Soccer News: Never Discard A Player Based On Their Physical Size
GoalNation’s columnist Dan Abrahams shares his insights and advice for success on the soccer field for players of all ages. A global sport psychologist and author specializing in soccer, Abrahams is based in England and works with professional soccer players in the English Premier League (EPL). Abrahams has helped hundreds of soccer players – many of them who play in the English Premier League (EPL) and others who play across Europe. A recent example of his work includes helping Yannick Bolasie make an enormous impact on the EPL for Crystal Palace. Abrahams has held contracts with QPR, Fulham, and West Ham among other clubs and works quietly, behind the scenes with many coaches from top clubs across Europe.
Think of all the small soccer players who are immensely successful. Lionel Messi’s height rivals some of the shortest soccer players in world soccer today. Or would the ‘Hand of God’ ever have happened if Diego Maradona had been passed over? What would world class soccer be like if a coach had dismissed Messi or Maradona because of physicality?
“I have a dream…” Yes I’ve ripped off those immortal words (from Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have a Dream speech delivered 28 August 1963,) but I’m going to continue…
“I have a dream that the small players in U.S. Soccer will become the big players. I have a dream that every coach from the west coast to the east coast make it their mission to create world class players, the height and stature of Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandes.
I have a dream that the U.S. will lift the World Cup in the next two decades with a diminutive, pint sized team; full of exciting, individual flare with intelligent, mentally tough kids, full of think first speed rather than physical first speed. I have a dream that the small players will become the big players.”
As an Englishman passionate about sports I’ve grown up reading stories of the great coaches in great American sports. In the UK we’ve always looked across the pond when it comes to coaching excellence.
We’ve always pointed and stared and striven to learn. John Wooden, Pat Rice, Yogi Berra, Vince Lombardi, Pat Summitt – inspiring figures with inspiring thoughts and inspiring methodologies of coaching. To me the U.S. is all about sports and all about sports coaching.
I know this to be true of soccer as well. I know that soccer is starting to capture the attention and imagination of the public, and I know it’s a sport that is growing and growing. This is why I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see American players of all shapes and sizes hitting the world soccer stage – the 5’5 midfielder who glides through a tight pack of players to release the 5’8 striker who deftly lobs the keeper who he’s spotted off his line. I can’t wait to see players with skill and imagination and flare. It’s there – you just have to find the switch that turns it on!
I know U.S. soccer coaches are starting to understand.
I know they are starting to broaden their definition of talent. No longer are they looking at the 13 year old, 6 foot bruiser who pushes the smaller players out the way. They don’t need to do that. They know that soccer is a game of awareness and anticipation. It’s a game of decision making, of street smarts, of intelligence and thought.
I know this beginning is going to start a revolution – a revolution is coming. I can feel it. I know the 21st century U.S. soccer coach is the coach who is a psycho-social coach. They puts psychology first because they knows that technique and subsequent skill is built from a bed of mental excellence. They know they have to teach players how to learn effectively. They know they have to co-create solutions to help them focus better, deal with distractions and play with confidence. This kind of coach puts the science and art of communication on a pedestal – just as important as formations, systems and technical drill.
This coach knows that every thought a player has, every thought a player thinks, matters. And they know their words mediate these thoughts – what they say impacts the brain and nervous system of their players.
I know the 21st century soccer coach is excited, because they see a small player and they picture potential. They see speed of thought, pattern recognition, quick feet, a hunger in the eyes, a want to learn, a will to win, a love for the game as crucial determinants of lifelong participation and standards of excellence. They are not blinded by height or size or early capability. They are open minded about the future of every soccer player, excited by the soft skills that drive the hard skills.
Sure, the 21st century U.S. soccer coach knows that a modern day soccer player has to do all he or she can to be an athlete. But athletes come in all shapes and sizes and they know that. They also know that soccer is a complex game – it’s a fluid game. There’s no one size fits all – that’s why it’s called the beautiful game. That’s why it’s the most popular sport in the world – anyone can play it and anyone can get good at it.
Small players deserve the chance to become physically competent and big players deserve the chance to become skillful. No one needs to be discarded based on their size. If they think quick enough on the pitch they are good enough – they will become physical enough. They will become strong enough. Trust that process – trust your small players and trust your coaching capability to make that happen.
In fact, let me go as far to say this – and let me say this to coaches in both the U.S. and the UK: Trust yourselves. Believe in yourselves. You’re good enough to coach a physically smaller kid to become world class. You ask your players to believe in themselves so why don’t you believe in you.
And if you’re not good enough to help fifteen year olds who aren’t 6 foot — then get good enough.
And, if you’re not willing to get good enough go find the time to do something else rather than preventing the future Lionel Messi from being the best he can be.
I’d like that last paragraph to resonate so that you go away and think about it. If you’re making judgments based on the physicality of a soccer payer it is you who is not good enough not the player him or herself. It is you. The spotlight is on you. The onus is on you to be a better coach than that.
Never discard a player based on their physical size. Never make a negative judgment based on physicality. Only see potential with smaller players. Only be ready and willing to help them develop what they do have.
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Dan Abrahams is doing a Pair of Webinars with GoalNation and Amplified Soccer this Spring in advance of the release of is new book, Soccer Tough 2. In Soccer Tough 2, Dan will be introducing attendees to new material – information gathered from working with some of the leading players and coaches in global soccer. These webinars take a look at this advanced material. For professional and youth coaches of all levels and useful for top players. These ideas are designed to be incorporated into coaching cultures for groups of players at every age and every level.
Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist specializing in soccer. He is based in England and has some of the leading turn-around stories and case studies in English Premier League history.
Abrahams is sought after by players, coaches and managers across Europe and his 2 soccer psychology books are international bestsellers. He is formerly a professional golfer, is Lead Psychologist for England Golf and he holds a degree in psychology and masters degree in sport psychology.