Practicing more Important than Talent in Predicting Soccer Success

Several studies have confirmed that the number of hours of “deliberate practice” play a greater role in the development of young players that go on to play at higher levels, rather than innate talent.

A positive linear relationship was found between accumulated individual plus team practice time and the level of skill when a group of international, national and provincial players were assessed. ( Helsen, W., Hodges N.J., Winckel, J. & Starkes, J., (2000) Journal of Sports Science)

We have all heard about the 10,000-hour training rule — the theory, as advocated by Malcolm Gladwell and others, that if you truly want to be good at something, you have to devote at least 10,000 to practicing it.

While training volume will help assist young players maximize their soccer potential it is the quality of the training that can have the greatest impact. Practice must be intensive, focused on training goals and players must be receiving the correct feedback in order to make the correct refinements in order to excel.

Young players at the top academies in Europe, including the famous La Masia training academy in Barcelona typically only complete 70 minutes of team training per day per day. However, this leaves time for less formal individual or small-group training that will engage the players more and be completed at full-pace. In this environment the players have to be technically, mentally and physically on the edge and repeatedly making correct decisions while executing skills in small spaces. Read More

However, the challenge becomes when the coaching process is not specifically linked to an individual player’s own goals. Team coaches typically plan practice activities with the objective of improving the performance levels of the overall team, rather than focusing on improving the individual performance levels of their players. It has been proven that effective goal setting can accelerate the development of elite athletes so it is important that young players are in an environment where their individual goals are being determined, monitored and a plan is put in place to achieve them.

In addition, just like a young Messi when he was coming through at Barcelona, young players should set time aside to practice individually. Or, alternatively, they may also wish to work with an Individual Performance Coach to tailor a training development program specifically for them.

More and more players at the professional and amateur levels are now beginning to work with Individual Performance Coaches.  For example, Everton player Theo Walcott has worked  with Performance coach Bradley Simmonds in the past to improve his performance levels. 

What is Performance Coaching?

Performance coaching can best be described as a process to help players to maximize their potential and achieve their individual soccer goals. The objective of Performance coaches is to help players:

  • Set practical, achievable goals
  • Develop new skills
  • Identify and maximize strengths
  • Develop tools to overcome weaknesses
  • Identify road blocks to achieving their true potential
  • Aspire and drive towards a higher level of success

The best players in the world were developed as a result of combing team coaching with a significant amount of individual training.  It has been a proven method of player development for many generations and it is important that all young players are combining both, in order to maximize their full potential.

FREE Copy of Play the 1v1 Way!

Given that everyone involved with football (soccer) at the moment has some extra time on their hands I am providing a FREE electronic version of my book Play the 1v1 Way!

It was written in 2014 but hopefully you will find it still relevant.

 

 

Talent Development Case Study – Premier League Academy in England v Private Academy in Canada

 

Apply for Fleetwood Town International Academy – Ages 16-22

As my coaching work is focused on developing young players in North America to reach academy standards in Europe, I completed a comprehensive research study of the talent development system at an English Premier academy (Wolves) and my own private academy at the time (1v1 Soccer). 

The study confirmed the following:

1) There are five key factors that consistently emerge from research on how to effectively develop talent:

Long-Term Aims and Methods

Wide ranging coherent messages and support

Emphasis on appropriate development rather than early selection

Individualized and ongoing development

Integrated, holistic and systematic development

2) Traditional talent development models such as Long Term Athlete Development Model (LTAD) ignores the influences of psychological and environmental factors that help transform a young athlete’s potential into performance. (MacNamara et al. 2006)

3) Research has confirmed the importance of young athlete’s being treated as individuals and their needs being met as often as possible (Bloom, 1995).

The attributes of every player is unique and several factors such as maturation rate, training experiences and the learning environment all interact to generate performance levels that may or not result in professional playing opportunities (Phillips et al.2010). Every player has their own personal formula for talent development in terms of the skillsets and experiences they require (Martindale et al. 2006) 

4) Training hours at Premier League academies in England (EPPP) is typically 400 hours/year while private academies in North America typically offer 200-250 training hours/year

 

5) Top performers during one stage of the learning and development cycle does not automatically predict if a player will be a top performer at a later stage of development (Bloom, 1985).

Less than 10 % of successful elite athletes demonstrated abilities at ages 11 or 12 that indicated what they would eventually achieve.

6) A combination of influences such as training, parental support and social experiences can all play important roles in talent development (Coutinho et al. 2016)

Sign up for your FREE Technical Training Program that you can do at home 30 mins/day

Research confirms that skill, not athleticism, has the greatest influence on the performance levels during games.

