Success and becoming better in whatever occupation you are undertaking only happens from hours and hours of grinding on the “plateau”, so to speak. The plateau is the place where every athlete finds himself at many points in his or her career. It’s the place where you will work for hours and hours and hours before seeing any improvement. The plateau is what discourages most people from ever attempting to get better, because they are only focused on the result, and not the process. I didn’t realize this until around January of my sophomore year. I had played in 2 games as a freshman and saw a fairly substantial increase in playing time during the 2011 season when we won the MAAC Conference. I only started one game though, and I wanted become a full-time starter in 2012 more than anything. I was willing to sacrifice sleep, video-games, partying, and anything else that did not truly matter to me. I came to this decision while on my way to visit my friend Jon in England over winter break.
During the eight hour flight, I managed to read two books; The first was Tim Tebow’s book “Through my Eyes” and the second was “Mastery” by George Leonard. I was amazed at how much effort Tim Tebow put into everything that he did. He knew that the one thing he could control was how hard he worked, and he would not let anyone outwork him. In reading “Mastery”, I began to understand that success wasn’t about the number of awards I won or the recognition I received, but instead was all about practicing day after day. By the time I had returned to the states, I had a new perspective on what it would take for me to become a better player.
After the first few weeks, I saw tremendous improvement in my confidence on the ball, but then for the next month or so, I didn’t see as much. But I knew it wasn’t about seeing the improvement every day, even though it was always nice to know that your hard work was paying off. The most important part was practicing just for the sake of practicing. I began to juggle a size 1 ball, and then progressed to a tennis ball. By the end of the spring I was getting close to 80 juggles on the tennis ball.
And so with that improvement I look toward the 2012 season. There are very few things you can control in soccer. One of the few things you can control is how hard you work when no one else is watching. It’s all well and good to do extra sprints after practice when the coach is watching, but it’s another thing entirely to work as hard as you can when you know you won’t be receiving instant gratification or praise from it. I know that regardless what happens this season, I am a better player now than I was eight months ago, and I know I will be a better player next year than I am now.
Video of Matt Danaher training on his own to become a better player. The song is called "The Mighty Rio Grande" with words from Will Smith.