Out With The New, In With The Old – Some Things Never Change
A lot has changed since my childhood in the 80’s.
Some obvious examples are, there were no cell phones, people actually used payphones or home phones, pen to paper was a thing – computers were just being introduced into schools, my mullet was in fashion, and Fuller House was on television, Oh wait. Full House.
But I’m here to talk about sports, soccer specifically.
The opportunities for young female soccer players today are remarkable.
There has been considerable growth in the participation of female soccer players. According to U.S. Youth Soccer there were roughly 400,000 active youth female soccer players in the mid 1980’s compared to the 1.6 million currently.
It’s an exciting time to be a female athlete and simultaneously a difficult time as well. Due to all the opportunities and options at every level of play it seems we have created a fear based model for our athletes. We have them specializing in one sport at a much earlier age and feed them with nonsense such as “If you don’t play on this team you won’t stand out. If you don’t go to this tournament you won’t be seen by college or youth national team coaches.”
Few people know what to do with these opportunities and are falling in to the trap of more is better.
For one, there are 1000x the amount of young kids playing soccer in the U.S. and the opportunities to win an athletic scholarship has quadrupled due to the increase in funding at many of the universities.
One question I get often from players and parents is “How can I/my child play for the U.S. Women’s National Team or how can I get a college soccer scholarship.” Although circumstances have changed there are still basic principles that should be followed to excel in soccer.
Here are some guidelines I’ve come up with and believe to be of beneficial use for those young athletes interested in excelling to a collegiate or professional level in soccer.
- Play, Play, Play: Play multiple sports, play multiple positions, and play outside. At least through middle school. The level of general preparedness of our youth has decreased dramatically and then to make things worse we decide to specialize these athletes. Stop buying into sport specific training at a young age and play multiple sports. When I was growing up we played a different sport every season and were constantly running, jumping, and climbing trees. Get out and play.
- Train movements: If you’re 10-13 years old learn the fundamentals. Learn how to run, jump, roll, skip, skip rope, and proper landing, yes, jump off of objects, land, roll, get up, run, have fun, repeat. Become as coordinated as possible. This will not only help keep you injury free, but it will also help you become a better soccer player and isn’t that the whole point?
- Strength train: If you’re 13 years old and older and have mastered the fundamentals mentioned above adding in strength training 2x/week would be very beneficial. This is the age I really started to strength train and I immediately saw the correlation between the weight room and my success on the field.
*Photo courtesy of Fitness Baddies
- Play with the ball on your own: Some of my fondest memories are from when I plugged my headphones into my Walkman and found a wall to kick my ball against. I did this constantly throughout my career all the way until the very last day before I retired at the age of 34 – with an upgraded, iPhone of course. J The look of confusion I get from young athletes when I tell them to kick around on their own amazes me. Messi, Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan didn’t become geniuses at their sport by lining up for drills at weekly team practices. No, they practiced on their own when no one was looking. There’s no right or wrong to this – just enjoy the ball and work to master different techniques. Finding the enjoyment alone with yourself and the ball is what makes up the great game – It taught me to love the game.
- Accept/Surrender the process: Too many of us have goals that are strictly outcome based. Now don’t get me wrong – my vision was always to make the USWNT, but the amount of No’s I heard before I heard Yes was incredible. To sustain that you have to believe and you have to accept the process.
- Become your own advocate: There are many things that are out of your control as a player. Start to develop a strong belief in yourself and your abilities as an athlete and you can start to put yourself out there. Email coaches if you want to get their attention. Worst-case scenario, you don’t hear anything back. If you do get some feedback use it to your advantage and be open to learning. Nothing is guaranteed and the path is definitely not direct. By being your strongest supporter you will in turn be able to navigate the setbacks and proceed onward.
- Nutrition: A bit of preparation can go a long way. Long trips and multiple games per week require a lot of energy. Fueling your body with nutritious foods will leave you ready to play. Remembering to bring snacks with you can provide an extra boost in between meals. What we put into our bodies is what we get out of our bodies. Good nutrition allows us to maintain health and perform at a higher level. Respecting and appreciating everything that our bodies allow us to do on the field starts with healthy food choices. As tennis great, Pete Sampras said perfectly, “Don’t forget to take care of your most important weapon: your body.”
This list is a great template for any young athlete that wants to succeed in their sport. There are a ton of other factors that come into play when exceling at your sport ie. luck, timing and genetics to name a few. Even so there are a lot of factors in an athletes control as well. In 2016 there are so many opportunities and a wealth of information out there. I hope this list helps highlight key areas that I value as most important to my success. Whether your dream is to be the next USWNT player or healthy high school athlete, remember that each individual has his or her own path, and success is determined by you showing up and consistently doing your part.