Young players in Europe train 10-15 hours each week. ACCELERATE you own technical development as a player by signing up for our FREE Home Training Program with 30 mins of training content each day – delivered to your smartphone.

 

 

 

 

 

Skill not athleticism predicts individual variation in match performance of soccer players   Learn More 

That is why today, I have released FREE access to my technical home training program. I want every child throughout the world to have the opportunity to improve their skills and enjoy the game more. The program is designed for any player, anytime and anywhere in the world. 

Towards the end of his reign at Arsenal Arsène Wenger came in for a lot of criticism for first team results. However, most observers of the game agree that since arriving at the North London club in 1996, he established the “Gunners” as a world leader in youth development.

During Wenger’s time as manager, Arsenal tried to develop it’s own players such as Cesc Fabregas, Ashley Cole and Hector Bellerin  rather than spend $100 million dollars+ a year on players like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City. This tradition has continued at Arsenal and last Sunday’s squad versus Newcastle included Hector Bellerin,  Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock. 

The advantage of this model is that the players have a greater loyalty and affiliation to the club and tend to stay longer. In addition, they can be schooled from a very early age to play “The Arsenal Way.” Not all the Arsenal youth players have or will graduate to the first team but they will have a great chance at becoming professional players, at some level.

The Arsenal model and the latest research confirms my belief that for players to become successful in the game, they must be practicing more and more with the ball. A few years ago Steve Bould (former Arsenal defensive star as a player and current U23 Coach) stated that young English players were still behind European players in terms of weekly training time. “It’s hard because I look at Spain, France or Holland and the kids are training four, five or six times per week at young ages,” said Bould. “At 15 we get ours three times a week (which includes a game) at the very most.”

Looking at another development model in Brazil youngsters also play constantly with the ball, easily 12-15 hours a week, but in a more unstructured environment like pickup games in the street or on the beach. However, it is important to remember that while these players may not have “coaches” in the same we understand the term, there is always an older sibling, parent, relative or friend to pass along lessons of technique and the fundamentals of team play.

The Elite Performance Plan for English clubs, released in 2011, has significantly increased the training contact time that Category 1 clubs now have with young players.Training hours for U9 to U11 players has increased from 4 hours per week to 8, and for U12-U16 players this has been increased from12 hrs per week to 16. Wolves FC, for example, now take their young players out of school one day each week to expand their training.

Consider now the averages for young players in Canada or the US, who may only train once or twice a week, at a low tempo, without a significant technical component while being taught by volunteer coaching staff who have not had the opportunity to spend time learning the game and what is best in terms of youth development.The bottom line is that even when the players do train they may not be spending time on the correct activities.

Arsenal’s Bould also highlights another important characteristic that must be combined with greater touches on the ball — character! For players to play at a higher level, they must learn how to overcome adversity and develop skills to overcome “problems” both on and off the field. Daniel Coyle also highlighted this as an important aspect of a child’s development in his book The Talent Code. The struggle to master a new skill or to work out how to receive more touches in small-sided games against older or more experienced players is a very important part of development.

No player will be able to instantly juggle the ball 300 times in succession without constant practice. It is the young players that keep practicing and have the belief in themselves that they can achieve a higher level of play — despite any obstacles or setbacks — who will ultimately be successful.That player may not necessarily be the best player today, they may have been told by a coach that they are too small or not aggressive enough. If they keep working on their technical ability and have the determination and passion for the game to be successful, then these types of players will be our best players in future years.

Young Brazilian players are spending 12-15 hours a week working on their ball skills and the young European players are training five or six times each week. Consequently, Canada must adopt the same philosophy towards technical development if we wish to be truly successful in soccer in competition with these nations.

How Parents Can Play a Positive Role in the Development Process

 

 

Back in 2014 I wrote an article for my book “Play the 1v1 Way!”  describing our program as a triangle. One one side is the player with the dedication and commitment that they bring to every training session and game. On another side is the coach who brings a philosophy and technical expertise to the development process. On the 3rd side is the parents who support their child and believe that the training that they are receiving is right for their child.

When situations arise that “ weaken the triangle “ such as when a child is receiving contradictory information from parent and coach then there are only two options. The “ triangle” has to be repaired or it is in the best interest of the child to move to a different program.  Through time I have came to appreciate more and more that our program is not for everyone. It is demanding for the player and built upon a European model to focus on individual player development, rather than the team. Many of the philosophies I believe in can be difficult for North American parents to understand. I am totally focused on improving the individual player and to be perfectly honest I have little patience for some of the things that I see going on within the North American youth soccer team environment.    

