The start of a new year can be a great time for grassroots footballers to assess where they are in terms of their progression, skills and mindset. Whether you play in a local league, for your local pub team or in a Premier League academy set-up, focussing your mind on some very specific goals could be the key to making this year one of development and success.
A lot of footballers will make their New Year’s resolutions based on key skills and fitness goals. However, such commitments seem a little obvious – what player doesn’t want to improve their touch and technique? However, by making your New Year’s resolutions based on attitudes and mental strengths, you may be able to transform your playing fortunes during the next twelve months.
1. Concentrate on what you can achieve, and not on what can go wrong
When faced with make or break moments in games, too many players concentrate on the things that can go wrong, instead of focussing on positive outcomes. The late Gary Speed used to visualise his celebration when preparing to take a penalty, rather than worrying about missing. Instead of thinking ‘don’t miss’ or ‘what if I scuff this shot?’, focus your mind on success. Sports psychologists believe that players are drawn to their foremost thoughts, so staying positive at all times should deliver some modest improvements to your performances.
2. Leave blame where it belongs – in the past
Blame is a phenomenon that many players succumb to – after the event. When a goal is conceded or a match is lost, it is easy to blame the tactics, your own performance, the performance of your teammates or a refereeing decision. However, apportioning blame never changes the outcome, and it can lead to resentment and an inability to move on. Try to influence the future by using the past as a basis for learning. Blaming something or someone for past failures will do nothing to improve you as a player.
3. Treat failure as fuel for improvement
In many footballing cultures in Europe, failure is used as a tool for improvement. In Britain, children have been taught to win at all costs for many years – often at the expense of development and improvement. Losing is part and parcel of football, and the best players and coaches use it as a basis for improvement. You can learn far more about your inadequacies and developmental needs from a defeat than you can from a win, so analyse why you failed – and strive to make sure those reasons are banished from your game.
4. Accept that you’ll never perfect your game
The best players in the world are still students of the game. Fearful that the competition will usurp their standing in the game, the footballing greats never stop practising and developing their game. Despite being the most famous footballer in the world during his time at Real Madrid, David Beckham was well-known for remaining on the training pitch long after sessions had finished – relentlessly practising free kicks, corners and his famous cross-field passes. Once you accept the fact that you will never perfect your skills, you can relax in the knowledge that the learning and development process will continue throughout your playing career.
5. Believe you’re a winner
Try to develop a winning mentality in everything you do as a footballer. From the way you interact with your teammates to the way you look after your kit, exuding confidence and a positive attitude should help you to improve your skills and performance levels. Moreover, adopting the attitude of a winner will give you influence with teammates, and provide you with an opportunity to become a leader.
6. Don’t sacrifice your strengths to improve your weaknesses
There is no such thing as the perfect, all-round footballer. Each player in a team is picked because of the specific role they perform, as well as the very specific qualities they possess. Lionel Messi may be regarded as the best player in the world, but play him in a defensive midfield role, and he will struggle to make an impact. If you are a large, strong player with natural defensive traits, don’t work on your dribbling skills to the detriment of your natural talents. Embrace the type of player that you are, and spend your time perfecting your strengths.
7. Be proud of the footballer you are
A team of eleven Cristiano Ronaldos is very unlikely to win the La Liga title or the Champions’ League. If you are a midfield enforcer, wear the badge with pride – as you perform a role that many of your teammates will find impossible to replicate. Similarly, if you’re the smaller playmaker who needs the protection of your larger, stronger teammates, keep in mind that you are one cog in a large wheel. Self-awareness and confidence are crucial attributes of any successful player, so decide on the type of player you are – and be proud!