What It Takes To Be A Pro

3

A young college player sent me a message looking for guidance on his professional soccer ambitions. He sent me a link to a highlight video, which I watched in it’s entirety.

The reason I’m posting this reply is because it is very similar to the feedback that I give a lot of young AMERICAN soccer players who think they’re ready to go pro.

Here’s my reply to his inquiry:

Julian,

I watched your video. It’s not like me to NOT to give honest feedback, so here it is:

Every GREAT soccer player possesses 4 things that make him better than anyone else –

1. Speed
2. Fitness
3. Skill
4. Passion… which manifests itself ON the field as “aggression” and OFF the field as “obsession“. Passion is what pushes “GREAT” players in the gym, in the film room and on the field.

Now, I emphasize “GREAT”, but you will not witness greatness on any American professional soccer team, or most teams below the top 5 of any top-level European team. The majority of what you see in the U.S. is Fitness and Speed. The Passion is lacking, and subsequently, so is the skill.

In most of the England leagues below the Premiership (League 2, League 1 and The Championship), you will see a mix of speed, fitness and skill, but again, Passion is lacking. Again, PASSION is what drives any player to GREATness, however the Passion is usually beat out of players at a young age by ill qualified coaches, overzealous parents, and/or over-training. That’s why half of the players in top-level professional leagues are foreigners, with very little “academy” training.

It’s a horrible cycle that no one in the U.S. or England can seem to wrap their heads around. Only recently has “development” through “play” become recognized as an option. Most coaches – wrongly – preach “work“, and use value-words like “job” and “responsibility“.

Soccer is a kids game, invented by kids, and hijacked 150 years ago by adults to BET on – like horse or dog racing.

With that being said, here is my analysis of your play.

Technique: 3 out of 10
Pass/cross/shot: Every pass or shot is composed of 2 elements: The power element and the accuracy element. Power comes from the back and accuracy comes from the follow through. You have good accuracy, but if you watch your highlight video, you can see that you lack power. You’re physically strong, so the ball appears to move well, but you’re not coming back very far. That’s poor technique, probably from a lack of dexterity and flexibility.

You don’t open your hips much when you pass or cross the ball, which limits your ability to put movement or “English” on the ball.
Speed: 5 out of 10
Run/speed: You “short-step” when you run. You don’t lift your knees. You’re quick, but not fast. You have good reaction speed (compared to your very limited competition), but that’s really just becasue you’re young.

Skill/accuracy: 5 out of 10
Your long balls during play are into space, with lots of room for error. Your corner kicks and dead balls were ALL high and looping, due to limitations in your dexterity and flexibility. It’s hard to tell from a highlight video if every one of those balls went exactly where you wanted it to.

IMPROVE: On your dead balls / corner kicks, you need to SHORTEN your final step-to-plant, which will allow you to BEND THE KNEE of your striking foot. In turn, you’ll be able to RAISE YOUR KNEE, instead of your foot, creating a driving, faster, more accurate shot. A driven ball will spin less and be more susceptible to natural air flow, creating a knuckling effect. By using this same technique and instead swinging in and leaning right, you can emulate Messi’s style.

Currently, you’re good for field-goal kicking. That’s about it.

Fitness: 6 out of 10
That may sound harsh, because you are obviously moving up and down the field, but that score is based on the competition you’re playing against. That league is NOT very competitive.

Vision: 7 out of 10
This is your #1 strength and what makes you a decent player with POTENTIAL. You can see the play develop and anticipate well, which create opportunities. It’s an ability that you can build on. Vision is something that intelligent people have, and the only reason I’m taking the time to write this. If you had no vision but possessed ball skills, I wouldn’t bother.

IMPROVE: You look big from this camera angle, so you’re either in the gym alot or you’re a little chubby. Based on your on-field movement, you spend a lot of time in the gym. STOP. Stop going to the gym. You need yoga. You are stiff. You need 4 days a week of yoga for the next 90 days, and then twice a week for the rest of your career.

If all of this sounds harsh or like too much work, you were NEVER going to be a pro. There is no such thing as TEAM in a professional locker room. Everyone in there is your competition, and the management is ALWAYS looking for someone better than their weakest player in any position. Currently, you aren’t good enough for the bench of any pro team.

It’s easy to become a pro, as long as you’re willing to do the hard, physical work it takes to get you there. There are no short cuts for YOU. In your current state, you are 2 years away from a USL team and 3 from an MLS team. You can play in the NPSL, but even a PDL team won’t look at you now.

Of course, that’s all my opinion, but I can GUARANTEE that no one has ever told you those things, because if someone had, you would have already fixed them, and you’d be a pro now – if you’re SERIOUS about becoming a pro.

At this point – with NO connections to the pro game – you cannot just be “as-good-as” the weakest starter on any team. The weakest starter is there because he knows someone. Politics is in every profession, and pro sports is no different. You need to be better than the bottom 7 starters on any team, and you need to ALWAYS assume that you need to work harder and smarter than you currently are – that’s what “obsession” looks like.

Becoming a pro athlete is EASY. There is actually very little competition, because so very few people are willing to do the hard work to become GREAT. It’s there if you want it.

Start with yoga.

MikeMike Slatton | American Pro Soccer Scout

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About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. This relates to life - not just soccer."

3 Comments

  1. I have been clicking around this blog for the past 24 hours, off and on, and find myself confused.

    My point of entry was finding about the value of soccer camp for my son. Your advice was good, and started me down a rabbit hole about how the U.S. system of soccer development is flawed (at best) and corrupt (at worst). The tone I got was that kids need to have a) fun, b) better instruction. I appreciate your praise (I think) for volunteers, while noting their flaws and how money has not made soccer development better. In all, I felt good about not pushing my son into the more intense division/program, but finding a better instructional camp and program.

    Now I’ve been on a series of articles that talk about PASSION. As I started out with articles that stressed potential and being positive, PASSION seems the next step. As I think about kids being “hungry” and having “chips on their shoulder” I now wonder what to do with my kid? Be an overbearing uber tiger parent? Accept that he’s not pro level PASSION? I agree not to talk with kids about “Plan B” in looking forward, but this frank review does not sit with my son and rec league and development.

    Can I get an article on the sweet spot for most of our families and how to help our kid to get the most out of soccer without anyone hating it by the end? Thanks.

    • Mike Slatton on

      Ha ha ha ha ha! You’ve essentially read my evolution as a soccer parent over the last 6 years. I am still looking for answers, and every time I think I’ve found something that makes sense, I write about it. The truth is that my kids are now 12, 14 and 23 and the game has shaped or is shaping them… and it’s still shaping me. The first 15 years I coached youth soccer, I coached other people’s kids. Then, I had my own. At that moment, I fully understood the ridiculous conversations parents would have with me (a 20-something with no clue) after practice about what Johnny could “do to improve his play”. I’m now to the point that I think the key to happiness in this game is to not think too much about it, but stay within ear shot of the coach to make sure he’s note mind-f***ing your kid to the point that he hates the game, or worse. That’s pretty much what happened to me… and why I write about the game today.

      • Mike Slatton on

        Before I ever coached though, I played. Those days as a competitive player helped shape my understanding of the player. As a kid – relatively new to the game – I had a few coaches who were absolute bastards and who had no understanding of how to TEACH children the game. They were impatient and angry and took their frustrations out on children who’s parents signed them up top PLAY soccer. Today, I write to bring attention to this problem and as my own form of therapy.

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