The Key To Soccer Growth And Success: Kill Comfort
"The feeling of being uncomfortable is nature's way of presenting you with a growth opportunity to evolve."
Often times I see youth, collegiate and professional players go out to train individually and only work on, what they perceive to be, their personal strengths. We all have tendencies to hide under the mask of "looking good" when we train on our own which restricts us from utilizing the extra time we put in to have progress-filled, uncomfortable growth sessions.
Whether we are talking about the broad spectrum of human experience or soccer players more specifically, the feeling of being uncomfortable is nature's way of presenting you with a growth opportunity to evolve. Every true measure of growth and progress first begins with some degree of curiosity and humility. If "looking good" is one of your top priorities then your improvement will be confined and you will limit your ability to reach new levels of mastery.
We often hear motivational speakers throw around Neale Donald Walsch's famous quote, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." While this may be a wonderful Rule of Thumb, accelerated growth begins with intrinsic awareness of one's own strengths and weaknesses. The advancement of your game cannot fully begin without first acknowledging your weaknesses and then sincerely committing yourself to put in the necessary type of work to improve.
To evolve your game, you MUST get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The next time you go out and train on your own, work on your specific weaknesses. Get uncomfortable. Yes, you may "look" foolish or inexperienced from the outside looking in, but that's not what individual training is about. Individual sessions should be deliberate growth processes where you put in extra time to fine tune strengths AND develop weaknesses.
1. Strikers: Don't go out to the field and mindlessly hit 100 stationary balls from the top of the 18-yard box. All shooting practice is NOT created equally.
Footy Tip: Always hit a moving ball and specifically work on striking it with both feet. For instance, take a touch around a stationary object (cone, bag, another ball etc.) and strike the ball with your laces, making sure you land on the same foot you shot with. Did I pull my head up too quickly? Did I strike the correct part of the ball? Was my ankle properly locked? All of these questions should be answered after every rep and be sure to make every rep count. Don't just go through the motions or half-speed; the entire process of the strike matters. Do a certain amount of reps (say 50) on each side and then begin using different techniques. Can I swing the ball with the inside of my foot into the back post with both feet? Can I hit an outside of the foot shot with proper technique?
2. Outside midfielders: Don't hit stationary crosses or aimless balls into the 18-yard box.
Footy Tip: Work on hitting crosses with pace and directed at a specific danger area. These danger areas will vary depending on the game situation. For instance, if you are hitting an early cross, a lofted (looped) ball into the opposing goalkeeper's hands is useless and will never benefit your team. Whip the ball with pace, aiming for the space between the six-yard box and the penalty spot.
You can set small targets or have a training partner running in to finish. Additionally, if go lower by the end line and work on a number of specific techniques/crosses in this position. Examples: Driving the ball with your laces low and hard across the six-yard box. If you want to see a top-level player who does this well, look no further than Antonio Valencia.
Next, work on the cut-back pass to the penalty spot -> top of the 18-yard box. This ball should be on the ground with pace so your teammate can strike it with one touch and also so it won't get picked off by defenders.
The next type of cross should then be a floated ball to the back post that is too high for the goalkeeper to reach and lands just inside the far edge of the six-yard box for a teammate to finish. Do it from both sides with both feet.
3. Center midfielders: Long range shots are only one facet of being a midfielder, but they should not consume the bulk of your individual training sessions.
Footy Tip: Go out and work on the quality and accuracy of your distribution. Short passes, long passes, driven balls, bent balls (inside/outside of the foot) etc. don't limit yourself to just being good at one particular pass because the game requires multiple variations.
Set up physical targets (mini goals, trash cans, flags etc.) and focus on your technique and speed of play. Always hit a moving ball and try to hit the targets with both feet. Visualize how/when you might use each pass in a game.
4. Defenders: Don't drive 100 balls into the net as hard as you can or just work on something idle like free kicks.
Footy Tip: Similar to the center midfielder work (and the outside midfielder work if you are an outside back) try to develop your long/short distribution with the ball. This includes the target examples in the midfielder training but also the early crosses if you're an outside back.
If you do happen to have a training partner with you, ask them to work on 1v1 drills with you where you get comfortable moving your feet, getting low and forcing the attacker one way. Be sure to place targets up the field so if/when you win the ball from your partner, you can look up and be accurate with your distribution.
These simple, yet effective Footy Tips will help you make the most of your next individual training. Remember, it's not about going out to the field and just "being there." It's about making the most effective use of your time and developing the necessary parts of your game. Get UNCOMFORTABLE and INTENTIONAL with your training!
Go influence the game