Improvement is based on constantly achieving small goals.
Rather than focus on achieving a big goal, Top Flight Football Academy advocates young players committing to continual development by hitting short term targets.
There are two reasons for this approach.
Bite Sized Goals
Firstly, small goals create focus on what can be done today or this week. The danger of big goals is that a young player is constantly thinking about the future, where they want to be, rather than facing the reality of what has to be done now to get better.
Not for one moment does Top Flight Football advocate not having dreams or a vision. But turning those dreams into a reality comes down to an individual being able to keep improving and making small steps.
Small goals measured in days or even weeks allow an individual to evaluate progress – an essential skill in football, education or virtually any element of life. By using small goals as a barometer of progress an individual is able to understand if they are getting better. Huge, lofty goals don’t provide this perspective.
Those little goals also provide a reward to a young player.
Learning to play an accurate pass with the weaker foot 10 metres, then 15, then 25 encourages practice. The power of visible improvement is a powerful tool in motivating the young footballer to improve.
Juggling is a great example of this approach.
An initial goal shouldn’t be juggling the ball 1000 times without it hitting the ground.
Try 10, then 25. Once a player can get to 50 they can get to 1000. The only determinants then are concentration and fitness.
Big Fish, Small Pond
However the major danger of a big goal is what happens when it is achieved.
How many New Zealand U-17 representatives go on to become professional footballers? Not many is the answer.
Physical development has a role to play in this regard – some players are simply more athletic at a young age than others.
However, the idea of “having made it” also has a major role to play.
If a young footballer thinks they have cracked it by making an age group team then they are in for a rude surprise. Professional football decisions aren’t based on how good you are at 17. Rather, the ability to constantly step up to every challenge and go up a level is what matters.
Unfortunately in New Zealand across a range of sports, talent plateaus. Individuals aren’t equipped at a young age to seek continual development.
Having a mindset of always getting better, setting those small targets encourages players to treat development as a journey rather than a destination.
Short-term goals also encourage players to respond positively to setbacks.
A failure is quickly re-calibrated because a new target can be chosen. This approach encourages the individual to assess what they can influence rather than worry about things that are outside their locus of control.
Setbacks and failures are part of the development journey.
Being able to respond quickly and get back on track is what matters.
Being motivated by those daily or weekly objectives also reduces the likelihood of excuses.
It is much more difficult to be motivated by something that is 2-3 years away than an objective which is more immediate. Long-term objectives can have the unintended consequence of making an excuse a reality (“it’s too cold/wet/windy to train”) because there is no immediate desire to achieve.
Underpinning the achievement of goals is motivation.
Being clear on why it is a player wants to achieve a goal is vital. For young players, fun, enjoyment, winning and mastery are all drivers of motivation. By understanding what motivates a player, coaches and parents can support and encourage a young athlete to be the best that they can be.
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