How to become a pro football player?
How to become a pro football player?
How many hours should you put in on a weekly basis? What skills should you focus on at an early age? Should you track your progression? What about weight training? NF Academy accomplished coach Gonçalo Nunes opens up on what it takes to reach the top.
Thousands upon thousands of Scandinavian teens dream of one day becoming a pro footballer. Very few actually make it, but that does not mean that it is impossible, if you set your mind to it and do whatever it takes.
So, what does it take, really?
There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, as various players have various skillsets and challenges. Still, there are some universal truths to be told on the matter. In the weeks to follow our coaches will share practical advice on how you can develop specific technical skills as well as mental toughness.
First out is Gonçalo Nunes. Nunes is international director of NF Academy and has worked as Head Coach, technical coordinator and technical director for 25 years in international football. He has a UEFA-A license as well as level 3 IPDJ as a sports coach.
– Hi Gonçalo! You have coached a number of now top class players over the last couple of decades. In your opinion, are any of them role models to be emulated?
It is difficult to name one or two players. I have seen so many players grow over time, not just as football players, but also human beings. Several of the players I used to coach went on to sign a contract with big clubs, but I am also pleased to see that many of them have succeeded outside the pitch. I am sure they all benefitted from the football practices. Playing football teaches you a lot about teamwork, you can´t put a price tag on that. Talking about role models, there are actually to players that spring to mind. I used to coach a country club in Portugal. There were two players there that seemingly had all the odds of succeeding stacked against them. Both of them had a really long commute. They had to take two or three different types of transportation just to get to the training and it took them hours. But they didn`t give up and they always showed up on time. At the pitch, they paid attention to details and always did their best. Now both of them are professional football players. Their stories show how important mentality is in football.
– What kind of mentality do you expect from your players?
First and foremost, they should consider every session a learning opportunity. When I was a technical coach for Benfica’s U17 team a few years back, I worked closely with the players’ individual skills. In that group, two players, in particular, stood out. They were both humble. They did whatever they could to learn something new every day. They often asked what they could do to improve this or that. And after the training, they often stayed on the pitch to work on those things. Today, both of them have professional contracts with Benfica.
– I read between the lines here that you think players should take responsibility for their own learning?
Yes, they have to take responsibility and they have to lean in. Nothing comes easy in football. Football is simple, but also a really hard game to master. You should set lofty goals as an aspiring football player, but you also have to pursue them. You have to be the motor of your own vehicle.
– How many hours should a young footballer put in every week in your opinion?
If you want to reach the top, you have to match professional standards from an early age. My references go back to the top academies in Portugal. In Sporting and Benfica, young players between the ages of 12 and 16 typically train an hour and a half every weekday. In addition to this, they play matches on weekends. In total, there will be a training load of about 9 hours. They should however also set aside some time to work on individual skills. 16-year-old players should also do fitness training. This isn´t just important because they need to put on weight. It is also important for injury prevention. All in all, a player hoping to reach the top should put in between 13 and 15 hours a week, I think.
– Many young players are willing to walk, but they might not have the opportunity to train with an organised team as much as they would have wanted to. What would you advise them to do?
I would, of course, recommend everyone to attend NF Academy’s programs, which will give them insight into good training methods and also will allow them to play on a competitive level. I would also advise them to play as much football as possible. Play in your backyard, play in the park, play everywhere. If you can bring some friends along, that is an even better lever. That can make the sessions more competitive, which is a good thing. Travelling around in Scandinavia with NF Academy I have experienced that a lot of young players lack competitive minds set in Norway. That is a real problem when they get on a senior level. If five young boys are competing on who can juggle most times it pays off in two ways. First, they improve their technical skills. Secondly, it challenges them on a mental level.
– Many players might wonder what skills they should work on. Let’s say that you are a young player with excellent dribbling skills, but rather bad pace. What would your advice be to this young player? Should he or she cultivate the dribbling skills or rather focus on his or her shortcomings?
If you have something that makes you special, you should definitely keep on improving it. Take Cristiano Ronaldo as an example. His finishing skills were outstanding early on, but he never got lazy and kept on improving it. His shooting technique has evolved quite a bit throughout his career. Having said that, you should also work on your weaknesses. You need the whole package. At NF Academy, for example, we encourage players to use both feet during sessions. You will always get into situations on the pitch where you can´t use your dominant foot.
– You mentioned Ronaldo there. In your opinion, what made him the player he is today?
Ronaldo is the ideal role model. He has progressed throughout his career on so many levels. He has sacrificed a lot and he continues to sacrifices a lot to this day. After each game, he uses cryotherapy for recovery, that is just one example of how committed he is. I have never coached Ronaldo myself, but I know some players from Sporting, who worked with him while he was there. They said they had to lock the fitness center at night. Otherwise, Ronaldo would sneak in and lift weights all nights. It was Ronaldo against the machines all night long. He was a little kid who wanted to be strong. He wanted to be the best at everything. That is is the kind of dedication required to reach the top.
– Pace and strength are becoming increasingly important in international football. Still, weight training has traditionally been a bit frowned upon in Scandinavia for various reasons. Many believe that you should wait for weights until you are 16 with heavyweight training. Where do you come down on this?
– There is no simple answer to that question. It depends on how mature the player is. It is, however, crucial in the beginning that somebody is there to monitor the player so that they don´t get stupid injuries. Weight training can do more harm than good if you don´t know what to do. But one thing is for sure, strength is part of the total package that a modern footballer must-have.
– What other advice would you give young Scandinavian football players? Should they write training journals? How rigorously should they track their progress?
If you get into an academy at an early age you will have people around you to track how well you perform over time. That is helpful. I would advise all players to keep an eye on how good they perform on different tasks over time. That can tell you what you should work on and it can also be inspiring.
– Other than that, how can young players educate themselves?
I would advice young players to look to players they admire. There are many good biographies out there. You can read up on your favorite player and that can give you a window into what they did to pursue their goals. That is a good starting point. Helpful lessons can also be drawn from youtube videos and other media content.
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