Success in the sport of soccer can be defined in many ways, and has a much different definition to everyone involved in the sport. Success may be gaining CAPs for your country, or playing professionally. It may mean gaining a college scholarship or just making a high school team. To every individual player success is something that can be personally defined. Many of us like to define success as an aspect of the sport that can be generalized, but realistically my definition of a successful playing career is much different from anyone who may read this. Success can be described as the summit that a player determines they are climbing towards, and often this summit is reached by players. With this success we will see a shift in a mindset and a comfort that comes with the achievement, and this is sometimes dangerous to players as they may lose the focus and drive for success that put them in the position they are currently in. Avoiding this comfort and sense of achievement is crucial in player development as their mindset may shift from a success focused individual to a more caring, comfortable, social mindset once success is achieved in their playing career.
Players can help develop a healthy drive for success by setting ambitious goals. Goals that will be very difficult to achieve, but nonetheless they are goals that can be worked towards and achieved if the stars align. Whether it be playing for the national team, playing professionally, or playing in college, a long term goal needs to be set in order to avoid peaking at a young age. Peaking in the teenage years occurs when young players see success and have no long term goals they are working towards. This is the setting here a majority of players choose to cash in. Think of it as the player who wins one hand of poker and calls it a day. The quick success, whether it was due to their natural athletic ability or the environment they grew up in, has allowed for the player to think they’ve made it to the big times. Popularity, social success, and quick rewards feed into the ego and all sense of the future fails to exist. The big picture becomes lost in the quick rewards they are seeing from their minor success.
This new mindset allows the individual to becomes more focused on the social aspects of their existence, rather than their personal success. They may have already received the rewards they were looking for in soccer. A girlfriend, popularity in their local community, the gear to wear around school, the sense that they are a hero, and a strong social media presence on youtube or instagram. All of these items are signs of someone not focusing on the long term goals, signs of reaching a success that is very much focused on the short term.
Youth academy players sometimes hit these moments where their impulses look to take over if success is not seen or a setback occurs in their playing career. They begin to question why they are doing what they are doing. Why not just go have fun with everyone else? The need to fit in with average teenagers leads talented players to lose focus on their individual goals and leads them to the path of settling. The ability to have patience and believe in yourself and your ability is a trait that few players develop in their teenage years, and the absence of these principles helps filter out players who act on impulses and lose focus of the big picture.
The loneliness and sacrifice that comes with the territory of being an elite athlete is very hard to take at times. Watching the Olympics the past few weeks and seeing the heartbreaking stories of the athletes who do not achieve their goals makes it even tougher to watch once you realize the amount of sacrifice those athletes give towards success in their events. The sacrificial aspects of achieving success, which require a focus on the objective at all times, are what challenges athletes to achieve their set goals. These players fail to reach these elite levels most of the time due to the lack of strong structural principles and values that they live by. Without these values and principles in place to falter once the lure of cashing in on their is offered to them in their teenage years. A weak foundation always crumbles when tested by a storm.
Most American players dream of playing professionally or playing in college. If you think about that statement, most means a majority of club soccer players in this country share similar aspirations. That’s not even considering the amount of players from overseas that want to come to America to pursue playing careers as well. So the odds are stacked against players to even reach the collegiate level, let alone the professional side of the game. Thus why it is important to understand that players who really want to achieve these goals must work towards them with a strict focus, a hunger for success, and determination. Taking days or weeks off, or not training at the highest intensity will put you behind players who are. Players must learn to deal with minor success and look past it to their big picture goals.
Professionals at the highest levels struggle with success as well. You can look to numerous examples of players where performance has dropped substantially due possibly to a shift the player’s mindset. Personal success at the highest levels brings a lot of burden and stress to the individuals that obtain it. The pressure to perform, the lifestyle change, the good and bad popularity that comes with fame, and a life lived under a magnifying glass can become extremely hard to cope with at times. More money does to a certain extent bring more problems and issues that a lot of people fail to recognize from an outside standpoint. Once financial comfort has been reached, the player may tire of the loneliness that success may bring at times or feel unfulfilled by a life lived with a focus entirely on their individual success. Thus why they may lose this drive for success and transition into a mindset more focused on social activism, equality, and community. They may become more charitable, more involved in social issues or causes, more focused on friends and family, and much less focused on themselves.
Winning to the player is no longer as important as it once was. Possibly the players starts to see the world as a place where inequality is rampant, and social causes are more important than the game he or she plays. They lose a sense of hierarchy and their competitive nature begins to suffer. This dip in performance may lead to them being replaced by a younger more success driven player with a mindset similar to the one previously held by the veteran player. Until the player can transition out of this mindset, hopefully to a balanced mindset that can allow for both personal success and a sense of community and care for others, the player will struggle to remain as driven as they once were when they were younger and driven towards the goals they previously set.
So athletes at all levels feel the affects of success, some can cope and see past it, others struggle. Setting ambitious goals, ones that won’t be obtained anytime soon is the first step to avoiding settling for minor success. The challenge is to build a strong structure of principles or values to start with, thus why there is value in my opinion in exposure to religious teachings and conservative values at a young age. These principles and values will be useful when the pressures from the outside world begin to infiltrate the player’s life conditions, during the “cashing in” stage of development. It is important for the player to develop a sense that the sacrifice is enjoyable as well. The drive to stand out and be better than average should be a fun to the player, this may develop a sense of elitism and narcissism, but most elite level players have this mindset to some extent. Some much healthier and balanced than others. On the pathway to success there will be many pit stops, setbacks, and challenges to overcome. Learning to continue to move forward towards ambitious goals will hopefully lead to a satisfied personal definition of a successful playing career.