The Champion Mindset

Soccer worldwide is big business—there are billions of dollars at stake and every young player dreams of claiming their small piece. Each year the sponsorship deals, TV revenues and commercial interests of soccer globally increase. The MLS continues to enjoy exponential growth with new franchises entering the league annually, and the franchises in the league continue to grow.

The amount of information available for young players and coaches is unprecedented—you can find any soccer drill you can image through a simple Google search. To be honest, there is now too much information available, and it can become confusing, especially for inexperienced coaches who are either parent volunteers looking to make their sessions the best they can, or newly-qualified coaches who want to prove themselves.

I have been coaching soccer for over 10 years in three different countries on two different continents, and I grew up playing soccer in England in the 1980-1990’s when the amount of information available was very limited. There were no search engines and no tablets or screens to look up whatever you wanted. There was one highlights TV show on Saturday night that gave you a peek into the world of professional soccer, and you would get one live game a week, usually on Sunday.

Other than that, if you wanted to watch soccer, you had to physically go to the games. Can you imagine here in the USA if you didn’t have digital access to soccer and all you could do was watch a highlight show once a week or read about it in the paper or a dedicated magazine?

What would happen if, in order to learn about soccer, you actually had to go and watch a game?

That would be tricky for many soccer fans and players in the U.S. In Idaho, for example, you’d have to get in your car and drive to Portland, Seattle or Salt Lake City…all of which are so far away you wouldn’t want to do it in one day. In fact, unless you live in New York, California, Florida or Texas, it would be pretty difficult to go see a game.

So, what does this have to do with the Champion mindset, you ask? Why should you care that you have more access to soccer on TV than you could possibly ever watch? Why should you care that there are literally tens of thousands of soccer drills that are available for you to watch and download more than you could ever hope to master? Why should you care that there are more articles written just like this one than you can ever read and digest?

You should care because the game in the USA is failing to produce players at the elite level to be able to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year. You should care because, despite the overwhelming amount of information available to anyone that cares to go find it, the USA—a country with a population of over 323 million people—can’t qualify for a World Cup in an 8-game knockout series against Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico or Panama. (All four of these countries have a population of less than 140 million people combined, and they have managed to put together four teams that beat the USA in qualification for the World Cup Finals.) 

Now, there are lots of excuses that can be offered for the USA failure, but the facts are inescapable. There are more professional and semi-professional soccer clubs in the US than ever before during the modern era. The number of youth soccer players continues to grow, according to participation number offered by US Soccer. More people are getting involved as coaches either to help out and volunteer or to make a career of it in some capacity.

So what’s the problem? To be fair, there is no one reason that neither Jurgen Klinsmann nor Bruce Arena—both highly decorated and successful coaches—failed to get a team to the World Cup Finals.

The issue is too complex for there to be one single reason, however, what I am about to share with you will address a huge part of the problem.

During a recent interview, David Beckham shared one of the main reasons why he has been so successful. He recalled growing up in London and wanting to play soccer so badly that all he thought about was the game—he played on his school team and club team and was definitely not the quickest player. He couldn’t head the ball, had no left foot at all and was hopeless in the tackle—all things that the modern-day footballer should be able to do—and I believe that every young player should learn to do correctly before the age of 12 (although USSF disagrees with that opinion).

He remembered going to games with his grandfather and watching soccer in the 1980’s from the stands and falling in love with the game. He would go home and practice kicking the ball against a wall or in the park. He would stay until dark so that he could get better and learn how to manipulate the soccer ball to do whatever he wanted off his right foot.

David Beckham spoke about sacrifice, something that most of our kids have no clue about. In the world we live in, kids are extremely fortunate. They have grown up in a time when access to whatever toy they want is possible, and usually we as parents are all too willing to provide.

We must do more as parents to help our kids to understand sacrifice, and they must learn that if they want something there is always a price to pay for it. They will either have to part with their time and do something that perhaps they wouldn’t want to do to earn the money to get the thing they want, or they will have to give up their time to practice a skill, learn a lesson, or pass an exam.

We all expect our children to attain a level of education acceptable to us, be that a high school diploma, a college education or beyond. But when it comes to committing to a sport, do we really commit? If we treated our school education like we do our soccer education, would we be successful in school?

If you only sent your kids to school for three hours a week, a 90-minute session on a Saturday and not at all during the winter or summer months, how educated would they be?

The Champion mindset is the mental strength to do it without being told to; it is doing it even though you don’t want to, but getting up and doing it anyway.

It is getting up one hour earlier in the morning so that you can go out and do your shuttle runs or your distance running or practice your dribbling around the cones. The Champion mindset is not allowing the distractions of the modern world to get in your way or change your thinking to conform to others. It is sacrificing that hour of TV or bouncing on the trampoline with your friends or playing with your tablet/phone so that you can improve your skills and your fitness so that you have just a chance of making it to the level that you want too. It is being prepared to do whatever it takes to improve your fitness, understanding of the game, positional sense, technical ability, agility, flexibility (which also has massive benefits for injury prevention) and mental capacity for sacrifice because when no one is watching or paying attention you have to be the one to drive you on. It is doing more when everyone around you is telling you that you have done enough. It is not waiting for someone to say do you want to go for a run or to kick the soccer ball around. It is taking the initiative yourself and doing the work yourself because if you aren’t doing it, there is someone else that is.

The Champion mindset will take you a long way to success, but in order to fast track your path, you must find coaches and mentors that can help you along the way.

You will need to pull on the experience and skills of others to help you to understand what you are doing and why, and to give you feedback and stretch you. You will need a plan for pre-season, post-season and during the season work, and if you have an indoor season, what you should be doing there, too.

During this interview, David Beckham spoke of a time when he attended what was, at the time, the Sir Bobby Charlton Soccer School. Sir Bobby Charlton had been David’s grandfather’s favorite player, and as such, David had heard all about his ability and career. David was one of hundreds of kids who attended Sir Bobby Charlton’s school. While there, there was a competition to test the abilities of the participants and showcase the talented kids. David won that competition, and as a result, was invited by Sir Alex Ferguson to Manchester United. David went on to have a remarkable career with Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and, of course, England. 

The Champion mindset is, in my opinion, the undeniable difference between the people that become highly successful and those that don’t. Everything else you can develop and learn, but if you don’t have the mindset that you are going to do whatever it takes, you will never reach your true potential.

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