Soccer is too much fun – and life is far too short – to be spending time in a program that is not meeting the needs of everyone involved. This week, two young players left our program and in both situations it was the right choice for everyone involved. Last year I left the academy team environment to exclusively focus on what I enjoy best – developing individual players and exposing them to European training standards. To be perfectly honest, I am far too committed to what I believe in to change any of my cornerstone philosophies to suit the short -term needs of a few families who are no longer aligned with what we are trying to do.  It just was no longer a good fit and my energy and focus has to be with the young players who see the benefits of being challenging and enjoy the daily process of working towards the level of ability at academies of professional clubs in Europe.    

There is a funny saying in sports circles about the success of a young athlete:“He or she chose his parents wisely.”

But in all seriousness, parents play a significant role in a young player’s development. Based on my experiences in the game, this development has a much higher chance for success when parents and the coach have the same philosophy, while at the same time being able to separate their duties.

The coach should take responsibility for technical instruction, teaching the game and preparing the player for the next stages of their development.The parent should be supportive of their child, there to listen and be a confidant. Parents must be the ones to help ensure the emotional well-being of the child and work with the coach to ensure that that the young player retains their passion and enjoyment of the game.

The most important role a parent can play is to take the pressure and expectations away from the child. Let the players determine their own goals, ensure they have a balanced lifestyle and take away the weight of expectations that I frequently see being placed on young shoulders. Focus on the development aspects, as parents and spot-check every so often with the coach to ensure that your child is still in love with the game.

I have experienced a parent talking to their son via video- conference after every training session (while on a trial with a professional team in Europe) and providing non-qualified advice on performance. I have listened as parents use the word “we” to communicate the next step in their child’s career in the game. I have experienced parents communicating with players during training sessions and games — contradicting the advice being provided by coaching staff, and generally confusing their child.

My advice to parents is to take a step back.

Help provide opportunities for your child by finding them the best teacher available. Remember what legendary Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has said: If your child showed passion for playing the piano, you, as a parent would try to find the best teacher available so that they would learn the correct skills. Approach soccer development like that. Also, understand why the child wants to play the game. Is it because they enjoy the social aspect of playing with friends? Do they want to play to be active and healthy? Do they have a deep passion for the game and have a ball at their feet every second? Are they trying multiple activities to find the right fit for them?

All these are good reasons to play and it is important that parents understand this, from the child’s perspective. Understand the driving force and you can help the child achieve a good level of enjoyment from the sport. Make sure the child is happy in life and that football (soccer) remains a game — something to look forward to, whether it’s practicing or playing a game.

Our young players live in a society where they often can’t go outside and play freely. Their “play” is controlled by adults in structured and in some cases sterile environments. Enjoy watching them play with a smile on their faces and enjoy the best gift for any parent anywhere in the world — a healthy and happy child. You as a parent are in pole position to help provide this and you also have the opportunity for the biggest joy.

As a young child, aged 6, I remember vividly setting skittles (our UK version of bowling pins) down in our front living room and trying to dribble a soccer ball through them to improve my ball skills. I remember asking my Dad if he would teach me the next day (Saturday morning) to be better. He did by showing me how to take more touches and keep the ball closer to my feet for better control. My dad also supported me every step of the way as a young player offering advice (he had played in England with professional club Port Vale). I never felt any pressure from him or any expectations. I only felt support and somewhere to go if I needed advice. My Dad is sadly no longer with us but I still cherish the support he provided me and how he helped me to develop a life long passion for the game ! He was always very good at determining the best path forward, sticking to his principles and philosophies and having the strength and conviction to follow his own voice. I think that I may have adopted a lot of that!   

Parents, don’t miss out on that opportunity to share a love of the game with your child. Help give them the gift of enjoying the greatest game in the world for the rest of their lives.

10 suggestions for parents

  1. Listen! Let your child tell you about their soccer experiences
  2. Find a program that provides them with the best soccer education
  3. If they just want to play and not train, let them
  4. Spot-check with your child once in a while to make sure they are still in love with the game
  5. Work with the coach to make sure your child is enjoying the sport
  6. Let them fall down, get up and enjoy the feeling of successfully overcoming adversity
  7. Don’t tie their laces for them, pack their soccer bag, prepare their water bottle — teach them to do that
  8. If you can’t drop your child off knowing that they will be in a positive, learning environment, you are dropping them off at the wrong program
  9. Have them push you so they can play at the next level. Don’t worry what potential programs they’re missing, good players always get noticed and end up where they should be
  10. Be a parent. Not an agent or coach.

Mesut Ozil: Individual Player Analysis

 

Mesut Ozil divides opinion as of the world’s most enigmatic players. A World Cup winner with Germany in 2014 and a La Liga winner with Real Madrid in 2011/2012 he is renowned for his technical skills and creativity. He is also known in recent times for not reaching the high standards expected of him and contributing to Arsenal’s quest to return to Champion’s League football.  Statistically, he has scored 32 goals and assisted on 53 goals during his 179 games in the English Premiership.

