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THE PROFESSIONAL GAME - INTRODUCTION TO THE PROFESSIONAL PLAYER
 
THE PROFESSIONAL PLAYER
 

The dream of becoming a top level soccer player and the chance to represent one's country is a dream for many young footballers. However, only a small percentage do actually go on to make the grade. So what do these player have in common, is it a greater athletic ability, a strong mental attitude or refined technique or perhaps a combination of the these factors ? Some coaches feel that soccer players are born not made whilst others believe that any player can be successful as long as they have the capacity and willingness to learn. Many players with lesser ability have succeeded thanks to sheer hard work whilst those with natural fantastic physical and technical ability have failed due to a lack of motivation. This article will briefly look at factors suggesting what may be required to become a professional soccer player.

Physical ability: Genetic factors do play an important part in defining the physical abilities of players. However, anybody can develop this part of their game through undertaking fitness programs that meet the requirements of the game and that match the needs of the individual. In the case of younger players, fitness can also initially be developed by simply playing the game. Indeed, young aspiring players should initially concentrate on developing their technical and tactical skills. To get fit for professional soccer, this requires much dedication as training is often very demanding. High levels of stamina, speed, capacity to accelerate, strength, explosive power, agility, neuromuscular co-ordination... are required and need to be developed as much as possible.

In general top players demonstrate greater physiological capacities compared to players at lower levels, read our article. The physical requirements of the modern professional game are also higher, players are required to run more, sprint more, and challenge more often for possession, read our article. Not every player is blessed with natural athletic ability, but this can be developed in order to keep up with the basic physical demands of the game so that the players individual technical and tactical abilities can be used maximally. A fine example was England's World Cup winning captain in 1966, Bobby Moore. Apparently lacking in athletic ability but his reading and vision of the game more than made up for this weakness.

Technical ability: According to different observers, the technical side of the modern game has seemingly suffered whilst the physical element has grown in importance. However, when one watches the truly great players such as Rivaldo and Zidane, the importance of high levels of technique is obvious. The capacity to control, pass & shoot with both feet, head, tackle, dribble and turn with the ball is paramount whatever the position on the pitch. However, even top level players seem to lack ability in one or more of these areas, for example, the incapacity to use the weaker foot to shoot and pass or poor tackling technique. The truly great players such as Cruyft or Maradona had such ability that one had the impression that the ball was part of their body. Similarly, modern players such as Beckham spend extra time on the training pitch, honing their technique and this desire to improve and master different techniques can only serve as a useful lesson.

Many coaches do still mention that there is no substitute for good technique. The better the technique and wider the range of techniques, the more accomplished will be the player whilst increasing their chances of playing top level soccer. Player hoping to become professionals may want to ask themselves, can I control the ball with all parts of the body, can I pass and shoot with both feet using different techniques such as volleying the ball, can I dribble and turn to beat an opponent, is my heading ability strong and can I tackle using different techniques such as sliding or blocking. These are only a few of the required soccer techniques which need to be mastered to achieve this goal.

Tactical ability: High levels of tactical abilities are required to adapt to the professional game, whether this be individual tactics - making space, player marking... or group tactics - offside trap, space coverage... or team tactics - playing for time, counterattacks... An excellent example is the wingback position, this often requires a player who is technically a defender, to also get forward and attack as a winger. This demonstrates enormous tactical defensive and attacking capacities. The better the all round tactical ability of a player, the greater is the chance of success, whatever the level of the game.

Psycho-socio ability: There are many psychological factors that are often demonstrated by top players: Total dedication, the ability and willingness to listen and absorb information, motivation, concentration, mental control, stress and anxiety management. High levels of intellectual abilities on the pitch such as creativity, intuition, judgement and knowledge are part of a professional players make-up. Emotions and temperament are also vital to successful performance: controlled aggression, composure, decisiveness, extroversion and introversion, impulsiveness and courage. Similarly, social skills are indispensable, the acceptance of norms and values, loyalty and team spirit are all required and all footballers must always accept that no player is bigger than the team or club.

Skill & the interaction between physical, technical, tactical & mental abilities: Skill is the ability to be in the right place at the right time and to be able to select and correctly employ the required technique on demand as result of the information provided to the player by the game situation. Indeed, skill contains several important components such as physical fitness, mental approach, technique and decision- making which are all interrelated in a complex pattern. Top footballers often demonstrate great skills both on and off the ball which allow them to succeed at the very highest level. For example, the ability to recognise and seize the opportunity to make a quick run into space behind the defence, control the pass, run hard at goal and finish requires great physical technical, tactical & mental abilities.

In conclusion, It seems that to play professional soccer, players need a variety of exceptional qualities. However, the key to it all is much training and practice as well as total dedication and willingness to learn. Players should also be practising the skills appropriate to their age or level and be encouraged to be creative, enjoy playing, have the desire to win whilst accepting defeat and always keeping their head on their shoulders.

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