soccer

10,000 Hours Revisited

Anyone who has been alive since Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller Outliers was released in 2008 has probably heard of the 10,000 hour rule. If you haven't, here it is...

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.
— Malcolm Gladwell - Exerpt from Outliers

After reading So Good They Can't Ignore You (By Cal Newport), a 2005 study referenced in the book led by Neil Charness about chess grand masters caught my attention and seemed relevant to compare with soccer players, specifically younger athletes. The study paid close attention to not only how many hours these chess players spent practicing throughout their development, but also to what they practiced during this time. The study found that...

Chess players at the highest skill level (i.e. grandmasters) expended about 5000 hours on serious study alone during their first decade of serious chess play—nearly five times the average amount reported by intermediate-level players.
— Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology

What I found interesting about the results of the study was twofold. First, the idea that spending 10,000 hours performing a task doesn't guarantee you becoming an expert, but that it should be looked at more as a threshold in which you could become an expert. Second, the study focused on what type of training and playing was done during these hours of practice and what proved most effective. An idea that doesn't get a lot of attention is that serious study in sports may be nearly as important as physical training and game play itself, as was seen within chess players.

*For the purposes of this piece I compare serious study in chess to on-field and off-field training in soccer*

It is more or less a guarantee that any player playing competitive youth soccer will play plenty of games in a calendar year, anywhere from 30-50 depending on various teams and leagues. But how much of their time will they spend studying the game? By this I mean watching players in their position, focusing on the technique a player uses doing something that they would like to implement in their game, or watching their own performances, etc.

Another piece of information from the Charness study that was profiled in the book compared serious study to game play as follows...

Materials can be deliberately chosen or adapted such that the problems to be solved are at a level that is appropriately challenging. (whereas tournament play) skill improvement is likely to be minimized due to the opponent likely being demonstrably better or demonstrably worse than yourself
— Neil Charness ( from So Good They Can't Ignore You)

It's interesting to think about development in this context and although I believe playing in games is still probably the best way to grow as a player, the need to add "serious study" and "deliberate practice" is vitally important and often overlooked. I've long been a proponent of young players watching video of professionals and studying parts of their game they wish to improve themselves. Although the viewership among young players is definitely up, who they are watching and what they are looking for often are lacking in depth. To watch the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar is enjoyable should be done. But to improve their own game they need to watch players who do the little things right and pieces of play that are able to be replicated. Spending time watching Mascherano defend, the technique in which Xabi Alonso passes a ball, or the movement off the ball that Thomas Müeller provides. These are basic examples and the possibilities are really endless.

My message to young soccer players out there who really want to reach the pinnacle of the sport need to understand that they will approximately spend the same amount of time training as the guy or girl next to them. It is about how they spend that time that ultimately matters and what separates the special ones. So don't think of training only in the context of going to the field 3-4 days a week and a game on the weekend. Think about studying the next game you watch on television. Find the player who plays your position. See what they do, or don't do well and how you can use that to improve.

The Struggle of College Soccer Freshman

photo via yojoculture.com

photo via yojoculture.com

Walking into any new environment and succeeding in your first year is not only rare, it is extremely difficult. This is true in business, sports, and almost every industry. It something that many people struggle to deal with. Especially those who are used to success. I have seen this first hand at every single level of soccer. The transition from youth to high school, high school to college and college to the pros are essentially equally difficult. Yes the level of play is quite different but the basic concept here is the same. Most players who are used to being heavily relied on and have been successful, believe they will be so regardless of situation and level. They have expectations that are unrealistic, coupled with being naive makes a dangerous combination usually leading to frustration.

Most recently I have seen this when high-level youth players enter college soccer programs. It's quite evident that there needs to be more time spent in mental preparation for these players. I wish that people who have seen these transitions, both fail and succeed, would be able to arm players with the tools necessary for the journey they are about to embark upon. There are certainly cases where players are prepared. For example, maybe a kids parents played or coached college sports and make sure they know what to expect, and there are some academy clubs in which the coaches and directors make sure their players are ready for college. But too often it goes the other way and quite frankly we are doing potentially successful players a major disservice.

For all the time U.S. Soccer is mandating these players spend on the field, what about the rest of the sport, or the mental side? We're so quick to forget that established high-level players not only perform on the field, but know how to deal with situations that arise off it as well. I would absolutely love it if it became completely normal to have sports psychologists available for academy players. Not necessarily to talk to in individual settings (there are obvious reasons why this would be difficult) but more so that these young, talented athletes could begin to grasp what is needed to truly succeed when adversity comes their way.