This is Ozil’s 7th year in the English Premiership and his performances have received increased scrutiny since Arsene Wenger left Arsenal at the end of the 2017/2018 season. His most productive season was 2015/2016 when he scored 6 goals and recorded 19 assists during 35 games. Since then, his production has dwindled to a total of 5 goals and 3 assists in his last 37 games during the 2018/2019 and current 2019/2020 seasons. Ozil’s reduced number of passes per game reflects his reduced influence on the attacking play of his team.  In his first 5 seasons at Arsenal he averaged 64.8 passes per game and during the last two seasons he has averaged 46.5 passes per game. 

However, only Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Christian Erikson have recorded more assists in the Premier League since Ozil arrived at Arsenal. He signed a new three-and-a-half year contract worth 350,000 pounds a week in January 2018 and many have been critical of his declining production, lack of work-rate when the team is out of possession, his unavailability due to illness and his performances in big games.  There is no doubt that Ozil struggled during Unai Emery’s reign at the Emirates and was unable to produce consistent performances. He was unable to meet Emery’s demands for high tempo attacking play and pressuring opponents when possession was lost. In Ozil’s defence, several other players also failed to play to their potential under Emery and the team has been in transition since Arsene Wenger left the club at the end of the 2017/2018 season.

 

It can be difficult to evaluate the individual performances of players within team sports such as football. It is often argued that football is a team sport where the team’s weakest link has more impact upon the overall success of the team than the team’s best performer.  It has  undoubtably been easier for Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and even Christian Erikson to operate as attacking midfielders at Manchester City and Spurs in recent seasons as both teams have consistently finished within the top four and challenged for the games top honours.

There has been a general consensus that Ozil’s form has improved under Arteta. Many have pointed to his improved performances in big games against top clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United.  However, his individual stats do not reflect this when we compare Ozil’s eight English Premiership games playing under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg versus his five games under Arteta.  Part of this reason is that maybe he was not performing as bad as many thought under Emery. Although he has not recorded over 100 actions/game like De Bruyne (Manchester City) and Erickson (Spurs) have in some games this season, he has been involved in a respectable average of 66 actions/game (under Emery).  De Bruyne and Erickson have played in games this season where they have recorded game action lows of 51 and 23 respectively. Ozil’s game action low this season has been 46 versus Crystal Palace.     

 

Individual Player Analysis of Mesut Ozil : Arsenal v Sheffield United (January 18, 2020)

Ozil played 96 minutes of the game against Sheffield United. He lined up centrally in a 4-2-3-1 formation as a number 10 behind Lacazette with Pepe on his right and Martinelli on his left. However, his heat map confirms that Ozil spent a large portion of the game drifting into the channels to combine with Saka on the left side and Pepe on the right. When he did operate in central positions, he mainly came inside from wide positions.

Arsenal’s main attacking threats came down the left side with Saka very effective at getting forward (from left full-back) and delivering crosses from wide positions. It was Ozil’s combined play with Saka that contributed to Martinelli’s goal.

Like the previous games against Chelsea, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth under Arteta, Arsenal dominated the game in spells but were unable to sustain a high level of performance for the entire game. It was 22 minutes before they were able to establish a rhythm in their attacking play. Arsenal had their best attacking spells before and after half-time and Ozil was frequently involved in linking up with Saka and Martinelli on the left-side, Pepe on the right and Lacazette through the middle. Overall, Arsenal had 62 % of possession but were unable to get a 2nd goal that would have given them all three points. Ozil completed 42/47 passes with many of these passes being short to medium in distance. Essentially, his main contribution during the Sheffield United game was to find space in the channels behind Lacazette and bring other players into the play. His goals and assists production has dropped off significantly in the last three seasons but there is no doubting that Arsenal still benefits from his link-up play in the final third. 

There is little doubt that Ozil’s body language is much more positive under Arteta – a former team-mate. There is also a much more positive atmosphere around the club since Arteta’s appointment and Arteta has left the players in no doubt that hard-work and suffering for the good of the team are “non-negotiables”.  He is now much more active in winning the ball back if possession is lost. Everyone in the Arsenal team is now expected to contribute in this aspect of play and Ozil is no exception.

Technical Ability:

When Ozil was signed by Arsenal from Real Madrid in 2013 he was recognized as one of the world’s most creative players. No player managed more league assists (in top league’s in Europe) in the 5 seasons between 2008-2013 than Ozil. His technical strengths are his ability to successfully execute defence-splitting passes and retain possession with excellent 1st touch control. He successfully operates in tight-spaces in and around the 18 yard box. Ozil can be effective at switching the play and crossing but is most effective in quick one/two combinations around the 18 yard box or cutting the ball back on the ground (rather than crossing) when he is able to get in behind defences.  He demonstrated against Sheffield United, a very difficult opponent, that he is still Arsenal’s most creative player. Saka was rightly praised for his performance against Sheffield United and much of his attacking work involved combination play with Ozil on the left-side.

