I’m fortunate to have worked in three professional football clubs in my coaching career so far, and in recent years I have been exposed to international sport through various consulting roles. I often spend a lot of time talking to colleagues, coaches and parents about what it takes to be a professional.

I never played the game beyond amateur level, but being exposed to elite coaching environments, working with ex pros and interviewing hundreds of coaches and players has given me great insight over the last decade or so.

First of all, being a professional in football (or any sport) is an unbelievable achievement. Very few people make it to the top of their game and compete, let alone make a career out of it. A real bonus of working in professional settings is getting a great understanding of the mentality of young players who are on a pathway to achieving a possible career. For me, the players mindset and ability to cope with challenge and adversity is a common trait in those who survive (and thrive) in such a challenging system.

Over the last ten years of creating content through Player Development Project we have been lucky to speak to former and current players including: Johan Cryuff, Piet Keizer, Wesley Sneijder, Steven Reid, John Van’t Schip, Brad Guzan, Liam Ridgewell, Harry Kewell, Stefan Mauk, Ben Garrucio, Tommy Smith, Dan Kemp, Chris Rolfe, Kellyn Acosta, All Black rugby legend, Dane Coles and many more.

There are plenty of common threads that emerge from those who make it to the top of their game. Most of these could be defined as performance behaviours or characteristics. Common traits start to emerge, such as resilience, competitiveness, determination, adaptability, curiosity, confidence, persistence and a commitment to achieving goals.

Without a doubt, for talent to fulfil its potential, it’s about application and the right behaviours.

So how does this impact the way we coach, when more often than not we are working with players who won’t be professionals? I think it’s a reminder that above all, we should be looking to develop good people who are team players, can contribute, take initiative, show empathy, and love to work hard. Similarly we want to ensure joy is a constant.

We know that players (at all levels) need psychological safety to thrive. Finding the balance between this and the edge of performance is a constant challenge for coaches.

Three things to consider.

  1. Very few young players will “make it” as a professional. So beyond the technical and tactical, how are you developing them as people?
  2. How do you plan for social or mental outcomes in your session design? This could be to test, stretch or challenge the players in different ways and see how they react.
  3. Do you take a long term view? In any youth development context, the best player(s) (right now) may not be the best player in 5-10 years time, so make sure you give your attention to everyone in the group.

One thing for you to try this week.

Watch your players at training and keep an eye on the behaviours off the ball and around the environment, look beyond the technical and tactical and try to highlight those who are demonstrating some of those performance behaviours or positive characteristics mentioned above. If you see them, reinforce them.

One critical resource on the topic.

Check out this interview with the late great Dutch Legend, Piet Keizer on his experience of being part of the Total Football revolution in the 1970s. I was so grateful to carry out this interview face to face in an old changing room in the heart of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam – a truly amazing experience.

Have you started your PDP Membership?

PDP Members get exclusive access to our PDP Community – where coaches share ideas, ask questions and support each other. You will also get access to all PDP content (including session plans), and exclusive member-only offers.

Level-up your coaching with PDP Academy Courses.

In 2021 we set out to make the best online coaching courses in the world. Since then, we’ve published three online coaching courses we’re incredibly proud of.

Learn to coach, step-by-step, with guidance from our team of world-class coach developers.

“This course is brilliant. It gives real world solutions to real world problems.”

“Really recommend for anyone wishing to take a great leap forward in their understanding of coaching in a short time.”

“World class instructors assisting you along the way to have a clear understanding of coaching and development.”

Did a friend forward this email?

Sign up here and get exclusive content, lessons and tools every week, to help you become a great coach.

Sign up here and get exclusive content, lessons and tools every week, to help you become a great coach.

This newsletter is for you. Help us make it better.

What do you think of this weeks newsletter?

Follow us on socials

Popular searches: defending, finishing, 1v1, playing out from the back, working with parents