Every team no matter what the level is always compromised of good players, great players and the occasional star player. The question then is how do you find that balance of ensuring that the team are working to provide for their star player, as well as making sure that the star player is also able to provide for the team. How can we keep the team growing and working as a collective towards the team’s agreed goals and keeping those star players motivated and performing highly throughout.
Looking at someone like Lionel Messi arguably now as the seasons go by, the greatest footballer of all time, we can see that he has never once rested on his laurels and stood still to admire his achievements. With his 5th Balon D’Or crown at the end of 2015, it is clear to see that his motivation and desire to continue to push himself have not waned despite his huge past successes. Those who stand still get left behind. There is no standing still and keeping your place in sport and in life. Competition is always fighting to overtake you and if you are not working on yourself, be sure that someone somewhere is.
Therefore, the need to keep your best players motivated and engaged rather in order to fight off the complacency and boredom. The approach will be different to the average player, as frankly you are not dealing with the average player. You will need to remind the star of their importance and brilliance but at the same time this must be balanced with the realistic warning, particularly at youth level that they have not achieved anything yet!
Here’s my top 10 on how to push those players who are the first name on the team sheet, to stay engaged, motivated, and hungry to improve:
1) Give them an individual approach – They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Show them what their importance is in the team and work hard as a coach to provide them with detailed insights, and specific areas of improvement based around the actual player and their current ability. Work around the player and not the position. Regardless of what position they play give them pointers that are in line with their individual strengths not necessarily what the position demands.
2) Challenge them – If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you
Give them numerical targets, new positions, process targets for a consistent period of time that stretch their current abilities. Allow them to experience success fairly easily at first so they buy in to the idea if there is initial resistance, but then gently increase the difficulty of the challenge.
3) Increase their positive impact around team-mates – The greatest success we’ll know is helping others succeed and grow
Allow them a voice and responsibility to think beyond themselves and realize the positive impact that they can have on their team-mates. Show them the power of positivity by allowing them to share thoughts during a team huddle or encourage them to give advice to their team-mates in a drill in which they excel at. Engage afterwards and see how they think it made the other person feel.
4) Encourage them develop a secret weapon – I do not fear the man who practices a 1000 kicks one time each. I fear the man who practices 1 kick, 1000 times.
It is great to be strong in several areas but if we think about it, the very best players have always had that one skill that has defined them. Messi (and his dribbling) and Zidane (and his first touch) are just two examples that come to mind. Find that skill that the player enjoys performing and gets confidence from executing well and sell them the idea of specialism.
5) Encourage a growth Mindset over fixed – failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently
Mastery is not easy. So quickly but consistently keep reiterating the message to the player that failure is a necessity. Praise the player’s effort and not their ability. Make sure that they are encouraged and rewarded with praise for every time they commit to experimentation and perseverance but do not mistakenly give praise for the quality of their action.
6) Encourage sacrifice – If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want will be the sacrifice
What separates the average from the excellent is the difference in their daily actions. Being able to dedicate some consistent quality time towards deep practice requires giving up time elsewhere. Allow the player to decide what it is they will sacrifice but make sure that they clearly understand that they must give up something in order to make room. Also it must be their choice. Allow them to experience what it is to let go in order to grow.
7) Encourage professionalism – A professional is someone who does their best work even when they don’t want to
Once they are open to deep practice outside of their regular sessions, expose them to other quality practices such as nutrition, hydration, and recovery. Be gentle and do not give them too much too soon. Show them that consistency of quality will get them to where they need to be and slowly incorporating new professional habits one week or month at a time is better than a dramatic quick adaptation.
8) Encourage study – The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work
Help them see what real greatness looks like at the highest level. Help motivate and inspire them by allowing them to understand what the elite do and what the player themselves are doing. Spend time with them and show them how to analyse a match, a team, a unit or an individual player and have a discussion as to how it relates to them and their team-mates.
9) Encourage visualization – To bring anything into your life imagine it is already there
Any action always begins with a thought. If we want to do or be something we need to spend time focussing on it. Doing so with deep concentration will bridge that gap between desire and reality and players will progress faster towards their goals if they are in belief that they have already achieved them. Encourage them to spend time in their day to sit and think on a specific ideal image and have them physically carry it around with them everywhere.
10) Always keep the pursuit of greatness fun – Nothing great was achieved without enthusiasm
Above all else though, make sure that playing is always fun. It should always come back down to this. Even in the depths of deep practice and the pressures of game day, the reason any player decides to carry on kicking the ball is because it gives them great joy. Provide them with tools and ideas and structures that will improve them as people and as players but don’t do this at the cost of inhibiting the child in them.
Which of these 10 rules do you think is the most important?