Tactical Understanding:

Ozil’s footballing brain is his greatest asset. He was unable to rely upon strong physical attributes to establish himself at the professional level which probably contributed to his reliance on thinking quicker than anyone else and recognizing patterns of play. He rarely makes incorrect decisions with the ball and his patience and calmness allows others the time to make supporting forward runs.  He is very good at picking out passes for teammates that opponents least expect.

Ozil is also very good at checking away from his markers to create space. He did this effectively in the build up to the goal.  As he made his supporting run towards Saka he checked his shoulder to identify what space he could exploit. 

On this occasion he was able to dribble towards the 18 yard box and successfully combine with Lacazette. When Lacazette returned the pass Ozil had the vision and awareness to let it run past him to Saka who then crossed for Martinelli to score.  

During his time at Arsenal he has been used centrally as a natural number 10 or used wide in 4-2-3-1 formation. On Saturday, against Sheffield United he lined up centrally but primarily operated wide as Arsenal built attacks in wide areas through Saka (left) and Pepe (right). He tended to come inside from wide areas (like he did for the goal) to link up with Lacazette. Arteta seems to have given him more of a free role than Emery who received criticism for being too rigid and conservative in attacking play. After a difficult start to the season under Emery Ozil delivered improved performances in a key away win against West Ham (under Ljungberg) and played pivotal roles in Arsenal’s performances against other top four challengers Chelsea and Manchester United.

Despite his less structured attacking role Ozil is expected to help recover possession quickly as far up the pitch as possible which is a key component of the modern game. He is not at the same level as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in this aspect of his play but there is a noticeable improvement in his body language and willingness to engage in this type of off the ball work since Emery’s departure. Against Manchester United he regained possession 10 times, more than any other player on the pitch and in the same game led the Arsenal side in distance covered – 11.53 kilometres.

Physical Attributes:

Ozil is 5 ‘ 11 inches and weighs 168 pounds. He is agile and has good co-ordination that positively contributes to his excellent technical abilities. However, he not blessed with great strength or speed. Ozil has an excellent touch to dribble past defenders but lacks the explosive power in his legs to accelerate past defenders in 1v1 attacking situations. Similarly, he does not cannot generate sufficient power in his shooting to be a threat from long-range. 

When he emerged at Schalke, aged 17, he was underdeveloped physically and has struggled in subsequent years to develop greater strength. He can be easily nudged off the ball. Against Sheffield United, he lost the ball on 8 occasions. However,  only on two of these occasions did he lose possession due to a lack of physical strength.

Many have even questioned if Ozil has the required physical attributes to succeed in the modern game and point to the number of games that he has missed due to illness. In three full seasons in Spain, he completed the full 90 minutes on only 25 occasions.  At Arsenal he has only averaged 27 Premiership league games per season.   

However, his recent distance covered statistics against Manchester United (11.53 kilometres) and his performance against a very strong and robust Sheffield United team on the weekend suggests that Ozil can still excel within the modern game.

Psychological Attributes:

Ozil, in recent years, has been described as moody and a negative influence in the dressing room. This was illustrated in the 0-3 defeat to Manchester City when 13 minutes into the 2nd half he was replaced by youngster Emile Smith Rowe. Ozil kicked his gloves in frustration when coming off, which is not the actions that any team wants to see from one of its most experienced players. He had another altercation with Freddie Ljunberg’s assistant Per Mertesacker when being substituted during an earlier game. Mertesacker recently went on record and admitted that he would get “p***ed” with Ozil for days and weeks at Arsenal due to his laid-back attitude. He did go on to say, however,  that he is a “genius” who can produce “magic moments” from nothing. There has been a noticeable improvement in Ozil’s body language and demeanour in recent weeks and pundit Rio Ferdinand highly praised him in the recent victory against Manchester United. Ferdinand remarked that it is the happiest that he had ever seen him. Arteta immediately praised the qualities of Ozil upon his appointment and as he tries to implement his own playing philosophy upon the squad there is no doubt that he believes in the capabilities of Ozil and views him as an important player.            

