For most young players, your aim is to get into a professional football academy. But are football academies really the best way for a young player to succeed?

Apparently, football academies are absolutely the best way to develop as a player and if you’re not in a good academy by the time you’re 16 or 18, you might as well say goodbye to your footballing dreams forever.

The System doesn’t work

The problem is not you, but the system. Some players are simply given more opportunity than others. Some have their family members in the hierarchy of football clubs. Some are just born earlier than others. Huh?? Born earlier?

For example, Malcolm Gladwell the best-selling author of Outliers talked about the birth dates of soccer players in a recent youth world cup. He writes that August 1 was the cut-off birth date for participation and goes on to explain how the majority of players, 135, were born in the three months immediately after August 1st, while only 22 players were born in May, June, and July. He concluded that players whose birth dates were right after the cut-off had more time than younger players in their group to physically mature and develop their skills.

To get overlooked is so easy.

Because you haven’t been picked for an academy (or have been kicked out), the players that made it in automatically have an advantage because apparently they’re better than you and will develop faster.

Indeed, some players might be better than you now, but if you plan to continue playing football, you have a golden opportunity to develop in your own way, more efficiently and more effectively than a football academy.

The boy from down under

Take my story for example. I come from Australia, the land of such players like ex-Liverpool’s Harry Kewell and Chelsea’s Mark Schwarzer. At 16 years old I had never represented my country or even my city of just 300,000 people. Infact, at 13 years old I was playing in the local second division level of my own age group… and this is in Australia, where football is not even the number one sport! I guess coaches just looked at me as too small and/or simply just not good enough. However only two years later at age 18, I got offered a contract to play professionally in the first team of a second division club in Europe. So how the hell did I do it?

Own your training

People are often amazed of how quickly I improved in such a short period of time. Almost suddenly I was becoming better than players at professional clubs. The secret was like this. I took ownership of my training.

At age 16 I made the crucial decision that no matter what happened in the past, there was only the future to look forward to. A new program I’m developing will tell you in more detail what kind of exercises I did with my training.

Here are six things you can do to start owning your training and quickly becoming the best player you can be.

1) Give up playing FIFA.

Getting to the standard professional football requires was as simple as giving up the hours I spent doing mindless activities like playing FIFA, watching TV and going on Facebook. The 3-4 hours I spent each day, I instead invested into improving myself on the pitch.

2) Create a Personal Training Schedule.

I created a schedule where I made sure I trained 20 hours a week on average and followed it for over two years. Over 70% of those hours I trained by myself, working on my technique, downloading and analysing games. The rest was spent training and playing with my club. If I missed any hours, I made a promise to myself that I would do 2x the hours I missed in the following week.

3)  Work on your Weaknesses.

The best players are always working on ways to get better. Every training I invested time on things I needed to improve, rather than what the team needed. When do you ever practice your weak foot in training?

4)  Talent is grown, not born.

Understand that talent and skill is not something you’re born with. It’s grown. Sure, genetics play a small part, but what it comes down to is how much you train, play and how much you want to improve and become the best player you can be. If you don’t believe me, I suggest reading books like Outliers, The Talent Code and The Gold Mine Effect which will change the way you think.

5)  Frustration is a waste of time

Understand that every player has bad games, or get frustrated because they can’t do something well. Your focus should be on the process of getting better. If you made a mistake, write it down and train to correct it.  If you think doing one thing better will more important player for your team, train to achieve it!

6)  It takes 10,000 hours.

The most important thing is patience. You can’t expect to reach your goals without consistent months and years of practice. 10,000 hours is number of hours of deliberate practice needed to reach mastery in a field.

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.