John Napier on Youthful Soccer Dreams
John Napier is a former professional soccer player who represented his country of birth Northern Ireland at every International level. He had a distinguished seventeen year professional playing career, starting with Bolton Wanderers in 1961-67. Napier also played for Brighton & Hove Albion and Bradford City in England as well as the NASL in America for the Baltimore Comets and the San Diego Jaws. Napier has coached at the professional level in England, and since the 70’s, the multiple time MVP Napier has shared his expertise developing youth players. A highly respected youth soccer coach, Napier coaches with the San Diego Soccer Club and also identifies players, and coaches for Cal South ODP and has had numerous National Championship winning teams. Napier is a regular columnist sharing his insights on player development and the joys of soccer.
As a youth soccer player, Napier played with George Best on his country’s national team. As a professional, Napier played in Wembley stadium in London and earned recognition as the Most Valuable Player for the Bolton Wanderers 1966 and then again the following year Brighton. Earning on of the highest transfer fees, Napier then went to play for Bradford City. In America, Napier played in the NASL and coached at Pepperdine University before coaching youth soccer in Southern California. Napier knows all about youthful soccer dreams and loving the experience.
Almost every kid I have talked to or coached over the last decade and longer, both at the competitive youth level and or ODP level share the same soccer dream.
When I have asked them what they wanted to be when they get older, the universal answer has always been the same, “I want to be a soccer player, and play at a high level”
This has happened no matter what age, or sex of the player. Regardless of the youth soccer player’s level, the answer is always the same. Today’s youth soccer players see the limelight of the famous TV soccer stars such as “Messi, Neymar, or Ronaldo.” Kids now watch universal soccer stars from all over the world. This gives them the excitement of dreaming, “I can do that.”
I love to hear this because it shows me that we, in America, have come a long way in the sport.
Twenty years ago, perhaps even ten years ago, world-class star soccer professionals would not have been mentioned at all.
Almost no one would know the names of professional soccer players in their era, never mind what country they were born in or who they played for.
This week, one of my BU10 players asked me whom I played for as a professional. I told him my first club was Bolton Wanderers. He not only told me who the present coach was and then continued to tell me what level they were now playing in the English League and what their Stadium was called. Now that is freaky.
Years ago few people even recognized the name Bolton Wanderers. I started playing for them in 1963 and left in 1967 to play for Brighton.
I just love to hear youth soccer players converse with ease about pro clubs across the Atlantic. I am continuously asking the boys on both my BU10 and BU12 squads to watch soccer on TV and learn the game, not just as a TV viewer but watch the players that play in their positions.
I ask questions such as:
- “What does the #10 do?
- “How do the #5 and #4 combine at the back that works to help the team?
- “Why is it important that the #2 and the #7 link to make things happen?”
I am using numbers that we work within our teams, and example the #10 would be a playmaker just behind the forward. The #5 and #4 would be middle defensive players in a system, and #2 and #7 would be right sided defensive and offensive players. These are just examples in our team formations. You can learn a lot by watching games.
I remember at an early age, back in Ireland when I was a ten or twelve year old, my three uncles all lived in north London and were big Tottenham followers, (Spurs to most people).
In my small bedroom back home, my uncles sent me all sorts of Spurs stuff. My bedroom walls were covered with team pictures, programs, and pennants.
It drove my mother ‘crazy’ but I almost felt I was part of the team. To this day, I can name every player from the Spurs team that played in that time frame, right off the top of my head. This information is ingrained in my mind forever.
I still love Spurs till this day, just because it was passed on in my pre-teen years, just like the average American kid has had the “Padres, Giants, Charges, Yankees,” passed down through generations. Now some of today’s youth players feel connected to professional soccer clubs as well.
I have been fortunate to see the growth of youth soccer in this country since 1979 to 2014.
Oh my goodness, what an incredible experience to be part of and to have helped youth soccer grow and flourish in America. Anybody who was around in soccer during the early eighties and was able to watch it develop to where the sport is today have to have an inner satisfaction. I know I certainly do. Soccer, internationally and domestically, both at the higher professional level as well as at the youth levels, has grown tremendously. In fact, I am very, very proud.
Getting back to our main topic of the dream shared by most young players who want to be ‘a top soccer player,’ I tell the kids all the time you never know what the future may hold.
Here are some tips if you want to follow that dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
- Personal, gifted abilities in any sport are number one: Don’t matter what sport, football, baseball, golf, tennis, etc. You need a foundation.
- I always say you have to work harder than anyone else even with your personal abilities.
- Because I went through it, personal desire and passion to achieve are top priority, set those goals high enough to get to where you need to be.
- You don’t have to be the best player, but you HAVE to be the one that wants it the most.
- You can always improve, but that will only come with the effort and dedication you put into every part of the process.
- You need the breaks, you need to be seen at the right time, and seen making the correct decisions.
- You need special people behind you giving you the encouragement to keep going when sometimes it is easier to give up.
- Practice, practice, and more practice!
- Listen, watch, learn, and make sure you leave it all on the field every second and every minute of every practice and every game, you can’t turn the clock back.
- THEN IT STILL MAY NOT BE ENOUGH, BUT YOU GAVE IT YOUR BEST SHOT.
- Every player you see at the top level ALL have their own stories of how it all happened, and why it happened, but it all started on a small patch of green grass or playground in a village, town, city in our great country, or every other country in our universe.
- But the one thing I will probably guarantee as an ex-player, is those who succeed will tell you they wanted it more than those who didn’t!
So keep working young players, dreams are what they are, can you get there, YES you can.
One day, we will see that the best soccer player in the world will be an American, and all of us will be so proud, because we were all part of it.