“Practice makes perfect!” Everyone has heard this sentence at some point in their lives. But how much practice? How do you become a better soccer player? What did professional soccer players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi do different from someone that plays occasionally in a Sunday league? To answer these questions, we need to look at the early stages of a soccer player. A common theory for becoming world class at any task is the 10.000hour rule. That means a player needs to spend 10.000 hours practicing, or 3 hours every day over 10 years to really master all skills that matter such as ball control, dribbling, passing & receiving, and shooting.
You Snooze You Lose
Let´s take a look at the average U.S. youth player, Lisa. Assuming she started playing competitive soccer at the age of 8. At this age, normal club practice is twice per week, usually for 90min, or 3 hours per week. She has many other interests, and takes singing and dancing classes twice per week. Occasionally, she gets a motivation boost and decides to do some extra sessions with her coach, once per month for 1 hour. By the age of 16, the age most colleges start recruiting, she has played 1260hours of soccer. That´s 8-times less than necessary to make it to the top, and yet Lisa is surprised she is still not playing for her High School Varsity team.
You Can´t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
As you can see in this example, if your player wants to become a professional or collegiate soccer player, it is not enough to just go to club practice. Especially at the early stages of your player´s development, it is crucial to spend as much time with the ball as possible. Until the age of 12-13 (depending on the player´s biological development), players learn new skills at an incredibly accelerated pace. An average 8year-old is 4x more receptive to improve his or her coordinative and technical skills. This number decreases as the player gets older, so players, parents and coaches should take advantage of that!
The Player´s Best Friend – The Ball!
It is absolutely crucial to attend club practice, but that is just the beginning. There are many ways to supplement club practice. Small group sessions, training camps, private lessons. But it´s also important to understand that one private lesson a month, or one training camp a year is not going to be enough if your player wants to be a professional or collegiate athlete. If you look at Ronaldo, he is always the first one at practice to work on his individual skills, and the last one to leave to practice his free-kicks. Another great way to improve your player´s soccer skills is juggling. Not only is it a great way to improve ball control and touch, but it also helps to build cognitive skills, such as the ability to focus for an extended period of time. Many players avoid juggling because it is difficult at the beginning. Perseverance will be trained as the player learns to deal with and overcome challenges.
As you can see, it takes a lot of time and commitment to become a better soccer player. But the rewards (potential free tuition, getting paid to play, your child being forever thankful for your support) make it worth it.