What it takes to become a national team player (talent is a given)

“You are very strong technically and tactically. But you are not fit. Mentally, you are weak. You don’t push yourself hard and you are lazy. You aren’t the sort of player who is going to thrive under pressure.

And your character? That is poor. You make excuses and find people to blame. You always have a reason things are not working out, instead of focusing on what you can do to make them work out.

If you keep working at 80%, you won’t get anywhere. You need to stop with the excuses. You need to start treating every training session, every game, as if it were a World Cup final.

You need to be the hardest-working person out there every time. You can’t just sit behind the strikers, feed them through balls and be a one-way player. You need to play box-to-box, defend and do the dirty work.

Soccer needs to be No. 1 in your life – not your boyfriend or your social life or anything else. Soccer. If it’s not, let’s go home right now.

If I call you at 10 p.m. on a Saturday and say, ‘Meet me at the field in a half-hour,’ you turn to your friends and say, ‘Sorry, everybody, I have to go train.’

You have to be ready and willing to train on Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving – that’s the commitment it’s going to take.”

-Carli Lloyd’s new coach after she was cut from the U21 national team

It took Carli a couple of years to work herself back into the national team player pool, and many more years to ultimately end up playing in the 2015 World Cup Final against Japan where she scored a hat-trick, including one of the best goals ever scored in the WWC. Later that same year she became the Fifa World Player of the Year, alongside Messi.

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

4 thoughts on “What it takes to become a national team player (talent is a given)

  1. Good article–thanks for pointing this out. I’m curious about this: “You aren’t the sort of player who is going to thrive under pressure.” Are coaches really qualified to make this assessment? There is a standard assumption in sports that the most competitive, hate-to-lose players are always the best, but competitiveness and performance under pressure are, I think, two separate things. It seems that if this coach was correct Carli would never have been able to get to where she is today. Was it just a change in attitude, or was the assessment incorrect?

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    • My interpretation is that the coach was correct given her attitude and state of mind at the time. For example, players that don’t thrive under pressure start blaming teammates and/or become more defensive in the way they play. She could well have been very aggressive and vocal still (i.e. competitive), but the pressure made her focus on the wrong decision making. Part of Carli’s turnaround was mental and part was physical. In general, I think we pay too little attention on the mental side of player development especially at the younger ages. This part is much more developed in European youth academies and the pro level.

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  2. Loved this when i first saw it – great overview of the hard work and humility needed to succeed in professional sports.

    The takeaway i got from this, that i think most will miss, is that we are screwing our better kids at a young age when we treat them like the “best” player on the team. As in play them 100% of the time and play them forward, in goal scoring positions, all the time.

    They end up with parents who think they are far better than they are, and the kids themselves end up thinking they are far better than they are. This leads to cockiness, laziness, inattention and lack of effort at practices, and in turn to lesser developmental gains during game day – when the pressure is on. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve seen this with younger kids. And on the flip side, ive seen kids dropped down a team or removed from teams who have used that as a wake up call to start working far harder and to actually work at getting better.

    Great article…thanks for posting.

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    • Agree with you, Andrew. It’s probably linked to the ‘winning’ focus of coaches and a lack of understanding of what it means to develop players holistically – body AND mind.

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