When we talk about how we want to be one of the best soccer countries in the world, we're only going to get there if our athletes are armed with the tools to be successful. They will touch the ball enough, they will train enough, and they will play enough games. That's not what worries me. What worries me is that they are vastly under prepared to struggle, and some of the best athletes in the world, regardless of sport, succeeded because they struggled and got through it. Let's educate these players so that they are more well-rounded, so they are able to understand when they need to push a little harder and how to successfully deal with a little adversity. I believe the future of soccer in the United States will thank us.

 

Quote to make you think

Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one
— Bobby Knight



Why I'm Proud of Andy Rose

Back in 2012 while I was an agent at Wasserman Media Group I had the opportunity to work with Andy Rose. Andy had been a friend of mine for a few years already but he trusted me and decided to allow me to represent him as he entered the world of professional soccer.

I knew Andy very well as a person and as a player by the time his college career concluded. He had just finished a stellar four years at UCLA and was desperate to find out what the future held. After the MLS combine came and went, teams were not set on what position he would play at the next level and his future was slightly uncertain at this point. I remember him being quite nervous and slightly anxious. I also remember him having this unwavering feeling that he could succeed at the MLS level, a feeling I agreed with. He knew he had to prove himself regardless of the situation he was ultimately thrust into.

I vividly remember being at the MLS SuperDraft in 2012 and how Andy's name wasn't called. Having to call him to discuss what the options may be was not easy. There was a supplemental draft two days later but he was pissed that he was overlooked. I couldn't blame him. We discussed European options but those weren't concrete at that point so the focus stayed on Major League Soccer. On January 17, Real Salt Lake took Andy with the 6th pick in that supplemental draft. He was thrilled they saw something in him. Come to find out a few hours later that Seattle had called and inquired about him as well. Not long after he was traded to Seattle in exchange for another player (Leone Cruz). The feeling of being wanted is one every player wants.

Andy signed his first professional contract that March but the road to the field still seemed far away given the quality on the Sounders roster. I remember many phone calls with Andy, some with frustration and others with hope. Regardless of the situation at any given time his confidence in himself never wavered. He made his debut in May of the 2012 season. As amazing as that is, what's more amazing is that first, everyone thought he was too slow to be a central midfielder in MLS, guess where Seattle used him? Second, he appeared in 32 matches in all competitions and finished the season with four goals and five assists. Pretty damn impressive for a rookie.

Seattle's success as a club since that 2012 season is pretty well known to anyone paying attention. Big stars have come and gone and fans have filled the seats in the Pacific Northwest. But through that time Andy Rose has continued to blossom as a pro. He amassed over 80 appearances for the club and became pivotal to their success. Out of contract this year Andy and I discussed his options (only as a friend, not an agent). He was offered a contract by Seattle who clearly valued his services but in typical Andy fashion he wanted to challenge himself again, and push the boundaries. So when I saw yesterday that after a trial with Coventry City (League One) they had signed him to a deal until June of 2017 I wasn't surprised and couldn't have been prouder. Again, proving people wrong.

Andy is the example of what hard work and why it's so crucial to believe in your abilities regardless of opinion. He's worked very hard toward this and I can't wait to see what is next for him. 

Follow Andy as he heads to Coventry City @andyrose_5

 

Why I'm Doing This

Photo from  Wisconsin athletics

Having been fortunate enough to spend all of my life up to this point around some of the best soccer minds in the history of U.S. Soccer, other high-level athletes, and experiencing the highs and lows throughout my own playing career, I felt this would be the best platform for me to share my perspective on various topics and pieces of advice that have been shared with me along my own continuing journey. 

I never have, or will take for granted the nuggets of wisdom I picked up in locker rooms, on the field and in general conversation. They helped me greatly in my own journey as an athlete and continue to provide a foundation in my personal and professional life today. This is a chance for me to reflect on moments throughout my career as a soccer player and life after playing, as well as current topics that I find interesting or of potential value. 

Much of the information on the internet tends to be open-ended or purely for the benefit of clicks and web traffic. I'm doing this because I find certain things interesting and want to share them. I hope that the words on the following pages can help you gain knowledge or better yourself in some way. Please feel free to share your comments and feedback. I hope you enjoy!