Summary:

Ozil continued his recent good form against Sheffield United last weekend and was an important player in Arsenal’s most effective attacks. He contributed to the goal, rarely gave the ball away and combined effectively with Arsenal’s most attacking presence, Saka, on the left hand-side. His body language demonstrates that he feels more comfortable playing for Arteta than Emery. He has clearly bought into Arteta’s demand to play at higher tempo in attack and demonstrate greater energy in winning the ball back. These were the same demands that Emery placed upon the squad but Arteta appears to have provided the attacking players, like Ozil, with greater freedom to be creative and has gained the players increased trust and support through his status as a former captain and greater man-management skills. His demands are high (as were Emery’s) but the early signs are that the players are responding more positively to Arteta and are more cohesive as a unit. There is more resilience when the team is out of possession and they are much more difficult to score against. This provides creative players such as Ozil with greater stability in their play and a greater chance for success.

There is no doubt that Mesut Ozil continues to divide opinion. However, most will agree that when on the top of his game he is still one of the Premiership’s most creative players. There is no getting away from the fact that his productivity has dropped from a high of 19 assists in the 2015/2016 to only 2 last year. However, he achieved his most productive assist totals (19) during Arsenal’s most successful league season, since he joined – they finished 2nd in 2015/2016. A team’s top earner will always receive increased scrutiny but a strong argument can be made that a creative player like Ozil, who is reliant upon his creative passing ability, can only be successful when his team dominates possession, he has more touches on the ball and that his teammates are making the right runs that leads to goals. Continuing his good form against a physical team such as Sheffield United was a good test and it will be interesting if he can maintain this in the upcoming fixtures against Chelsea, Bournemouth and Burnley.

Personally, I think he is a better fit within Arteta’s attacking team structure and that the team is now more supportive and resilient in its defensive structure so that he can take more risks in possession. It remains to be seen if he can return to the heights of 2015/2016 by assisting on 19 goals. However, I do feel that he will be a valuable asset to Arteta in effectively linking the play between Saka, Aubameyang (on the left-side), Pepe on the right side and Lacazette and Martinelli when they play through the middle. Maybe, like last Saturday we will see him more as a  catalyst during attacking build up play rather than the player providing the final assist in Arsenal’s goals.

 

Everyone want’s to play professional football (soccer) ….only a select few will put the work in to achieve this goal

I am a UEFA A licensed coach with a Masters Degree in Performance Coaching. I identify and train North American players for professional playing opportunities overseas.  Learn More 

Everyone want’s to play professional football (soccer) ….only a select few will put the work in to achieve this goal

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 on social media or by the players I train on how to secure professional playing opportunities in Europe. That is the easy part!

The most important part and the part that most young players and their families place less emphasis on 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 without understanding (before they leave) what the performance requirements are?

 

Our partner clubs Fleetwood Town and Glasgow Rangers have invested in the North American market and are providing players with opportunities to pursue their goal to play professionally. See Announcements 

However, I believe there are a lot more players from North American capable of playing professionally in Europe if they can understand the following 4 things:

1) The demands (Technically/Tactically/Physically/Psychologically) to play at the professional level.

Obviously, young players are not expected to currently match the performance levels of the EPL’s top players today. It can also be difficult to measure game understanding (tactical knowledge) and psychological attributes. However, young players who aspire to play professionally must understand ( as soon as possible) what the technical and physical standards are for players (of the same age as them) at academy programs at professional clubs in Europe. They can also receive feedback from the coaches at professional clubs on their current tactical and psychological attributes by attending Player ID events. 

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.

*(Note: these same players represent competition for MLS or US Scholarship Opportunities also)

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.

2.8 % of the players we have trained have progressed to playing for professional clubs

It has been my experience as a coach that only a very small percentage of players who fully commit themselves 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

  • They 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.
  • They 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. 
  • They 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.
  • They 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.

We are launching a new initiate in the coming weeks to improve the odds for North American players to achieve professional playing opportunities even further. Our players have a disadvantage of being over 3,000 miles away from soccer’s most successful player development systems in Europe. They also have limited access to top coaches- in Spain there is one UEFA licensed coach (A or B) for 27 players. In North America there is only one A or B licensed coach for every 1,000+ players. In addition, players playing within academy programs at professional clubs in Europe have a team of physical trainers, nutritionists, video analysts and sports psychologists to support their player development process.

My plan is to work with a select few supremely motivated athletes online and offer technical/tactical training support in addition to game analysis and sports psychology support. With online delivery there is no restriction for players in North America geographically and I can deliver benchmark testing versus academy players at professional clubs in Europe.

From there, I can then formulate an individual learning plan and work with them proactively on a consistent basis plus provide them with placements at professional clubs in Europe – depending upon their levels of performance. The aim is change the game for young players in North America and help more and more young players overcome the odds! 

 

 

Looking for 10 Highly Motivated Players to Evaluate and Train (Online) and Place at Professional Clubs in Europe

I receive inquiries on a daily basis to assist players purse professional playing opportunities in Europe. My first response to a young player or parent is always the same – are you/they prepared to do the work that no one else is willing to do?

