Close control. Pinging the ball into feet. That 40 yard pass. That well timed tackle. That strong jump to win the header. Showing him on the inside and showing her on the outside. Skill may well be what matters most in soccer. And skill is built in the body and the mind. Here is a very short guide to building skill mentally.

To my mind it is the subtle art of learning that so often differentiates in sport. The ability to learn separates one soccer player from another. It separates their speed of improvement, the ceiling of their potential and their ability to execute all the responsibilities within their role. Of course talent – your in-born capability – makes a difference. Science has repeatedly demonstrated that people learn at different rates depending on the make-up of their nervous system. But the exciting thing is that anyone can enrich their ability to learn. Anyone can quicken their rate of improvement.

1. A first rule of learning is simple – distractions prevent learning. A wandering mind cannot shape the brain for excellence. A dispersed focus cannot shape a brain primed for technical brilliance. A distracted mind won’t build skill. Deal with distraction quickly & effectively as you train. A key here is to SPOT when you’re distracted and SHIFT back to your task at hand as quickly as possible. SPOT SHIFT, SPOT SHIFT, SPOT SHIFT…become world class at this!

2. A second rule of learning – stretch yourself. You’ll never learn new skills if you try to do the same thing time and again. You’ll never learn close ball control if you always train with acres of space. You’ll never learn to lob a 40 yard pass over the defenders if you never try to. Come out of your comfort zone and try new things! Set yourself a stretch target for every training session. Be relentless with this!

3. A third rule of learning – have a sensory blast! Take time everyday to picture the skills you are learning. Use as many senses as you can. See, feel and hear yourself play football in your mind. The science behind this idea is simple – picturing executing your skills wires up your brain in a similar way to how it would if you were actually executing the skill for real. A little tip here – do this for 15 minutes daily in your down time.

This is a really short guide…there will be plenty more tips and strategies on this blog about learning and skill in the future. Stay tuned!