Wayne Harrison on What Makes a Soccer Player Successful?
Wayne Harrison, Co-Founder Soccer Awareness Elite Academy, shares his thoughts on the Power of Positive Reinforcement. A former pro soccer player at Blackpool F.C. in the English Championship league as well as the Academy Director, Harrison was also the Youth Director Al Ain Football Club in the UAE. An author of more than 12 books on soccer coaching, he now coaches youth soccer, writes and presents at coaching symposiums worldwide. Harrison holds a UEFA ‘A’ License and the NSCAA Premier Diploma, as well as a bachelor’s degree in applied physiology and sports psychology. He is the Director of Coaching for Total Futbol Academy.
According to Wayne Harrison it is Intrinsic Motivation. Harrison believes that great coaching can develop a player’s soccer IQ and decision making but that the essential “raw material” must come from within the player. Great players come in all shapes, sizes and talents and to be really successful on the field Harrison says “Youth soccer players must play to their strengths.”
What makes a soccer player successful?
Developing players is a passion and helping youth soccer players be successful is close to my heart as a coach. I believe intrinsic motivation along with great coaching to help awareness training and decision-making are needed to be a successful player. What else is critical for success? It is a player’s raw material and their inner need to be triumphant that is critical. When these are all combined and a player plays to their strengths – that is when success happens on the soccer field.
The most important tip I can share is simple. Success is not earned by practice alone, it is generated through intelligent hard work and an inner desire to be successful.
For real successful player development, the quality of coaching is massively important – Coaches have to teach good habits to players; this include players focusing and playing to their strengths.
If all the proper coaching is in place, then it is up to the players to have that intrinsic motivational desire to succeed, to battle in adversity.
Ability is important, desire and self-motivation is vital.
Players must do it for themselves.
Every player has a soccer-dream and some players pursue their dreams and expect to achieve them through renewed hard work and dedication.
Obstacles are seen as a challenge and each setback as a call for more effort to improve and overcome these problems. This type of player is intrinsically self-motivated as their desire to succeed comes from within themselves.
However, many players, often technically and physically good enough to succeed, fall by the wayside due to a lack of mental strength or confidence to fulfill their dreams. Other players fail because they lack the willingness to put out the effort to success; to spend the necessary time on the pitch or in the gym.
Generally, it is easier for coaches to work with highly motivated players – add in a positive environment with the ability to concentrate as well as good technical, tactical and physical coaching – and successful player development can begin.
It is the psychological mental strength ingredient of player development that is so essential; it is absolutely vital and necessary.
For players who are under motivated (call it lack of mental strength), the coach needs to motivate and convince these athletes to believe they can succeed and inspire them to work hard – often hard work will lead to success.
Regardless of if the coach can inspire dedication in a player, the inner desire to succeed has to come from within the player. No matter what a coach says or does to encourage it a player’s drive, it must come from within.
Compare two players who have equal ability; the difference between the good player and the great player often is the intrinsic motivation to succeed which that player brings to his or her game.
Many good players do not become great players JUST because of this, they have all the qualities needed to be a top player but don’t have that self motivating desire to succeed, to push themselves to the next level when the pressure is on; to be able to “relax” when the pressure is on.
Imagine you are looking at these two players in slow motion.
Look around the fields every day at training; you will see each of these players. The intrinsically motivated just get on with the job in hand, they work their butts off, they listen and they learn; they soak up every ounce of information offered and want more besides.
Then you have equally skilled players lacking in intrinsic motivation; they drift through training, their work rate is inconsistent, one minute you get a spark of light, and then you think, great they are getting it at last; then the light goes out again and you are again disappointed in them; and more importantly disappointed “for” them as what could be might never happen.
They are the type less likely to work to win the ball back especially when they have lost it themselves, and then also when a team mate
has lost it. They don’t chase back to help their teammates, in other words they often train / play lazy. It’s not hard to identify.
I watch and I see these players on the soccer field every day.
It sometimes breaks my heart to see such quality wasted due to a lack of internal desire.
What can coaches do to encourage intrinsic desire?
Not much I am afraid, let’s face facts.
If you know how to totally change the internal makeup of a player and give him or her that desire they don’t have naturally then let me know; as I never stop wanting to improve myself as a coach but I don’t have the answer for that.
We can encourage, we can say positive things, and we can reinforce good work with praise hoping we can make a difference; but ultimately this extrinsic motivation by us, by friends, by parents is not enough if the intrinsic motivation is not in place.
Are those players lacking in self-motivation poor players? No, it is just painful as a coach to see talents not reaching their potential and being helpless to significantly impact the situation
Successful youth soccer players are highly motivated to do well. Teams that win consistently have a never-die mentality and do not give up psychologically when they are losing. When players and teams fail because players do not have the inner drive to triumph, the blame game can erupt.
This is where parents and peers and even players themselves cloud judgments; wanting to blame the coach, the team, and other players in the team or even the club. Often this is because they do not wanting to admit or understand the source of the problem; the not really motivated player.
Some parents (not all by any means but usually the underachieving player’s parents) just think “It can’t be my child’s fault?!”
