The Path to Improvement Means Becoming Your Own Coach
By Joe Ulm
From the first day players kick a soccer ball to their early teens, players have parents and coaches there with them. Coaches and parents instruct them on everything: what they work on, what skills they learn, what drills they do, how long they train, etc. Then, one day, players are told that to truly improve, they need to train on their own time in addition to their team training. Although that advice is 100% accurate, there’s a problem with it…after years of taking instruction from coaches and parents, players don’t know how to train on their own. Sure, they know how to pass against a wall, or practice juggling, but few know how to practice individually in ways that truly improve their skills on the field. To do that, I believe players would help themselves a ton by taking on a mindset of “becoming their own coach.” Doing so requires three things:
- Setting clear expectations. Good coaches always set expectations. From the effort players show at practice to the wins the team is shooting for that season, good coaches provide expectations for both players and the team. Why? Because it creates a structure for behavior and for measuring improvement. So set expectations for yourself before you begin. I suggest those expectations include both your consistency and your effort. Good things always happen with good consistency and effort.
- Make it interesting. Passing against a wall to improve your weak foot can be a mind-numbing exercise – as can many other ways of practicing individually. That’s why making mini-games out of your individual practice time is so important. Instead of passing against the wall 100 times, mark a spot on the wall and commit to hitting it 50 out of 100 times. When that becomes easy, raise the number to 60, 70, and so on. Be creative until you find the types of games that are interesting to you. Then don’t end your practice until you’ve “won” your game(s).
- Start small. 15-minutes of individual practice three times a week equates to 39 hours of practice over the course of the year! 39 hours of training will definitely help you become a better player. Sure, training individually for an extra 6 hours each week will help you improve more quickly than training for an extra 45 minutes each week, but you’re far more likely to stop training altogether if you have to train for 6 hours a week to meet your expectations. Study after study shows starting small gives you the best chance to remain consistent and follow through. So start small and stay consistent.
Ultimately, coaches are necessary for us to improve, as is team training. But you’d be surprised at how much you can improve on your own if you take just a little time each week to become your own coach.
Stay United everyone.