Jimmy Conrad has had a successful 13-year MLS career during which he was four-time MLS Best XI and the defender of the year in 2005. His career highlight was playing in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Train Effective met up with him in London to discuss his struggle to the top. Check out his most insightful comments below to help you become a more effective player.

“Who has the right to tell me what I can and can’t do? It’s only up to me to decide how good I am, not anybody else.”

-Jimmy Conrad

More often than not there is always 1 solution to every single play. Now you might not pick the right solution. I like to choose the play where I keep the ball, and keep possession. Playing against another opponent you can often tell by their body language what they are planning on doing. I always ask myself:

  • Which is the easiest solution?
  • Which solution will let off the most amount of pressure?

The way you learn is through experience. I’ve seen certain plays thousands of times and I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that situation. You get confident in that. The hardest think to develop is that confidence. Once something doesn’t go your way it is important to look ahead to the next play with a positive mindset instead of putting your head down. As a player, and I coach as well, and one of the things I tell my players is; when you are on the ball I just need you to make a decision. Get it, play it, move, whatever it is. But if you stay on the ball and are uncertain and don’t make a decision at all, and you seem nervous, I actually can’t help you as a coach, because I don’t know what you were thinking to do. If you make a decision and it wasn’t the right decision now you have something to work off of like “hey that play didn’t work in that instance.”

  • Don’t be indecisive
  • Make decisions
  • Learn from your highlights and mistakes
  • Know when to experiment or not

The first thing for sure is that people make less mistakes. They see situations, they make decisions quickly, and they don’t doddle on the ball (being indecisive). They know their decisions, they know their 3 options, and I remember what I really appreciated about playing at the higher levels is that everybody is so good that it was almost easier to play with my national team than it was with my club team. I could focus just on my job, everybody was so good at their job, and if I gave the ball to a person in a certain situation they always got out of it. Now you are playing against opponents that are very good so you have to be on it. You also have less time to think about the next play, you just have to keep going. Say the ball goes out for a throw-in. If I’m playing at let’s say a lesser level, whilst he takes the throw-in I have plenty time to think, “man I’m tired” you have these other thoughts that seep in. At a national level you don’t have time to think about the past at all, it’s always that roll of the ball, and I always liked that because I had a tendency to dwell on past mistakes. I responded well to that, I responded well to the pressure. Not everybody has that mentality, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere, you have to embrace it.

In 2001 I was playing with the San Jose Earthquakes and the captain of the national team Jeff Agoos was on my team in San Jose, and he’d get called into camp, which is like the coolest thing. When you are playing with your club team and you get called into the national team, you must feel like a stud right? Like “yeah guys I’ve got to take off for two weeks, I’m going to go fly all over the world and play for my national team. I remember thinking, I was running with my teammate at the time like “I wonder what that feels like, you know”. Because when he came back his chest was all puffed and he’s like the man. But you can’t replicate that confidence. So I told him “you know what, I am just going to act like I play for the national team, just for a couple days and see what that feels like, that confidence.” So for three straight days I just acted like I played for the national team. Reshaping my mind to see what that confidence was like was incredible! I was doing cheeky back heels, I was playing, laughing, having a good time. I felt like I could do anything because I just embodied this confidence that I had never tried before.

Another mind trick I tried was that every time I made a mistake I would just be super confident afterwards. So what I would do is, if I made a mistake on the ball I would either kind of point at somebody and just start talking even though I wasn’t really talking to anybody all the time. I immediately wanted to put my head down and feel sorry for myself, but instead I’d either, I wouldn’t clap because that’s too cheery, instead I’d just try to go talk to somebody about what we can do different.

Also what I would do is watch Champions League games, but what I’d do is only watch the player in the position that I played in. I’d watch how many times he’d do a one touch pass, a two touch pass, when he headed it, when he decided to play forward and when he didn’t based on the situation, how much pressure he had on him, when he played across to the other centre back, when he’d play to the defensive midfielder, and I’d look to see the positioning of the other team. You realise these guys are all making decisions that you would probably make too! They’re not doing anything revolutionary. When you really just watch one player, it’s really not as complicated as it might look when you are watching the ball and all these things are happening.

Check out this vlog for more on visualisation!

Also I would write down goals ahead of the season. And I remember one of my goals was to get MLS defender of the year, and get in to my first national team camp. And without being even close to all that stuff I ended up reaching both those goals. So you have to have these realistic goals like “I want to score three goals this year”, stuff that you have a big chance of achieving. But then you also have to put some big ones. I’d also have daily goals like “no mistakes today” or “if I do make a mistake this is how I will handle it”. You are going to feel so bad about yourself sometimes so you have to figure out a way to keep moving forward with learning from the past but also not letting it anger you. It helps shape the direction you want to go in and helps you focus where you want to go. Your short-term goals should work towards your long-term goals! Personally I think the guys that are the toughest mentally are the ones that stick around the longest.

It’s hard to argue against the 10,000-hour rule. The more you play with the ball the better you are going to get. My only concern when people throw that around casually is that it needs to be ten hours with purpose, so when you train there is thought behind why you are training. So for me in particular, I wouldn’t just go out to the park and play for 45 minutes a day and just like kind of half dribble or maybe I’ll just shoot or whatever. I always had a plan. Like today I am working on my left foot. The next day I am working on two touch. The next day I am working on long balls. The next day I am working on trapping off to the side, or whatever it may be. I wanted to really work on all the aspects of the game, especially situations that I knew I was going to see a lot. So when I as a centre back, if I do win a ball I have to get it to the next guy as soon as possible, and I probably need to play it forward. Because there is a good opportunity as a centre back to break the lines of pressure very quickly, and if I can get that ball forward as fast as possible and into a spot, or to the correct foot of the player it gives them an opportunity to break the next lines of pressure.

These little things matter and I try to practice the little things as much as possible. So having really determined and purposeful training makes a big difference. I’m always surprised how people really don’t think about the structure of how they are training. They just go out there and run around for 30 minutes without really having a plan. I think you really need a plan because it keeps you focused. Once you go out there with a plan and actually try to train you might realise you are not as good as you thought. That’s a hard reality because in your head you think you can do all these things, but when you actually go out there and train you realise you aren’t actually that good. There’s these little things you can work on and I think having a plan is really important, especially stuff that is specific to your position. Because I feel like everybody wants to be a play maker now, everybody watches highlights on YouTube and it’s all these top plays by all the guys, and there’s just so much more subtlety to being a good player; when you receive the ball, and how you receive it when the pressure is coming at you. I think there’s a lost art right now of the little things, and if I can encourage anybody watching; don’t let those little things slide by. There’s a big emphasis on freestylers too doing all these tricks. I never worked on tricks because I knew I would never do them in the game. So why would I waste any time doing tricks?

Check out this vlog for more on the 10,000 hour rule!

Check out the full interview here:

Nick Humphries, 25, is a footballer who played in England (Wimbledon), Scotland (Montrose), Holland (Volendam), Hungary (Vasas) as well as with the Australian U20 national team. At 16 years of age, he was just an average amateur player with limited skills. Only one year later he was offered $120k+ in scholarships. Two years later he received a contract to play professionally in Europe. How did he get better? He trained in his own way! Learn more about the training program he’s creating to help players improve on their own terms.