Character. It is a word often used to describe the player or team that can respond when the going gets tough.
Character is a much-prized quality, so how do we instill it in our young footballers?
According to Paul Tough, bestselling author of the book, “How Children Succeed”, the answer comes down to a simple concept.
He believes encountering and overcoming failure creates character.
Only by providing the opportunity for failure to occur will the qualities that Tough defines as building character develop.
Persistence, self-control, curiousity, grit, conscientiousness and self-confidence come down to hard work and learning from mistakes.
Roberto Baggio, the man who missed the penalty that lost Italy the 1994 FIFA World Cup to Brazil is a wonderful example of this approach.
Four years later at Bordeaux in the 1998 FIFA World Cup group stage, Italy was trailing Chile when they were awarded a penalty.
The crowd hushed. Baggio took the spot kick and duly converted. He had the resolve to come back from his demoralising miss at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena and make a difference to his team and nation when it mattered.
The story of AC Milan’s defeat to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final is similar. Leading 3-0 at half time, AC Milan conceded three goals in six second half minutes before losing the match on penalties.
The Italian squad was devastated. However, in 2007 they were European Champions, defeating Liverpool 2-1 in the final.
However painful defeat can be, it provides a springboard for future success if used correctly. This is the essence of Paul Tough’s book.
Adults need to give children support, dreams and the security of a safety net for when things go wrong. But children also need to learn how to fail and respond accordingly.
Bouncing back from failure is an essential learning that sets children up for a future both inside and outside football.
The Top Flight philosophy involves setting small actionable goals at every training session. Improving the weaker foot, improving decision making, increasing speed of movements, are examples of goals that are worked on day in, day out. By aspiring to complete these goals and master the ball, a young footballer gets addicted to improvement.
Players develop doggedness. Over time, they get as much enjoyment from the process of learning, as they do from the outcome itself.
This mindset allows a player to view setbacks or mistakes in context. The next match or training is an opportunity to get better.
Making mistakes and learning from them, is core to developing character.
Rather than consider a young player “unlucky” when an error is made, perhaps we should instead take the view that the player is lucky to have made a mistake. Those mistakes help create a footballer with strength of character.
With that foundation, any individual can be as good as they want to be.
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