Being a scholar is a tough part of the growing process on your journey to becoming a professional footballer. Training everyday and having to maintain performance levels can take it’s toll both physically and mentally. This can leave you feeling unmotivated at times, ultimately causing you to lose sight of the bigger picture: maximising your potential and giving yourself best chance of securing a professional contract. Trust me, I know from experience. The two years I completed as a scholar were two of the most challenging years of my life. At times I fell out of love with football, and I can only ask myself:
"What if I knew what I know now…"
I don’t want others to fall out of love with the game, or fall into their comfort zone like I did. So, here’s my top 5 mindset tips for scholars going into the new season:
1. Train, Play & do Everything with a PURPOSE
How many times have you gone into a session and gone through the motions?
How many times have you been in a session and not truly understood what you are developing?
How many times are you in a session, but you don’t know what the focus is?
When you’re training full-time, the fast paced nature of the football environment doesn’t always give you time to process what you are doing. This causes players to train without purpose, making their learning and development inefficient.
You may think that just getting physical outcomes from a session is enough to carry you through your scholar...
Your mind is what drives performance. Your mind is the engine that makes split second decisions. Your mind helps you read and see things other players can’t. To access that part of your brain, you need to train with PURPOSE. Training with PURPOSE helps your brain develop important information and pictures to make you a high performer.
How to Train with Purpose:
Before you walk out onto the grass before your session, as yourself:
“What’s the focus?”
Whether it is speed around the goal (for goalkeepers), scanning and checking shoulders (for midfielders), movement patterns (for forwards), 1v1 attacking/defending (for full-backs and wingers) or winning aerial duels (for centre-half’s), have a FOCUS for sessions.
This will allow your brain to maximise the psychological outcomes from sessions and ultimately make your football brain develop more efficiently.
Without having a focus for a session, your mind does not have an aim it needs to achieve.
Without an aim, there is no accountability.
Without accountability, how can you measure your progress to see if your are actually improving?
Train with purpose and have a FOCUS.
2. Time is a commodity – use it wisely
On the rare occasion that you finish your day early, I see so many players going home and not use their time productively.
You have 86,400 seconds in a day. Why would you not want to use every single second to improve your mindset, learn a new skill, develop a plan for after football, gain new qualifications…the list is endless?
If I could turn back time to when I was 16/17, this would be the lesson I pay most attention to.
Because time moves so quickly in the football world. You enter your scholar and by the time pre-season is finished, you only have 8 months before the end of the season.
Time moves so quick at this period in your life, and before you know it, you’re 18 and having your final contract decision. In the case that your decision is a no, I guarantee that you will look back on your two years and ask yourself:
“Did I use my time wisely? Did I really apply myself and get everything I could out of this experience?”
If the answer is yes, great.
If it is currently a no, you have time to change it!
I always say time is a commodity because it is the one thing you can never buy or every buy-back. So while time is on your side, make the most of it.
How to Maximise your use of Time:
On a Monday morning, create a plan for the week.
What are you looking to achieve on an off the pitch?
What are your plans after football and how can you use free time during the week to drive towards those additional goals?
Having a plan for the week will remind you to use your time effectively and get the most out of your days as a young adult/scholar.
Having a purpose away from football can significantly reduce the pressure to succeed which in turn may just allow you to be a bit more confident and free on the pitch.
Remember that YOU HAVE A LIMITED AMOUNT OF TIME to achieve your goals and high-performance.
Use it wisely.
3. It’s NOT about No Days Off
One of the cultural issues within elite football is this idea of having ‘no days off’.
I get it…10000 hours and if you work harder than everyone else you improve your chances of gaining a contract at the end of two years…yes and no.
While hard work is great when it is purposeful, training when your body is crying for recovery can actually be a huge issue for your long-term development.
Not only do you increase your risk of injury which will keep you off the pitch for a prolonged amount of time, but you also increase the risk of BURNOUT.
Burnout is that mental tiredness athletes experience when things get stale, when training becomes a chore and when things get predictable.
It’s so common for players being exposed to full-time football for the first time because up til’ U17, you have lots of variety in your week. You play other sports. You have time to see friends. You have more options on how to spend your time…
I’ve been there… I’d train on my day off and do extras. That led me to days where I didn’t want to train; Days where the idea of flying around a goal for the 6th time that week just didn’t seem enjoyable…all because I did too much too often. I never switched off and football became an obsession which led to things getting stale.
How to Manage Your Mind & Prevent Burnout:
Check in with yourself regularly and actively think about WHY you’re doing this
There are so many young players out there who don’t know how to check in with themselves. Ultimately if you have a healthy and high-performing mindset, you’ll improve your chances of performing well on the pitch.
