TLDR; If you don't want to read any further, here are my top five tips.
- Be the Fittest Player on the Team
- Be the Most Humble Player on the Team
- Become the Leader of the Freshman Class
- Be Proactive About Improving Early and Often
- Get Really Good Grades Your First Semester
1) Be the Fittest Player on the Team
This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen so many Freshman come into captain’s practice unfit and they have suffered the consequences. This is one of the things you can control and have plenty of time to prepare for, so don’t leave it off until it’s too late. If you’re serious about earning the respect of your teammates, coaches and training staff then you should be determined to become the fittest player you can be.
Even if you come in and clearly aren’t ready technically or tactically, being fit will help you stay healthy and will ultimately improve your technique, soccer IQ and mental strength due to being less fatigued than others.
It is not a coincidence that my best season came after the off-season I decided to be the most fit player on the team. Here is how I prepared:
Played as much soccer as I could, with a focus on match fitness
Completed an intense soccer-specific strength and conditioning program
Changed my diet completely to become as lean as possible (Biggest key to my success).
I cannot stress the last bullet enough. Once you get to the point where you are in great running, strength and match shape, the final step to maximize your fitness potential is to perfect your diet.
Cut out things like white-carbs, added sugar and processed foods and sub in lean protein, nutritious veggies and natural foods. I even changed up my eating schedule, focusing on having a big breakfast and multiple smaller meals throughout the day to keep myself going.
If you are lucky enough to have a dietitian on staff at your Athletic Department, you need to take advantage of him/her. If not, do your research and test out different meals as there is no one perfect system to improving your diet. Just use common sense and have some discipline.
2) Be the Most Humble Player on the Team
A little humility never killed anybody and you should not let your ego get in the way of success. Just because you were the best player on your high-school team does not mean you will excel as a college player. You have to earn it.
You are entitled to nothing. Seriously — nothing.
You should not expect anything. The best approach to achieving success during your freshman year is to go in acting like you know nothing and that everyone else is better than you.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be confident. I’m just saying that you should show how good you are with you quality of play. Do not brag about your past achievements and complain how it is so unfair that you are not getting any playing time.
If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, suck it up, get back to work and earn it. Having the grit to be humble and fight through tough times will get you to where you want to be.
3) Become the Leader of the Freshman Class
This one is certainly easier said than done, but at the same time you will never get this opportunity again, so if you think you have it in you to be a leader— which we all do, don’t let it pass.
How does one do this? It’s simple really. Even in programs with healthy and thriving cultures, Freshman are seen as the new guys in town and treated as such. You will be asked to clean up the locker room, organize and put away all equipment after training, perform embarrassing tasks in front of the whole team, etc. To help get through these challenging times, you can help lead your peers through these realities.
Some examples of what you could do:
- Help create an organized list of tasks each Freshman is responsible for before and after training/games
- Meet with upperclassmen and coaches to discuss the goals of the Freshman class, how you are going to achieve them and how you are going to add value to the program’s culture
- Be an obvious voice at training. Demonstrating leadership on the practice field shows confidence and shows your coaches that you are developing into a leader.
At the end of the day, you just need to be proactive and rise up to the challenge. I know it’s not easy to take ownership in a new environment that you are not yet comfortable in. But at the same time, that’s the beauty of it. Everyone else is in the same situation, so there is no better person than you to become that leader.
4) Be Proactive About Improving Early and Often
Always be better than you were yesterday. Or, as my coach Chaka Daley used to say — “You’re only as good as your last game”. The point here is that if you have a great training, do not be satisfied. Ask yourself — “How can I be better tomorrow?”
Conversely, if you have a series of poor practices and games, use this as an opportunity to ask for feedback and get better. In good times and bad, it is important to constantly show your coaches and teammates that you care about improving. This not only shows them you’re motivated to succeed but it also shows them that you simply care. Players who are not motivated to do whatever it takes to improve can get on a coaches bad side. They lose trust in that player and thus will not play them — especially in key matches.
Here are some things you can do to proactively improve:
- Before each pre-season, season and off-season make a list of things you want to improve on and achieve and review them with your coaches and teammates
- Ask a coach or teammate(s) to stay with you after (or come before) practice to get extra reps in. This is especially encouraged if you are not getting much playing time.
- Take advantage of all the resources at your disposal. For example, leverage your team Strength and Conditioning coach and dietitian to get fitter and your team’s trainer to stay injury free and work on preventative exercises
5) Get Really Good Grades Your First Semester
I shouldn’t even have to say it, but this is the main reason you are attending a university. This is an amazing opportunity and having a lack of focus in your academic and professional development will prove costly when you’re finished with your soccer career.
But, what if my goal is to become a pro player?
That’s great! I once had that dream too, until I tore both my PCLs during a game the summer before my senior season. I still managed to have a pretty successful senior season, but I was never the same player again.
There are many reasons you should strive to get amazing grades your first semester:
- It will likely be the easiest course load you have during your entire collegiate career — things will only get more difficult from here
- You will make your parents proud and the money they are spending well worth it. Paying for school yourself? You should have even more motivation to do well in the classroom so that you can pay off those student loans as quickly as possible
- You will be stress free and won’t have to worry about academic compliance issues like minimum GPA requirements
- Your coaches and teammates will respect you more and look at you as a leader on and off the field
- Some schools have competitive programs like business and engineering that require you to apply after your freshman year, and a great GPA is the most important factor
I hope this will help you as you start to seriously prepare for this pre-season. If you want to connect and learn more, please send us an email to email@example.com or reach out to us on twitter @prodrecruit.