How to Become a Professional Footballer

Football. The magical game, the escape from the ghetto, or the streets, to seek fame and fortune. Many youngsters idolize their footballing heroes, longing to become the next David Beckham or Michael Owen. But exactly how do you become a professional footballer?

“I could have been a professional footballer, if it wasn’t for my dodgy knee, or my flat feet”. If I had a penny for every bloke up the pub that told me this line, I’d have my own private jet to fly back and forth from Belize in.

I believe that the way to become a professional footballer, in fact the way to reach the elite in any chosen career is to be passionate about what you do. You do not need to have your arm twisted to go to the training field and play in the freezing winter. You do not need to be scolded and cajoled into running the extra mile. But you do need to run the extra mile.

I started playing football when I was a toddler. As I grew up I had a natural love of the game. I couldn’t get enough of it. I would play 2, sometimes 3 games on the weekend. Saturday mornings, if the Wayland High School (Watton) had a match would be my first game. Then it was off to the local park in Ashill, in awe of the men playing in the first team, standing behind the goal kicking a ball up against the net, annoying the first team goalkeeper for Ashill. “If only I could get a game,” I would think to myself as the older guys strutted their stuff on the pitch. Then on a Sunday it was off to the next village to play in the youth football, from under 11s, all the way up to under 17s.

Of course it wasn’t long before I got to stand in front of the goal and start playing for the mens team in Ashill. I remember starting as a Sweeper, a position I absolutely loved. I had a big 6 foot, hard as nails centre half playing with me, who used to smash the opposition centre forward and I would drop off and pick up all the loose balls. Brilliant.

At this age, 14 or 15 years old I wasn’t really strong enough to compete physically with the men, although I did my best, and started to play in positions further up the field until ultimately becoming a striker.

But I always had a great “passion” for football. 3 games on the weekend was my ideal Saturday and Sunday. While friends went out to parties, I was totally dedicated to playing football. I would go out running in the evenings to get fitter, and never did I need someone to push me into doing this. I think most athletes and professional sportsman will tell the same story, that they just loved doing the thing they do.

Football has to be your hobby. You have to love doing it. Practice at every spare moment. Anyone can buy a ball and go into the yard and practice skills and flicks. Keeping the ball off the ground, kicking it against a wall, running with the ball until it feels as normal as running without it.

Practice, practice, practice. That is what you do when you are a professional, training 5 sometimes 6 days a week. So that is what you need to do before becoming a professional. If you want to be a dancer you stand in front of the mirror and practice your moves. If you want to become a singer you grab the shampoo bottle and sing your heart out at every possible opportunity. The same applies to football. In an ever more competitive sport, the pool of players to choose from is bigger, the quality of the players to choose from is better. You have to be the most dedicated athlete in the world to achieve this dream.

Of course you do need natural talent as well. I would never admit to being the most gifted player in the world but I was very dedicated. No matter how hard you try you cannot make a racehorse out of a donkey. It will soon become evident if you have what it takes to reach the top of your sport. You will coast through games, score bags of goals, be the outstanding player week after week. Then you will need belief in what you are doing. You will have to really believe that you can make it to the top.

Something that I never believed until it happened. I had a lot of determination and perseverance, but it never really crossed my mind that I could become a player until I walked through the front gate of St James Park with my kit bag. Even then I felt like an impostor in a world I should not have been in. Perhaps this was my downfall. Never really having enough belief. Never really feeling like I was a professional footballer.

But I was good enough to play over 300 professional matches and score over 130 goals. Practice was the foundation for everything I did. It almost felt that every cell in my body had to move into line and be synchronised to the exact movements required to perform the different skills in football. That training exercises were put in place to allow my mind to sub-consciously be aware of everything that needed to be done during a game, so that my conscious mind was free to deal with all the more complicated requirements of competing at an elite level.

When I watch amateur football I cannot help but wonder how much of an average players brain activity is used just focusing on controlling the ball. They have doubts in their minds because they are not sure that they will be able to deal with a ball coming at them at 30mph. Whereas a professional is hardly even thinking about this.

Ronaldinho (check his website out) is not worried in the least that he will be unable to control the ball, no matter how hard it comes to him, or under whatever difficult circumstances he receives the ball. His brain is working on much more complicated problems, such as evading his marker, finding space, being alert to the whereabouts of his teammates. He is like a Chess Grandmaster, constantly planning ahead. If the ball comes here, he immediately knows his future options before it has happened.

Practice, practice, practice. It fine-tunes the body into performing routine tasks on the football field such as

· ball control
· striking the ball
· athletic prowess
· and teamwork

and it frees up the brain to deal with the more intricate parts of the game such as

· movement off the ball
· creating space
· weighing up all the future options on the pitch

For all young aspiring Footballers and Athletes and Singers and Dancers out there in the world,

· believe 100% in what you want to be
· have a passion for what you do (otherwise find another sport, hobby, job)
· and practice, practice, practice.

Good luck.

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  • More Articles :

    How I became a Professional Footballer

    Part 1 - Ashill to Kettering
    Part 2 - Kettering to Newcastle
    Part 3 - To the Toon (NUFC)
    Part 4 - Life with Kevin Keegan
    Part 5 - Goodbye NUFC, Hello the Baggies
    Part 6 - Wembley here we come!!
    My Retirement from Football

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