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It was Acton Park, or more precisely the thousands of hours he spent there with his two brothers practicing and playing football. His motivation was visible at all times! Kevin went on to have a successful career as a Premiership striker, a career largely as a result of the amount he practiced and the manner in which he trained.
Recent science is showing us that the way we practice determines how good we become at something. This chapter explores the art and science of training and how to develop the soccer game of your dreams.
It is this number that is believed to be one of the secrets to success. Practice soccer for 10, hours and you give yourself a great chance of becoming world class at what you do. But not all soccer fans should get too excited yet. There are, of course, rules and regulations to those 10, hours. It was a Swedish researcher called Anders Ericsson who came up with the magic number. He discovered that experts practice around the same amount of time every single day including at weekends.
Back in the s Ericsson travelled to Berlin to study the working patterns of top violinists. But Ericsson discovered the complete opposite. The best violinists were the ones who invested significantly more time to practice. As a result, over the past 20 years, Anders Ericsson has argued that people can, by and large, reach excellence in their chosen profession or activity but it takes about 10, hours of hard work to do so.
And Ericsson discovered more interesting facts. He found that the great violinists tended to take a nap or rest after lunch. The violinists told him that the only way they could keep full concentration was to take regular breaks and limit the amount of hours they practiced per day. They said they felt that without a fully focused mindset they were wasting their time. He knows he has to read their body shape — he has to pinpoint subtle body movements that tell him whether they will pass or feign and try to go around him.
Timing the tackle is everything and as he sees Joe work another step over, Kevin intuitively knows Joe will try and go around him. As Joe side-foots the ball to the right Kevin sticks his foot out and knocks the ball away from Joe, away from danger.
Kevin is learning the art of defense. He is learning how to shape his body, how to see others, and how to time a tackle. He learnt to lose his marker by using his weight and body shape — he pretended to go one way then quickly shifted in another direction. He became adept at finding space by looking up more than everyone else.
He learnt to go around defenders not by pace but by throwing a shape. Body angle left, move right. And he learnt to score goals, lots of them, by using his movement to get in front of defenders and by taking first time shots without care of outcome.
It is a kind of focused, repetitive practice in which you are always monitoring your performance, correcting, experimenting, listening to immediate and constant feedback, and always pushing beyond what you have already achieved. Deliberate practice centers on repetition. Champions become champions because they practice over and over again, no matter what the weather, no matter what the conditions. Some of the greatest soccer players of all time come from a background of poverty.
Maradona too was born into poverty and lived his first years in Villa Fiorito, a shantytown on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Both of these legends of the game practiced and practiced. They did so in dirt and mud. They did so despite not having the money for flash boots and state of the art soccer balls.
Just as the greatest swimmers swim hundreds of lengths every day and the greatest golfers hit thousands of golf balls every week — a footballer must dedicate himself to play and practice. Kevin Gallen describes Acton Park as his home from home.
In school holidays he woke at dawn, put on his tracksuit and walked the couple of hundred meters to the park. He took hundreds of thousands of touches on the ball, took thousands of shots and spent endless hours passing and tackling.
He perfected his spot kicks over time by taking penalty after penalty against his older brothers who acted as keeper. At first they saved most of his shots and they made fun of his weak strikes. But over time the taunting grew quieter as the power in his legs and in his kicks grew greater and greater. He would score more times than they could even get a touch on the ball.
Like most youngsters Kevin and his brothers had a love for football you can almost touch. They had a compulsion to play just as much as a will to win. It was only darkness that ceased the repetitive practice and forced them inside.
A soccer player must play soccer, and work at his soccer. It must be fun, but it must also be constructive. Kevin was constantly challenged by those he played with every day. As a small 10 year old he played with his equally football obsessed brothers: Joe, who is now assistant manager at Millwall FC and 4 years older than Kevin, and Stephen, who is now Head of Academy at QPR, and 2 years older. Because he was frequently playing with players who were bigger, stronger and quicker than him Kevin was always stretched as he competed.
At a minimum he had to keep up with them, but his passion and approach was to find ways to beat them. This self-induced pressure forced him to focus his mind with a level of intensity that would be unusual for a teenage soccer player.
