Football is a sport enjoyed by millions in UK. Whether you pull on the shirt for your local team on a Sunday, or just pull on your favourite team's jersey and cheer them on with a pint and a pie, making it as a professional football player has crossed the minds of every single one of us.
Only a special few have what it takes to become a pro, and it takes a whole load of determination to stay on track. If you want to be walking out onto Wembley one day having made it to the top, you're going to need to follow these 12 steps.
Step 1. Have the desire to achieve
Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration. The words of famous inventor Thomas Edison ring true in many walks of life. One of them is getting to the top of the footballing elite.
You can have all the talent in the world, but without 'dedication' and no small amount of endeavour, you'll never realise your full potential. Sometimes, these can be hard things to quantify for players, but putting your all into the 11 further points we list here is a good start.
There will be more than one occasion when you want to throw in the towel, but recovering from positions of peril only makes getting to the finish line that much sweeter.
Step 2. Set goals
Setting goals is a valuable part of improving in football, with studies proving it can boost your performance on the pitch. With such a long and difficult journey to making it as a pro, you need a way of regularly checking your progress.
This is where goal setting comes in. Underneath the one, mammoth end-goal of making it to top, you need to place a series of achievable yet challenging goals along the way.
To do that, harness the knowledge of your coaches. They can offer an honest critique of your game, and flesh out a plan for improving it during training sessions. Goals could be anything from saving 50% of penalties during a season, making it to the top of your league's goalscoring charts, or not getting booked for five consecutive games.
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Step 3. Condition correctly
Skill and ability with the football are one thing, but having the stamina to consistently produce on the pitch is down to how you conduct yourself off it. Before you cancel your gym membership and pick up an Xbox controller and some Doritos, consider how seriously you need to take conditioning in football.
Undergo a proper strength and conditioning programme and you'll reap the rewards a healthy body and mind can bring to sports performance. Primarily, a well conditioned body can dramatically decrease your chances of picking up an injury. As an injury-free player, you're free to put even more hours out on the pitch learning and honing your skills.
Plus, a good conditioning programme looks to improve strength: underpinning your power, speed and agility. Armed with an increase in these attributes, you'll be a become a better player – and you'll be able to show it more often.
Step 4. Train, train and train some more
A long standing theory in sports performance suggests that after 10,000 hours of practising any skill, you'll become an expert. Dating back to the work of Anders Ericsson in 1993 and championed by Malcolm Gladwell, the theory has more recently been dismissed in favour of a more holistic approach – but it still provides you with a good yard stick over how much time you're going to have to put into practice.
Lionel Messi is the greatest player on the planet for not just one, but a number of reasons. Sure, copious amounts of natural, innate talent helps, but without the hours put in on the training pitch, he wouldn't be the player he is today.
To make it as a pro, you need to be constantly striving to improve. Use every training sessions as a stepping stone to becoming better, and include all the remaining steps to ensure you can cut it at the very top.
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Step 5. Stay motivated
Staying upbeat and in the zone when your ultimate goal seems so far aware can be a tough prospect. To stay motivated, you keep in touch with the more beautiful side of the beautiful game. Enjoyment and passion for the sport you love should be the main reason you get out of bed on those chilly December weekend's and head straight to the football pitch. Never lose sight of your love of the game, or you'll quickly lose the unnerving motivation required to become a professional.
You can also harness the innate competitive nature of playing football to your motivational advantage. Set those goals and use them as a tool to drive yourself onwards – using the elation of victory and disappointment of defeat as emotional cues to keep going.
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Step 6. Develop self-confidence
You can put all the hours in on the training pitch, 10,000 of them if you like, but sometimes the jelly legs and sweaty palms affect even the very best.
To overcome in-game pressures, you need one thing – confidence. Confidence in sport is defined as executing your skills on the pitch when it really matters.
Players at the elite end of the game are able to deal with the pressures of thousands of roaring supporters, droves of social media trolls just waiting to leap on any mistake and the thought that one slip up could cost the club and it's fans the taste of glory.
To become a pro then, you're going to have to develop a serious amount of self-confidence. Coaches play a huge role in boosting a player's confidence, but you can use the goals step from above to outline objectives and hand yourself a confidence boost when you achieve one.
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Step 7. Work on your game
As you rise through the ranks, it could become all too easy to rest on your laurels and be pleased with the skill level you're at. But the best are always tinkering and adapting their game, learning new skills and striving to achieve greater things.
Have regular, frank audits of your game and identify how you can improve. Lots of players find it easier to video their performances and watch them back. Alternatively, get your idols up on the TV and learn from the best.
Are you too one footed? Is your first touch not up to scratch? Do you need an extra trick up your sleeve for getting around the full-back? No one player has it all, so keep learning and improving to give your self the best shot of making it.
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Step 8. Recover and recuperate better
If one facet of the beautiful game has changed more than any of the last few decades, it's diet, fitness and nutrition. As mentioned above, the correct diet and training plan can bring you to peak condition for performing; but it also plays a significant role in recovery.
The less time you spend aching weary bones and nursing niggly injuries after a game, the more time you have to prepare for your next game and nail another performance. Inadequate recovery between matches actually reduces your performance over time, so getting the cycle of train, play, recovery is imperative to becoming a better player.
Eat, drink and sleep well and ease yourself back into physical activity. Doing so will repair your muscles quicker and ensure you don't suffer from burnout.
Recovery also means mental regeneration. Don't take a poor performance or last minute defeat to heart. Analyse and assess it in a rationale manner, using it as motivation to bounce back and be better next time.
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Step 9. Learn the game
Skills and ability in football are vital – but without the knowledge and understanding of the intricate details of the game, you're going nowhere.
At the elite end of the sport, awareness of exactly what's going on in any particular match is vital. Pick the brains of your coach for vital tactical insights into not just your own position, but your team's entire strategy.
Watch as much football as you can and take it the tactical analysis on offer from players past and present, picking up points you could bring to your own team's style of play.
To make it as a pro, you need to have more than just skill. Scouts will look out for game intelligence and anticipation. Make it a priority to learn about the finer details of the sport.
Step 10. Get the best kit
For a quick fix for helping you make it to the very top, make sure you're kitted out with the best equipment around.
Quality kit won't necessarily translate into making you a better footballer - some shiny new boots doesn't mean you'll suddenly poses the power and accuracy of Ronaldo – but it can provide those 1%-2% boosts that maximise your ability.
Enhance your preparation with good training equipment and find the right style of football boot for your feet. These tiny changes can all add up to one significant improvement.
Step 11. Nail it come trial day
Weeks, months and years of preparation can often boil down to just a few minutes of game time in order to impress. Trials are tough, but they offer a platform for making your way up the football ladder.
You'll likely have only a brief window with time, space and the opportunity to show off your skills – a reality which can be overwhelming. Think back to the time you've put into mental preparation and confidence and pull all these techniques together to give the best account of yourself.
Don't try too hard. Try to strip away the pressures that surround the trial. Play the game, not the occasion.
Step 12. Have patience
We started with some inspirational quotes, so we'll end with one. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again.
Patience really is an essential part of becoming a professional footballer. You'll take plenty of setbacks along the way; only the best are able to roll with the punches and come back stronger.
Stick to the formula outlined above and you're putting yourself in the best possible position to fulfilling your dream. Good luck.