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How to be a Professional Footballer - 5 Key Ingredients

Updated: Aug 22, 2021



1. You have to have a passion for a ball at your feet

Do you feel like you can’t wait for school to end, so you can get out in the park, street or wherever you play and kick a ball around? Do you feel happy and in the zone, when you’re kicking a ball against a wall or dribbling in and out of shoes or rocks or whatever you use as cones? If this is you, then yes you have the passion for the football. It’s the most valuable ingredient for becoming a footballer. Why? Well simply because: the more the ball is at your feet, the more the brain will learn and allow you to co-ordinate, control, manoeuvre and master it.

As a kid, I’d spend endless daily hours annoying the neighbours with the thud of the white plastic ball hitting the back yard or street walls, from my left and right foot shots and passes; the sound reverberating between the houses. If it was raining, which it was a lot in Ireland, I’d practice in between the car in the garage and the step into the house, a space of no more that one metre; tap, tap, tap as I’d practice different controls and spins on the ball.

When I was 14 years old, this practice shone through whilst on trial at Chelsea Football Club. The coach asking all of the older 16 year old apprentices to stop and watch how I was able to control the passing and receiving of the ball in a practice against the famous shed wall at Stamford Bridge. Nice moment!

So if you don’t feel the urge to everyday get outside with a ball and make it your best friend, perhaps the idea of reaching for the heights of professional football are not for you. If you do, well double down, because you’ll know, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of the ball at your feet.

2. An internal instinctive motivational drive to be the best and impress

My team mates may be better at skills, or better players than me but I’m going to be the best player. I’m going to compete and practice to be at the top.

It matters what the coach thinks of me because I want to be picked to play. I want to be man of the match.

Are these thoughts yours? If they are typical of how you think as a young footballer, you are on the right track. You will need to not only be the best among your local friends but importantly among the various tiers as you progress: District, State, Country, Pro club junior, youth, U21 etc. The chances of becoming a professional footballer are slim. There are over 265 million players registered in organised football across the globe according to FIFA. Out of this, there are 113000 registered Professional footballers. That’s a mere 0.04% of players that are pro’s.

Think about it; if you want to be a professional you have to be the best at each tier of progression in order to be selected. Over my years of coaching young players and guiding players, I’ve advised: “hey trial at the top clubs. If you are outstanding they will want you, will select you. If you are not outstanding and you are not selected, it means you need to learn from the experience, be honest with yourself and acknowledge what you need to improve on, and go practice. Develop until you are excelling”

This is where the majority of players will falter and fall away. It is the ones who have that persistent, instinctive motivational drive to succeed that will find a way to improve and reach the elite levels.

Of course, elite isn’t for everyone and there is absolutely nothing wrong with just wanting to play and compete at the highest level you possibly can; enjoying the magic of the beautiful game.

3. Athleticism

Imagine playing against France’s midfielder, N’Golo Kante, who in the Premier league covers an average 11.9kms per game and is one of the quickest players in the league; or how about Hollands Virgil Van Dijk, who at 193cm {6ft 3i) also clocks a sprint speed of 34.5km an hour. That’s as lightening quick as attackers such as Real Madrid‘s Gareth Bale or Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sane.

Wow right! Ok don’t want to scare you off here, however its good to look at the top players and go “okay that’s the level I need to compete with. What do I need to do?”

Scouts for pro clubs are after a number of things: ability, touch, intelligence with the ball, game play awareness, working with the team, attitude and yes athleticism.

Is the player quick across the ground? Are they physically strong? Can they hold off opponents easily? Are they able to get around the pitch continuously without being tired, etc etc? Such is the level of speed and strength now in the pro game, young players coming through will need to be the elite of the elite and demonstrate these attributes to break through.

Sports science and the awareness of what individual players' bodies require from nutrition, exercise and rest is extremely high at top pro clubs. However you need to get there first. So if you really want to make it as a pro, pay attention to your fitness and strength levels. Measure your distance covered and speed on tests like 12 minute runs, beep tests and 20 metre sprints. Go online and compare to top athletes in your age groups. Once you have a measure, keep improving and watch how it impacts your game and performance.

4. A mental awareness to overcome nerves, fear of judgement, rejection

Do you get nervous in a trial, a bit scared and anxious? Perhaps you don’t know anyone in the dressing room, or your worried you may not be good enough and will be rejected? Sound familiar? The good news is your not alone. This is most likely occurring for everyone at the trial, even if they may not show it.

Nerves are a natural state to get you prepared. Your brain is firing off a chemical called cortisol, to get you fully alert for what is about to occur.

A tip is to simply be aware that this is what is happening and embrace the nervous feeling and prepare your mind for the: trial, practice, game ahead. Visualise what you want to do, how you will do it and then ‘just do’.

One technique used by pro footballers and top athletes is called neutral thinking. You’ve heard of positive thinking and negative thinking right? So the challenge with positive thinking is: Let’s say your taking a penalty and are saying to yourself, it’s all good, I’m going to smash it in the top right corner no matter what. If you haven’t prepared right through over confidence or being lax, you raise your chances of missing.

Similarly if you approach the penalty with negative thinking of “I’m going to miss”, the goalkeeper may look like a giant in the goal, the goal my look like it has shrunk, and nervously you’ll fluff the run up or shot and miss.

In both circumstances you have not been mentally balanced in approach to give yourself the best chance of scoring.

Neutral thinking is a method by which you approach the task with “I will concentrate, zone in on the steps I need to take and if I score, great I did my best and if I miss, I miss, it’s ok, I did my best. This relieves the pressure on us and helps us to perform in a balanced and effective state of mind. Try it next time in training, when you feel a little nervous or anxious in a session. It works!

Rejection is part of the process in football. Everyone at some stage is not wanted by a Coach, a Manager, President, Players, fans..... you can only train and play with a great attitude and put everything in to it. Just because it doesn't work out at one club, doesn't mean it won't work out at another club. The key is to never lose that confidence, grit and desire to be the best. Always step forward.


5. Support

Surrounding yourself with positive mentors and or coaches is a great way to help you grow as a player and a person. Learn from those who’ve been there, done it. They can help guide you. A mentor will not kick the ball for you. They will not run 10 km’s in a game for you. If you imagine going on a road trip, you are the driver of the car, the mentor shows you road signs to help you get there. It is your choice to use the advice or not and it is your actions that determine if you will get there.

Keep your positive relations close to you. That could be family or friends. The road to becoming a footballer is not easy. It is consistent hard work physically day in, day out. When you think you can’t move through pain and stiffness after a game or hard training session, guess what? you have to! It is also taxing mentally. You have to compete against your teammates to secure a place in the team and impress the coaches daily. You also have to compete against your opponents in games and again impress the coaches to be selected for the next game. Having family or friends that you can chat to and be open with is brilliant in supporting you.

Medical support and guidance from excellent sports science specialists and physio’s is great to attain. You need to stay playing and training as much as possible. Injuries are a curse for the athlete. They take you out of action and disrupt progress. Finding medical advice that keeps you on the park is key to consistent growth and success. So many young footballers lose their careers to consistent injuries. Know your body, know your limits and don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel something is not right physically. Prevention is better than cure.

Learn and research - Watch your favourite players on youtube or wherever you can stop, rewind and watch again and again. See how they position themselves, see how they control and pass the ball. Watch their movement, their runs to receive the ball and how they defend. Then practice these skills in training and games. The more you can soak up and learn from watching and listening to great players and coaches online, the more information your brain can draw on to improve your game.

I hope these tips are useful to you and best of luck in your footballing journey.



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Aaron Tighe

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