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How to be an Elite Football Player

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Psychosocial characteristics influence whether you become an elite level football player of the future, according to research from Leeds Beckett University. Published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, this study reviews research into talent development in football and provides findings which can be used to support talented football players to develop further.

Senior Lecturer Adam Gledhill has looked at what separates elite level football players and non-elite level. He found that the way social influences, such as parents and peers, interact with psychological characteristics, such as discipline and commitment, can shape or guide behaviours which may influence talent development in football.

Explaining the key findings of his research, Adam Gledhill said: ‘Talent development in football is not the responsibility of a single person within a talent development environment: the collective working of the people within that environment is key. Psychological characteristics of self-regulation, resilience, commitment and discipline appear to be the most impactful on player development, and multiple stakeholders including coaches, parents, peers and siblings all play roles in helping players to develop these characteristics.

‘Elite level football players tend to have parents who create a climate of appreciation of success through hard work and learning, who convey high expectations of their children, but not so high they feel pressured or compelled to meet them.

‘Players who progressed to elite level had more siblings than those who did not. It could be that siblings have an influence in the elite players’ development because children with one or more siblings tend to have better developed social skills than those without siblings – social skills are directly linked to effective team cohesion.

‘Parents, siblings, peers and teachers all play influential roles in talent development – their interrelations may directly or indirectly influence important psychological and behavioural characteristics.

‘Coaches also play their part with autonomy supportive coaching being linked to higher levels of engagement, enjoyment and reduced dropout whereas not providing a clear decision-making rationale, not valuing player input and not allowing players to make decisions are all linked to failed attempts by players to pursue a football career.

‘The research has also highlighted coping behaviours, with a lack of coping strategies reported by players on the verge of being released from English professional football.

‘Coaches and other key stakeholders may benefit from education into what self-regulation is and how it can influence a player’s talent development and how they can support players’ self-regulation development.

‘However, we noted that women and girls are significantly under-represented in this area of research. It is important that researchers diversify research populations to further support talent development in a broader range of football populations.’

Adam Gledhill is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology. He also works as a sport scientist supporting athletes, coaches and parents from a range of sport and backgrounds. Adam has held various teaching, lecturing and leadership responsibilities across sport and exercise sciences, sports coaching and sports therapy programmes in further and higher education settings.

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