It may seem stupid, but asking yourself in the morning ‘How am I feeling today?’ can help you process your feelings and help you make important decisions about how you structure your day.
You may need to spend your day off with friends (being sensible of course)…
You may want to do an activity with your teammates e.g. bowling or go-karting…
You may need an evening of FIFA…
But you cant actively decide to do any of those things without checking-in with yourself.
Your mental health is important to your performance, and burnout, from my experience is a mindset killer.
Have variety in your week where you can. Explore your interest beyond football. Above all else, continue to CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF.
4. Learn how to train your confidence
Yes you read it correctly…TRAIN YOUR CONFIDENCE.
Confidence isn’t a gift. It isn’t something people are just born with. It’s a skill that can be trained.
Confidence is the belief you have in your ability to perform in a given situation. Whether that’s in a league match on a Saturday, or in a Stadium for a FA Youth Cup Match. Confidence is the key driver in performance…
Because if you don’t believe that you can do something, you mind will give your body a thousand ways to fail.
I know what it’s like to not have confidence…
You start second guessing yourself. You make more mistakes. You take the safe option as opposed to the right option. You question the decisions you make. You think about the game rather than just letting it happen on autopilot….
It’s a horrible place to be.
The good news is, you can train it. You can learn about it. You can become it.
Confidence is one of, if not the most important skill every scholar can have in their toolkit.
How to Train Your Confidence:
One of the most influential factors in your ability to believe in yourself are the words you tell yourself; also known as self-talk
Self-talk is that inner voice that acts as a guide, a persuasion, a confidence booster, putting those doubts to rest and giving your mind something positive to focus on.
For example before or during a match:
"DOMINANT, BRAVE, LEADER"
"Stay in the Game. Be Busy and Active"
Some of the best athletes in the world use self-talk during performance. Sometimes you will see them talking to themselves out loud when the cameras are on…other times they are talking to themselves in their heads. Everyone has their own unique way of doing self-talk.
So pick a positive word(s), statement or phrase that you feel makes you feel confident and repeat them to yourself during training and performance.
By having words to guide your focus on to positive aspects of performance, you can distract away from the negatives.
PRACTICE YOUR SELF-TALK.
It’ll put you at a huge advantage compared to those who don’t.
5. Normalise your view of Pressure
For me, football is one of the most high-pressure environments you are likely to experience in your life.
Pressure does crazy things to players…
Think about penalty shootouts for example…A penalty is a basic skill. It’s a strike from 12 yards into a huge goal with only a goalkeeper to beat.
But when you add an outcome on the end, like the threat of being knocked out, or being made fun of on social media, all of a sudden that basic skill can feel very very difficult.
The best thing you can do as early as possible is to get used to performing under pressure, because the more you normalise pressure, the easier to will be for you to access you best: playing on autopilot and free of fear.
I used to struggle a lot with performance anxiety. I used to worry about making mistakes. I used to worry about what my teammates and manager would think if I performed badly. It was all because I didn’t know how to handle the pressure.
When you think deeply about what pressure is, you begin to realise that its just a construct of your mind. Pressure is what you make of it…
Pressure in football is just fear of the future. It’s the fear of failure. It’s the fear of the unknown.
By understanding what pressure is, you then have the ability to change your perception of it…
How to Normalise Pressure:
Firstly, pressure is difficult to recreate because it is unique to everyone. The best way to normalise pressure is to consistently expose yourself to it so your mind becomes used to it.
However, another effective method is to create a 'Situation-response plan'.
Situation-response plans are great ways to plan your actions and thoughts for when you live through certain situations.
For example, let’s say you’re playing in the FA Youth Cup and you get named in the starting 11.
What’s the situation?
Starting in the FA Youth Cup and it’s a big game for the club.
What’s the response?
Stick the basics. Stick to playing my game. If I play my game I give myself the best chance of being successful.
Having pre-planned responses to unhelpful thoughts or pressure can take a lot of pressure off your mind. In high-pressure situations, your mind needs to be able to focus on performance, as opposed to anxiety and fears. Pre-planned responses save your brain energy, allowing you to dedicate more towards performing your best.
My Final Thoughts:
Just something to think about...
I can guarantee that you've invested time into your technical, tactical and physical development during the off-season...
But why not the psychological?
The brain is like any other muscle in the body:
IT NEED'S TO BE TRAINED
The high-performers know that mindset is the decisive factor. So invest some of your time to train your mindset.
Read a book, listen to a podcast, have sessions with a psychologist, do some self-help or reflection.
Although we can't always immediately see the benefits...
These are the marginal gains that really matter.