There is no “quick process” to becoming a professional footballer and young players must fully commit on a daily basis to designing a life that will support their ambition. How many young players will follow the required daily nutrition, sleeping, hydration and recovery habits to support their goal of playing professional football? How many will train before school in the morning and work again on improving  their technical skills when they come home from school?  Who will follow this routine diligently on a daily basis? Anyone can secure a training opportunity or football trial at a professional club in Europe but how many are fully prepared to take away some other players academy position at a professional club in Europe? That’s what will be required.     

Everyone want’s to play professional football (soccer) ….only a select few will put the work in to achieve this goal

During the last few weeks we have been profiling former players that we have worked with who have gone on to sign professional or academy contracts with professional clubs in Europe or for Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs. You can read more about these players here  

 

 

Out of the 350 players that I have worked with, since 2012, on a regular basis (at least once/week), 2.8 % of these players are currently playing within professional club environments. During 2020 over 30 of our players will be training overseas at professional clubs in Europe so our aim is to dramatically increase these statistics in the coming years. 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

  • They 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.
  • They 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. 
  • They 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.
  • They 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.

My NEW Online Training program is designed to help improve the odds for North American players to play professional football in Europe!  I am looking for 10 highly motivated players to begin working with me in February!

 

Our players have a disadvantage of being over 3,000 miles away from soccer’s most successful player development systems in Europe. They also have limited access to top coaches- in Spain there is one UEFA licensed coach (A or B) for 27 players. In North America there is only one A or B licensed coach for every 1,000+ players. In addition, players playing within academy programs at professional clubs in Europe have a team of physical trainers, nutritionists, video analysts and sports psychologists to support their player development process.

My plan is to work with a select few supremely motivated athletes online and offer technical/tactical training support in addition to game analysis and sports psychology support. With online delivery there is no restriction for players in North America geographically and I can deliver benchmark testing versus academy players at professional clubs in Europe.

From there, I can then formulate an individual learning plan plus provide players with placements at professional clubs in Europe – depending upon their levels of performance. The aim is change the game for young players in North America and help more and more young players overcome the odds! 

Are you ready for the challenge? Is 2020 the year that you start to fully support your ambition by executing an action plan that will improve your performance levels so that you are able to pursue professional playing opportunities in Europe?

 

Player Analysis – Jack Grealish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am delighted to be working with @TheAnalysisZone and @TheCoachingZone on Twitter and providing regular performance analysis content.  You can check our blog for weekly articles. 

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish has become one of the most talked about players in the Premiership this season. There has been much discussion about whether Grealish should be selected for England in the build-up to the 2020 Euros and whether one of the top clubs in England should be trying to sign him from his boyhood club Aston Villa.

Grealish is aged 25, of medium height (5 ‘ 9”) and build and is a lifelong Aston Villa fan. He joined the club at six years of age and made his debut at the end of the 2014 season in a 4-0 away defeat to Manchester City. His great-great grandfather, Billy Garraty earned one England cap and won the 1905 FA Cup Final with Aston Villa.

Grealish tends to divide opinion the same way other creative players such as Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne did early in their careers. There has always been an appreciation of Grealish’s technical ability to glide past players, build attacks from deep and make penetrating passes to create goalscoring opportunities. The question marks before the season began was whether Grealish could be as effective as an attacking force in the English Premiership. Would he have the tactical discipline and work ethic to help Aston Villa and would he have sufficient talent around him so that he could be successful?

After 22 games in the English Premiership Grealish has proved his doubters wrong. Despite Aston Villa being in the relegation zone Grealish has scored six goals and assisted on three. He has also captained the club to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup where he has played in three games and scored two goals with one assist. This has proved to be Grealish’s most productive season and he has already surpassed last season’s six goal return. In addition he has created the most chances from open play in the league and is the most fouled player.

Source: Sky Sports
Source: Sky Sports

 

Individual Player Analysis: Jack Grealish (Leicester City v Aston Villa)

On January 8th, Aston Villa travelled to Leicester City for the 1st leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final. The event was billed as a battle of the number 10’s and much of the pre-game focus was on how Jack Grealish would compare against Leicester City’s number 10 James Madison. On the night Jack Grealish delivered an impressive performance in front of England Manager Gareth Southgate and should be in contention for a future role with England as they approach Euros 2020.

