If you’re involved in Junior football either as a coach or a parent, the chances are you’ve had to field the question at some stage, “How do I become a professional football player?”
The bad news is of course that it is tough, very tough, no matter how good they might seem in their age group. The odds are extremely small.
The good news is that it CAN BE DONE and there is more than one way to achieve it even though they might be feeling left behind by playing at a grassroots club rather than a professional academy. The statistics show in fact that they are being dramatically disadvantaged by this.
There is more than just one way. In fact, there are hundreds different paths to success as a football player, but they all start at the same point.
Love of the game
The initial, most important starting point is to have a genuine love for the game. It is your passion for football that will drive you on your quest to becoming a professional and beyond. You need something to drive you on through all the inevitable knocks and bad moments you will go through on your journey and it is your passion that will keep you going. The ability to get back up again and keep trying is a key element for any football player and you shouldn’t be defined by where you are at a young age.
There are countless examples of players who went on to be top players in the game who spent most of their junior days being told by so called "experts" that they weren’t good enough. Their passion was the fuel that kept them playing.
However, it’s not enough to just have a love of football. If that was the only deciding factor, millions of people could be professional players. You also need other crucial elements.
You need to have a lot of ability or talent to be a professional football player. However, people get caught up with the idea of skill and consider it to be the most important indicator of whether a player will make it, which is wrong.
Ability IS important though and you must have something to offer whether it is quality passing, ball skills, technique or a vision of the game. The key is to recognise your own talent, nurture it and develop it to excel at the things you are naturally strong at.
Again, a popular school of thought would be to work on the things you are not naturally good at and whilst this is true to a point, the Academy system produces hundreds of identikit footballers who are "good" at every aspect of the game.
There is a shortage of players who are excellent at a few key skills.
Conversely, excelling at one or two key aspects of the game will also give you confidence to improve in the areas where you're not so strong. You need to be able to practice as much as possible to become the player you want to be, or more importantly that professional coaches will want you to be, so you need to be prepared to put the work in.
Outstanding work ethic
If you are serious about making it to the top you need to have a work ethic that is better than other’s.
Be the first to training, be the last one off the pitch at the end.
Do the work in between that improves you.
Don’t buy into the fact that certain professional players are labelled as "lazy" and think that you can "get away with it". This is just ignorance or media convenience.
To be a professional football player you need to have a work ethic that is absolutely outstanding.
Professional players are masters of all aspects of the game and all the hours they have put into practice make them confident and capable of delivering the right skills when the ball is at their feet.
No matter how good you are at a certain skill, you can always improve and become better. That is one of the beauties of football, there is no ceiling you can hit, the possibilities are endless. Many players have the ability to play professionally, but very few are willing to truly commit and put in the long and hard hours of learning the game and improving their skills that this demands. You need to make sure you’re one of them.
Although it seems tough, it’s good news for you. The harder the work, the less people are that prepared to do it which reduces the competition. However, in addition to the hard work there is another type of discipline you need to demonstrate to become a professional football player.
Again, don’t allow yourself to be fooled by the tabloid headlines about Premier League players misbehaving, the general rule is that professional football players have outstanding social discipline that extends to their daily routines around crucial factors such as sleep patterns and rest times, diet, alcohol, smoking and going out socially.
You need to develop outstanding habits in all of these areas, and more, if you’re going to get near being a professional football player.
You simply cannot do the things that some of your peer group might want you to do.
Let them have lunch at McDonalds, you’ve got a professional football contract to earn.
This could be your siblings, parents, friends or coach. Make sure you surround yourself with good people who will support you in what you are trying to achieve.
You will meet a lot of people during the course of your life. Choosing and surrounding yourself with the right ones is also a key element of success in football. When you are thinking about success, it is very important to have good friends, mentors & coaches to follow. If you surround yourself with great people, you will become great yourself. For every player who made it there are a hundred who didn’t even though they had more ability but got side tracked by the wrong people.
There is a saying:
“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
I mentioned earlier that there are many top players who were told they weren’t good enough. Somebody might even have said that to you before.
If those players had let the criticism stop them they would never have had a professional career.
Your journey is going to be full of disappointments and hardships. You might not get the opportunity, a trial or get accepted the first time, but if you are serious about becoming a professional football player, you simply MUST stick with it until things work out. It’s all about persistence.
It’s not the case that you need one of these things to become a professional football player you need to commit to each and every aspect to become successful. Remember just how competitive and difficult it is to succeed.
If you’re not prepared to go all out with the above then there’s sure to be someone else that will.