Many players battle with the idea of acceptance by those closest to them, and approval from those who can define their next footballing move. But at what cost does this approval come? Many of these young players sacrifice creativity, problem solving skills, and even their own identity, in search of praise which is often misinformed.

The cultural ‘noise’ surrounding player development environments is killing players’ creativity. In football (and other sports) this ‘noise’ – be it comments from the sideline, praise/ criticism from coaches or parents, or constant instruction – limits players’ technical development and controls the development of their playing style. But more importantly this surrounding cultural noise shapes who we are (as people) and how we play (in life).

Sideline behaviour has long been cited as the problem; however, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I remember breaking down on the car ride home talking to Dad about my latest game at primary school. We’d always talk about my games, good and bad, but on this occasion I’d played the perfect match – at nine years old I was already seeking the unobtainable – and I wanted his praise, I craved perfection.

…my self worth had become anchored to my football.

What neither of us appreciated was that my self-worth had become anchored to my football and I had become over-reliant on the praise of others. If someone said my performance was good, it was as if they were saying I was good, validating me as a person. However, if I played badly, made a mistake or did something wrong then I was wrong – I couldn’t separate the two. Football was too big a part of my life, dominating my identity and defining my self-worth…

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