It was this degree of focus that played a huge part in his rapid progress. With a will to beat his brothers at football Kevin was required to build his skill levels quickly. To his younger mind his brothers moved with speed and agility. He had no time to think about the past. Mistakes had to dissolve into the background so he could fix his focus on the present moment. His will to improve extended to post training analysis. In his bedroom after dinner he reviewed and analyzed how well he did against them and asked himself how he could do even better the next day.
Many hours of focused, goal directed training is your launch pad for improvement. Every minute of practice offers a learning experience. Striving to be a little better each day provides mental fuel on your journey to discovering how good you can be.
Kevin was always getting barracked by his brothers. They were always mickey taking when shots were struck poorly or passes went seriously astray. Kevin came away from the park every day with his head buzzing with ideas.
If they had shouted at him for shooting he asked himself why he had shot and why the option to pass was better. Kevin reflected on his day of practice not as if it was just a game although he had a lot of fun playing but as if it was his obsession to improve — to get slightly closer to the performances of his older brothers.
Deliberate practice involves feedback — verbally from others, visually from watching yourself play, or kinesthetically from your bodily feelings from your own mind. Most of the time you need feedback from an outside source, from a coach or mentor. Make sure this feedback is as specific as possible and is solution focused.
You need a coach to tell you about your game, the things you can control. Ask your coach what he felt you did well, then ask him to tell you what he feels needs to go better. Allow me to give you a few more examples of good and bad feedback. You are good enough not to. Spot your man and commit confidently to your pass. Try to focus on getting a great strike on the ball and trust your body to kick it in the right direction. Stop fouling. Remain on your feet and stay focused as he tries to go around you.
You can ask him to tell you exactly how he wants you to improve the specific area of the game he gives you feedback on. Remember, a great coach is only as good as his students are at learning. So take ownership of your feedback and communicate with your coach.
Keep asking him what specifically you have to do to improve your game. Working hard is important, working correctly is crucial. How often do you practice and train? Very few people reading this book are professional soccer players. Very few people can or want to make a living from the game. But if you are a recreational player who enjoys playing on a weekend for your local team or playing five-a-side with work colleagues then please do take a little more time to practice your game.
Take a few shots, put some cones out and dribble around them. Invite a friend so he can go in goal or so he can try to tackle you in a one-versus-one. If you train twice a week then an extra hour over those 2 sessions turns into 4 hours over the course of a month.
So you will put in another hours a year for just an extra small effort 2 days a week. Make your shooting practice tougher by making the goal smaller. Place 2 bibs inside the goal, a couple of meters apart, and try to hit between the bibs from different angles. Maybe get a team mate to put you under pressure by closing you down quickly.
If you are dribbling around cones then put those cones at ever decreasing distances apart so your ball control has to get better and better. There are a whole set of drills you can do on your own or with a partner.
Dan has published four bestselling Sport Psychology books. You can also purchase the books on Amazon here. Please note, clicking on any of these links will take you directly to these websites. Technique, speed and tactical execution are crucial components of winning soccer, but it is mental skill that marks out the very best players — the ability to play when pressure is highest, the opposition is strongest, and fear is greatest. Top players and coaches understand the importance of sport psychology in soccer but how do you actually train your mind to become the best player you can be? Soccer Tough demystifies this crucial side of the game and offers practical techniques that will enable soccer players of all abilities to actively develop focus, energy, and confidence.
Soccer Tough : Simple Football Psychology Techniques to Improve Your Game
Soccer Tough: Simple Football Psychology Techniques to Improve Your Game
Picture a performance under the lights and mentally play the perfect game. Technique, speed and tactical execution are crucial components of winning soccer, but it is mental toughness that marks out the very best players - the ability to play when pressure is highest, the opposition is strongest, and fear is greatest. Top players and coaches understand the importance of sport psychology in soccer but how do you actually train your mind to become the best player you can be? Soccer Tough demystifies this crucial side of the game and offers practical techniques that will enable soccer players of all abilities to actively develop focus, energy, and confidence. Soccer Tough will help banish the fear, mistakes, and mental limits that holds players back.