10 Tips For Young Professional Footballers Starting Their Careers

Here are 10 tips that will help you take your first steps into professional football in your stride and help you throughout their career.

In no particular order.

Tip 1: Have The Right Attitude

A good attitude will take you a long way in your career. Even though we can only control ourselves, football is a team game and a bad attitude is detrimental to not only ourselves but to the team. Always try to be a good teammate and remember that we are now a part of a team aiming to win games of football.

Don’t allow anyone to ever question your work rate or your commitment. They will question your ability, but the one thing you can always guarantee is maximum effort in everything you do. That is a given and should never be in doubt. Be willing to do more than is required and you will have no regrets at the end of every day.

Tip 2: Remain Disciplined

The hard work starts now! It’s only the beginning of hopefully a long journey. Sacrifices will have to be made to prioritise your career and you have to remain focused and disciplined throughout. Don’t waste all those years of hard work by getting distracted and taking your eyes off of the ball now that you are a pro. Distractions are everywhere and if you’re not living professionally off the pitch, then don’t expect to be in the professional game for long. 

Tip 3: Take Care Of Your Body and Mind

Two important components to elite performance. Eat and drink the right things at the right times, work on strength and injury prevention in the gym and always allow yourself to mentally switch off from the pressures of football when possible. Football is a physically and mentally exhausting career,  you need both of these to be in the best condition possible to perform, so look after them as best as you can.

Tip 4: Never Stop Learning

Be a sponge, we don’t know everything! We are always learning and no matter what stage we are at in our careers, there is always something we can improve on. Sometimes we think we know best and don’t want to accept advice because we feel like we don’t need it. If someone who has been in your shoes is trying to offer you some advice or is willing to take their time to work with you, then don’t refuse it. Use other peoples experiences to your advantage. You will be better equipped to deal with what is going to come during your journey.

Watch football games, watch players in your position and see how they play. Learn off of the first team players you’re training with, watch how they train and how they conduct themselves in the gym and off of the pitch. Ask them for any tips to help your own game, most of the time older pro’s will be more than willing to help young players with any issues. Take it all in and absorb it, then use what you need, to improve your overall game.

Tip 5: Never Give Up

Don’t be afraid to fail! Things rarely go the way we want them to but we can’t allow setbacks to take us off track. You might have to wait for your chance with the first team, suffer injuries or be going through a bad run of form, but don’t let it affect your application. In football, things can change quickly so don’t give up when things start to become difficult.

Players your age might get their break before you do and this can be demoralising. Try not to focus on other players successes throughout your journey and control only what you can control- yourself. No one’s path will be the same, don’t get impatient and lose faith because your time hasn’t come yet.

In the periods when things aren’t going well is when we learn the most! You will learn more about yourself and your game from your lows, than from your highs. Be patient, stay focused and keep going, then when that chance comes you will be ready to grab it with both hands.

Signing my first professional contract at Crystal Palace aged 17 with Gary Issott. Image by Neil Everitt

Tip 6: Have Self-belief

If we don’t believe in our own ability then who will? Self-doubt might start to creep in if you are having a tough time but always try to remain positive regardless of your situation. Remember that you are in the less than 1% of players in the game to turn pro and you wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t a good player. 

If you’re struggling with self-belief, feed your ego! Go back over highlights from your games or think back to a game you played well and then write down all the things you did well. Before you know it you will be feeling a lot better about yourself!

Tip 7: Set Goals and Evaluate Performances

Every season set yourself targets to achieve, both short-term and long-term. Write them down and go back to them throughout the season. When you feel things aren’t going well, you might look back and realise that you have hit a target or that you are on track regardless of your current predicament.

Keep them realistic to your development and situation though. For example, don’t aim to play every game in your first season as a pro. Whilst nothing is impossible, you want to give yourself targets that push you but also are attainable. “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

Be honest with yourself when you evaluate how a game or training session has gone. Understand what didn’t go so well and think about how you can improve next time. 

Tip 8: Never Be Too High or Too Low

Football doesn’t stop for anyone. Your career will be like a rollercoaster, with ups and downs, twists and turns. Never get too carried away when you’re on a high because just as quickly as things went up, they can come crashing down twice as quick.

Winning and playing well? Injured and out of the team? Celebrate the highs and wallow in your pity when you need to but don’t dwell on them for too long. The next opportunity is always around the corner and circumstances can change in an instance. Remain calm, focused and level headed throughout the highs and lows so you are ready for whatever comes your way.

Tip 9: Surround Yourself With The Right People

“Everyone is there when it’s time to party!” You need to surround yourself with the people who are with you through the highs and the lows. People will always want a piece of you when you are doing well, that’s just the nature of the game and is like anything in life. However, those same people may not be there for you when things aren’t going so well.

The people we surround ourselves with also need to understand and respect that you are now a professional footballer. If you have people who are taking your focus away from football for the wrong reasons, then maybe they aren’t the right people to have in your support network.

Tip 10: Enjoy It

Play with a smile on your face! This won’t always be possible because you will have low points in your career, we all do. Pressures will eat away at the joy that comes with playing professional football but the more you can enjoy it, the better your performances and experiences will be. Whether things on the pitch are going well or not, try and focus on finding some form of enjoyment otherwise there really is no point in playing the game we love.

Your career will flash before your eyes, I remember being told how quickly it would go and never believing it until now. Don’t look back on your career and wish you had enjoyed it more!

These are just 10 tips that I think can benefit anyone within professional football but especially young pros. By applying these with your natural talent, you will give yourself the best chance possible to achieve success and enjoy the journey.

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