Technical Ability:

Grealish’s demonstrated quick feet and close control in tight areas during the game against Leicester. On many occasions he was surrounded by several Leicester City defenders yet managed to glide past defenders, draw a foul or bring other players into the game with a pass out of pressure. Aston Villa’s goal was created after a direct dribble by him to the heart of the Leicester City defence. Pundits such as Peter Schmeichel have recently argued that to improve further Grealish will have to release the ball quicker. However, as demonstrated during the creation of Aston Villa’s opening goal, these dribbles put defences on the backfoot and allows his teammates to get forward in support. Once Grealish began his dribble he was able to create a 4 v 2 situation just outside the 18 yard box that was a phase of play that ultimately resulted in a goal. Defenders are wary of his 1v1 abilities and have tended to back off and not commit themselves to unnecessary fouls. Grealish only completed four dribbling attempts in the game but it was decisive in securing Aston Villa a vital opening goal despite Leicester City dominating possession.

Source: Wyscout

He was very composed in possession and comfortable at receiving the ball at pace in different areas of the pitch on both his right and left sides. He can turn and roll defenders and is effective at creating space with minimal touches and executing dribbling, passing, crossing or shooting options. He has a good range of passing and effectively links up with his teammates to bring them into the game during attacking play. In total, he completed 24 of 30 passes against Leicester with an 80 % pass completion. Out of these 30 passes, six were longer passes.

Source: Wyscout

Grealish has demonstrated throughout the season that he can deliver chipped, weighted or whipped crosses from wide areas and is effective at long-range shooting. However, due to the dominance of Leicester in possession (69 %) he only recorded one cross and one shot during this game. Leicester City enjoyed 69 % of possession and it says a lot for Grealish’s performance that he was able to be Villa’s most effective player on the night even when they had a low percentage of possession.

Tactical Role:

Grealish has spent most of the season on the left side of midfield but with the responsibility to come inside and provide attacking support to Villa’s central striker Weshley. However, with Weshley out injured for the rest of the season Aston Villa manager Dean Smith decided to play a 5-4-1 formation against Leicester City. Grealish began the game wide left but as the game went on, he came inside more and alternated between a left midfield role and as a false nine.

Source: Wyscout

In attack, Grealish represents Aston Villa’s greatest threat and even more responsibility has now been placed upon him with Wesley’s absence. He is primarily seen as a number 10 but has demonstrated his tactical flexibility this year by operating further left midfield or even sometimes in the false 9 role – as he was against Leicester City. However, as demonstrated by his heat map and passing activity Grealish essentially had a free role against Leicester and was involved across the whole width of the pitch. Once Aston Villa won back possession Grealish was typically involved in possession quickly (after 1-3 passes) and was very effective at positioning himself in clear passing lanes between defenders and providing his teammates with options to find him by breaking lines.

Source: Wyscout

This provided him with many opportunities to either launch a counter- attack or slow the game down to allow Aston Villa to retain their defensive structure. He displayed a high level of maturity in this aspect of his performance and played the most prominent role for Aston Villa in dictating the tempo of the play when they were in possession.

In defence, critics have pointed at a weakness within this area of the game. There is no doubt that he has less defensive responsibility from his normal wide left midfield position. However, despite his advanced role in the Leicester game he showed a determination during the match to compete in 1v1 defensive duels and demonstrated a resilience and positive attitude in this aspect of his performance. In total, he won 11 of his 23 (48 % ) 1v1 duels and recovered the ball in two out of six opportunities in his teams attacking half.

Source: Wyscout

Physical Attributes:

Grealish is 5‘9” and possesses a low centre of gravity. He has developed good physical strength and power in his legs that allows him to glide past defenders and absorb strong physical challenges. He is very capable of changing direction and speed quickly. His physical endurance is good and he is willing to work hard, both with or without the ball. Grealish is playing for a team in the relegation zone and in a difficult semi-final fixture against a Leicester City team 2nd in the Premiership he was willing to chase down opponents and begin the press.

Psychological Attributes:

In previous years, Jack Grealish’s maturity and professionalism had been questioned due to some off the field incidents. There were fears that ill discipline and a lack of maturity may impede his progress and prevent him from realizing his potential. Playing alongside Joe Cole a few seasons ago was seen as a catalyst for his improved level of professionalism and this has allowed him to mature into the footballer that we see today. He has a belief and confidence in his play and this is an important attribute that he has been able to bring to the role of captain. He has good vision and awareness and is brave by always making himself available and demanding the ball.

He was able to drive a big club like Aston Villa back to the Premiership and he was a key factor in Aston Villa securing an important draw against Leicester City away from home in the first leg. No doubt he will have to shoulder more responsibility in the coming months as Aston Villa battle relegation. However, he is currently reaching high performance levels on a consistent basis and his importance to Aston Villa is arguably on par with the influence that Kevin de Bruyne is having on the Manchester City team this season. His performance levels surely will be rewarded with an opportunity to play for England soon and an opportunity to establish himself in the squad for Euros 2020.

Source: Sky Sports