Sometimes addressing the issue can be motivating to a player who can then harness his or her inner desire to succeed and being to take advantage of his training and ability.
Honestly, over the many years coaching at every youth level, if only more parents would stop looking to place blame elsewhere and instead hold their children accountable for their own actions, life would be better for all. What some people don’t seem to realize is that it is very good for their children to be accountable – this helps them grow up and be responsible people in all walks of life not just soccer.
My daughter was a good player but didn’t work hard enough, consequently did not do as well as she could have.
She did not make the top team in my club for 5 years; of which I was the DOC (so, yes, I had the power to make it happen if I chose.)
I didn’t blame the coach or the team, I waited until she earned it herself and she did, eventually; but it had to come from within her. Did this frustrate m? Damn right, yes, but it was up to her to work it out.
A scenario too often seen; our team is losing 2-0; some players give up mentally, if not physically; others roll their sleeves up and fight; we need the fighters and the confident players who want to make a difference. It is interesting how it is not always the best technically gifted players who achieve success in the end.
Is that the coach’s fault some players give up and accept defeat?
You hear it said on soccer fields across the globe, “RUN THROUGH THE PAIN BARRIER.” This doesn’t mean run till you hurt, it means don’t give up, don’t let your immediate opponent beat you, don’t let him or her dominate you on the field, try even harder than you think you can; and you may be surprised how much better you will become.
Do the same in training, don’t JUST go through the motions, I see this FAR too much, ah, its only training is the attitude, well you PLAY GAMES AS YOU TRAIN. You should TRAIN AS YOU PLAY GAMES.
We have to identify at an early age those with the key ingredient of intrinsic motivation in their makeup as they are the ones with the best chance of success in the long term.
And of course, if they have natural ability then even better and they have a magnificent chance to succeed.
Look at professional soccer over the world, not every player is amazingly skilled, but they are all definitely there because they are all intrinsically motivated and want to succeed badly. This makes me wonder, is life too easy now for our youth of today to go the extra mile needed?
Which asks the question; which is more important; great skill or great desire to succeed?
I think we need both to a certain extent but I also think desire and self motivation can make up for many failings in a player.
Great skill can include having the ability to recognize what you are good at as a player and what you are not good at as a player; and then from this information play to your strengths, disguise the weaknesses; highlight the strengths.
I can name many players who were and still are incredibly successful without having great natural ability, just that desire to succeed and be the best they could be; Gary Neville of Manchester United and England, Puyol of Barcelona and Spain; Frank Lampard of Chelsea and England.
Here is a great example; Alan Ball was a World Cup Winner for England at 21. At 15 years of age he was told he was too small to succeed but he proved them all wrong.
I had the privilege to play alongside Alan Ball in his later years and he said he wasn’t good at all things in soccer (we called it football then), his left foot wasn’t the best, he wasn’t the greatest tackler, he didn’t hit great long passes, but he knew what he was good at and he made sure he was the best at that and his added intrinsic desire made him what he was.
This was a World Cup Winner; one of only 11 people in the whole World at that time, saying he wasn’t the best at some things as a player. Amazing really.
For the record, he was great at one touch play (the best), at short and fast accurate passing and keeping possession of the ball; at pressing opponent players to make mistakes, at “thinking” the game quicker
than everyone else; at movement off the ball (fitness as well as understanding) and he played to those strengths ALL the time.
NO fancy flicks giving the ball away cheaply that drives me to distraction as a coach; no sloppiness of execution and laziness of technique, no trying of things he wasn’t good at that he knew were likely not to succeed (but it might look good to the watching public if it worked which too many players do). Alan Ball never gave up when the going got tough. And, unlike many youth players today he never opted for more glamorous moves when less glamourous ones would work better.
What makes a player succeed? Just a pure passion; a self-belief and a desire to succeed; and playing to ones strengths. (Of course, great coaching helps….)
Now think of those players with that natural ability AND that intrinsic desire. Ronaldo, Messi, Rooney; Xavi; Scholes; Naymar, the names roll off the tongue.
They are few and far between so what about the rest?
You do not have to be a technical genius as a player to succeed.
A scenario: The other team is better than us technically, so what can we do to counter that — to overcome it? Each individual player is needed to have that desire to beat that team; all 11 are needed to give 100% and more. If even one or two are not; then you will not win the battle.
So areas needed for the chance of success:
- “Raw” potential / ability initially is desired;
- A MASSIVE internal desire / motivation to succeed which includes developing self belief; confidence and a WILL TO WIN when the time is right
- Great coaching by educated and qualified coaches teaching players from the earliest of ages with a continuity and consistency of a structured training program as the players advance through the age groups; and focusing on the vital areas of development for players as they change with age.
- Practice and more practice because practice under the right coaching creates good habits; that leads to successful decision making; that ultimately leads to the end product, the great player.
I honestly don’t think you can develop the great player consistently without all these keys attributes in place.
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This elite academy is focused on developing how a soccer elite player thinks – the MIND of the player – and is based on proven scientific principles of development.