truly make themselves exceptional players. During training, they simply get on with it. They train like it will be their last session and are constantly on the edge during our technical warm-ups, trying new things and not being content with their current level of skill.
When we play small-sided games and constantly change conditions, they are the players quickly working out how to succeed within the changing environment. They are the players who are capable of playing at a high level themselves but also inspiring and helping other players around them. In football (soccer) your teammates are the best judge of your performance. Despite what parents and even coaches see on the sidelines, teammates are the ones who truly know if you’re making yourself available for passes, making runs off the ball into open space, changing the point of attack based on what the opposition is doing, making tracking runs back to assist the defence and able to produce something a little different when the pressure is on.
Players do not often realize how much coaches learn about players when they observe them off the field. Do you mix well socially, do you carry your own boots and training bag, do you tie your own laces? These behaviours can all be indicators of how self-motivated players are and can give a very good idea of whether or not you are taking full responsibility for your own preparation. Do you ask questions during training to the coaching staff and can you work things out for yourself, solve problems, and how determined are you to overcome obstacles?
Think of the last time you truly had to work out something by yourself. Maybe your parent could not drive you to training, maybe your internet was down, maybe your bike had a flat tire and you could not reach a parent to help you solve the issue. We’ve likely all been in those situations where we have had to work things out for ourselves and have had no other options. Chances are you probably exceeded your own expectations of yourself and successfully resolved the issue. You probably also felt a surge of pride and confidence in accomplishing that.
That is exactly the type of feeling that young players must be achieving during practice – both with their teams and training individually. If you can’t master a skill, practice it over and over again, making adjustments along the way until you master it. Get in the habit of critiquing your own performances and determining how to do better.
As you get older, this approach becomes more and more important. One of our players attended a camp at a US university a few years ago, where she learned from the coaching staff that if a parent sends an email to a coach inquiring about the team’s program and showing interest in their daughter being recruited, that player’s name goes to the “bottom of the list” . Many coaches at that level are only interested in dealing with players who take the initiative on their own, and not with potentially intrusive parents.
We have many good technical young players in North America. If you can merge good technique with consistent motivation as outlined by Wenger, then you will achieve greta things as a player. Don’y shy away from obstacles, challenges or difficult situations. You will gain confidence by embracing these situations and if you first do not succeed….try and try again! If you shelter yourself from decision-making and responsibility on and off the field, there is a danger that you will be a skillful young players who will struggle later on with the skill-sets that you will need to overcome the inevitable set-backs that elite sport will throw their way.
Learn to be determined, demanding of yourself to improve and to be consistent with it. If can achieve that – then you can achieve success at higher levels of play.
Seek out opportunities to challenge yourself so you are out of your comfort zone. If a task is easy, add more complexity to it so you have to at your very best (and then some) to achieve success.
Coaches can help by giving players the responsibility for warm-up, taking care of equipment and even providing them the responsibility to think up and organize the small-sided game at the end of practice. Involve players more in the decision-making processes so that they can learn to think about solutions independently.
Parents can give young players the responsibility of checking on their training times and game schedules and emailing the coach if they cannot make a practice or game. The players can also be given the responsibility of packing their own equipment and water and carrying their own training bag. Seek ways to develop independent thinking by your child.