This help article has in a large part been taken from my personal blog, Chasing The Dream where I documented my journey from amateur to pro-level footballer for over nine years.
In my lifetime, I have done thousands upon thousands of hours of training. Rain, snow, sunshine, doesn't matter - I got out there and did it.
When I came up with the "20 hour a week" schedule some years back, it was inspired by what Malcolm Gladwell had
talked about in his book Outliers: The 10,000 Hour Rule.
The principle holds that 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" are needed to become world-class in any field
So through constant time planning, improvement planning and reviewing, I took my game from amateur youth, to US college scholarship level, to professional youth level, to actually getting paid to play level, to then..professional lower league senior player level, all in the space of 3 years.
Then recently I saw an article about the 10,000 hour rule from the Talent Code blog that got me thinking.
If you read the article, you'll see it talks about “US coaches doing exhausting 3 hour sessions” in comparison to Barcelona doing “highly structured, highly intensive 70 minute sessions each day."
I can relate to that when I came off my first week of training at Dutch club FC Volendam. The players were fresh off playing against the Ajax reserves and in training, I could immediately feel the change in playing pace.
I had intense, quick, focused 80-minute training sessions there.
In playing with players better than me, I developed very quickly. Every ounce of my concentration was required. As every week progressed, so did my abilities.
Was playing with better players more effective in improving my overall ability than hitting long balls for 2 hours straight at a target on my own? Yes.
But, then I read another post which talked about how the great Lebron James improved his game during the NBA lockout a few years back.
They tell the story of how LeBron James, basketball’s best player, set out to improve his game. How, in a move straight out of Moneyball, James ruthlessly analyzed his weaknesses and set out to build a new skill set that would make him a more efficient teammate. How he hired a master coach and made himself a humble apprentice, showing up early for each training session, videotaping and studying, in order to learn a new set of scoring moves. How James, in short, turned himself into a master student.
James emerged from that summer transformed. “When he returned after the lockout, he was a totally different player,” [Coach Eric] Spoelstra says. “It was as if he downloaded a program with all of Olajuwon’s and Ewing’s post-up moves. I don’t know if I’ve seen a player improve that much in a specific area in one off season.
Building up the mentality for a game situation
“It’s work,” James says. “It’s a lot of work. It’s being in workouts, and not accomplishing your goal, and paying for it. So, if I get to a spot in a workout and want to make eight out of 10, if I don’t make eight of 10, then I run. I push myself to the point of exhaustion until I make that goal. So you build up that mentality that you got to make that shot and then use that in a game situation — it’s the ultimate feeling, when you’re able to work on something and implement it.
I did something similar to Lebron in the early days in my back garden (yep that's an actual picture of what my garden looked like, trust me my parents weren't too happy about the lawn looking like that, lol).
I pretended Jose Mourinho was watching me and I’d try to get x number of shots or passes or dribbles. If I failed then I would make myself stay outside in the cold for longer and punished myself with something I hated to do. If I got the target number then I imagined JM was going to sign me! Silly I know, but it made things more enjoyable and added a sense of real pressure.
Many of these "fake-pressure" situations I practiced in training paid off in game situations.. and yes! WHAT A FEELING it is when you practice something and you actually apply it in match.
How to make training as effective as possible
At this moment, there’s a massive inefficiency in a typical team training led by one coach. That is, players don’t have enough time to work on their weaknesses and “develop a new set of skills” like Lebron did. Instead the coach makes a plan and the player abides by that plan.
That plan may be focused around passing exercises and for the purposes of tactics involving the team rather than the individual.
Your passing and tactical awareness may be really good already, so practicing that wont be as effective as say, your first touch that’s always letting you down.
But if you improved your touch, you could be a completely different player.
When you become a senior player (playing with the adults), there’s less time and creativity to play “those little games you played as a kid” that improved your shooting or ball control or first touch. You follow the training that the coach sets out everyday and that’s it.
You always hear it from the best players, they’re always learning and looking for ways to improve – that’s what separates them from the rest. Constant improvement, all-the-time.
That's why in my own journey of self-improvement, I always asked myself what’s the fastest and most effective way to improve?
Top 3 tips to make training EFFECTIVE
1) Set targets in your individual training
The best thing to do is that with every exercise you, set yourself a relevant goal for that exercise.
How fast you can complete an exercise?
How many repetitions you can do in a row without messing up?
How many can you get in the target out of 10/50/100 ?
For example, with the “Fluminese Dribble” exercise on Effective, it could be how many stepovers you do in a row without messing up.
With a finishing exercise, it could be how many you hit in the goal or in the corners
And so every single workout you do, you’re challenging yourself to get a better score. It’s fun !
In the meantime, you can write this down in your notes or wherever you see fit - but the science behind improving is when you challenge yourself and go under a period of uncomfortableness and difficulty.
2. Train with players better than you
Playing with better players than me or in a pro, intensive environment daily forced me to go to the edges of my ability every time, and this is what made be better quickly.
My time in Holland and my time training with the national team of Australia were good examples of that.
It's why I say that, if you are up for the challenge - tryout for that better team you've been too scared to tryout for and see how you do!
3. Test your limits with a mentor/personal trainer
Because when you make your training challenging, your team environment challenging and even have some sessions with a personal coach/trainer/mentor - well you are set up for success big time!
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