These days, it can seem as though every collegiate and professional athlete’s career began as a childhood prodigy. In 2011, a 7-year-old signed a contract with Real Madrid and just last August, a 10-year-old from Kansas City inked a deal and packed his bags to move to Italy to train with Roma. I am sure you can even think of one or two peers in your hometown who seem to have been involved with ODP or gone to National Camps since they laced up their boots. It is understandable, then, that those who are late soccer bloomers can feel frustrated or discouraged at times. Here is what we suggest to help you combat these feelings and maintain the fun of playing the beautiful game.
Run Your Own Race
It can be really tempting, but resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Your game will not grow if you are too busy focused on what everyone else is doing. When you feel down, remind yourself of how far you’ve come and all the successes you have experienced. Your soccer journey is not over.
Use Failure as Fertilizer
Failure is an essential part of the process; without failure, there is no improvement. The late, great, former U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Tony DiCicco and his sports psychologist Colleen Hacker drilled this idea into the ‘99ers. They used every “failure” as a learning experience and motivation to work harder and perform better, ultimately leading them to their World Cup victory. You, too, can use any low points – not making the DA squad, a poor ID camp showing – as your fertilizer to help fuel your competitive fire.
Take Solace in Science
David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, found that being a late bloomer allows an athlete to avoid the risk of burn-out and injury, and grants valuable additional time to develop a variety of skills with less pressure. An Indiana University study supports these ideas, observing that late bloomers often catch up to child “prodigies”, who are oftentimes simply the first to physically mature. As it turns out, hitting your stride later than others can actually yield greater chances of long-term and future success.
Go Back to Basics
Not being “the best” also gives you some pressure-free time to hone your technical and tactical foundation. Individual training is a great way to focus on the weaker spots of your game, which can lead to developing some seriously important skills. For example, not knowing how to properly shoot allows you to train your right and left foot equally, which will undoubtedly help you to stand out from your peers. As I’ve said in previous posts, whether you’re at the top of your game or working to get there, you should never stop trying to improve your game.
While it may be frustrating, especially with the omnipresence of social media, to be behind your peers, it is not necessarily an indication of what’s to come. Keep your head down and focus on being the best you that you can be. And remember, you’re not in bad company. Tom Brady, Jay Demerit, and Didier Drogba are just a few of the notable athletes who have been in your shoes.
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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.