By Michael Kachitsa
While it is not absolutely necessary to start playing football at a young age in order to make it as a professional, it definitely helps.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers centres around the idea of ‘the 10,000-Hour Rule’ – that is, the period of practice needed in order to master skills – and it is true that developing world-class ability takes time.
If you have had 10 years of deliberate practice or coaching from the age of seven or eight, the chances are you will be well equipped with the skills and knowledge base required to succeed in football.
There is a reason why youth academies such as La Masia exist – they attempt to facilitate meaningful development of young players in order to help them reach an elite level of performance by the time they are adults.
Of course, there are a number of examples of footballers who matured at a different stage in life or took a circuitous route to the top – so don’t worry if you’re a bit late to the game.
Football is a team sport so it is crucial that you join a team in order to play and learn the game. You need to be playing games regularly throughout your development in order to increase your visibility to scouts. And don’t be afraid to change teams either. It is noble to stay loyal to a local team, but it is no good to you as an individual if they don’t have good coaching or play to a high level. If you want to make it as a professional, you must be willing to seek out the best environment for your talents to prosper.
Professional footballers are athletes and in order to reach that physical level one must eat a healthy diet and exercise.
They expend a lot of energy in training and matches, so the key is to find a happy nutritional balance in your meals, which means getting enough protein and carbohydrates, as well as fluids.
Messi, for example, follows a strict diet which includes plenty of water, fish, whole grain foods, fresh fruit and vegetables. Ronaldo, likewise, incorporates foods such as fish and eggs into his diet.
Naturally, if you want to make it as a professional footballer, it is not advisable to eat junk food or a lot of sugary treats.
“A good workout must be combined with a good diet,” Ronaldo says. “I eat a high protein diet, with lots of wholegrain carbs, fruit vegetables, and avoid sugary foods.”
Creating a resume of your positions, attributes, achievements and perhaps even visual highlights, if they exist, is a useful exercise in the pursuit of a career in football.
Not only does it create a profile for scouts and potential employers, the practice also encourages you to reflect on yourself, which may help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.
Think of the resume as a personal statement of who you are as a footballer and person, as well as the footballer you want to become. In that sense, you can use it as a goal-setting document.
Another route that aspiring footballers can go down is that of earning a football scholarship at a university, which has the double benefit of allowing you to get a third-level education too. In the United States, college sport is a lot more closely intertwined with their professional equivalents and there is SuperDraft involving college soccer stars in Major League Soccer. The culture in the United Kingdom and Europe is somewhat different, but clubs do monitor university-level football and some universities have direct links with clubs. If things ultimately don’t work out on the football front, then you will have a degree and other options.
Once you eventually become a professional footballer, the hard work doesn’t stop. It’s crucial that you do not take your eye off the proverbial ball.
Keep working hard, keep looking after your body and enjoy it as much as you can.