I love watching training from the sidelines. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours standing by the practice pitch watching some wonderful players working on improving their game. And for the most part I see soccer players working very hard…

…I see pace and tempo. I see movement off the ball, I see crisp clever interchanges and I see lung busting runs made to win small sided games. I see extras…some of the best players in the world clipping or driving the ball over fake plastic dummy’s that act as walls.

Footballers in the professional game pride themselves on working hard on the training pitch. They have to…lower the gears for a few minutes and the watching coaches are on you in a flash. If they want to stay in the team they have to prove themselves everyday. They have to show desire and determination.

It’s important to work hard in any endeavour, especially if you want to be good. But I’m unsure if working hard is the main component of improvement, especially in soccer. In my opinion it’s working smart that ultimately makes the difference. It isn’t how far you run, it’s the quality of your focus. It isn’t the intensity of your play, it’s how much you’re willing to stretch your current skill set, how much you’re removing yourself from your comfort zone.

And this is what so many players get wrong…and some coaches to. Too many in soccer obsess intensity in training. They incorrectly believe that it will separate the winners from the losers and ultimately define their career. I like this kind of positive attitude. It’s honourable. It’s the mind of a someone who really cares. But it’s also flawed!

Intensity isn’t the personal luxury that defines winners or winning. Intensity is something that every soccer player should do…it should be an automatic non-negotiable, a bottom-line behaviour. Why should the glory go to the players who run around a lot? Why should the spoils go to the players who show off their war face?

Ultimately to improve as a soccer player (and to get better in any sport for that matter) you need to arrive at training ready to focus your mind on the skills and the mini behaviours you want to improve. There must be some forethought, there must be a goal or set of goals players have in their mind that they wish to develop.

A whole section is dedicated to this in my book Soccer Tough 2 – how to compartmentalise your game and how to train with an eye for improvement.

But for now let me give you three questions you can ask yourself going into your next training session:

  • What is great that I want magnify?
  • What isn’t so good that I want to improve upon?
  • Is there anything I need to pinpoint my focus on for the next match?

Pick one, two or three things to absorb your focus on, then go train. As you train, let your mind rest occasionally on your chosen goals or focus points. Keep them in mind as you practice your game.

It’s as simple as that. Train with intensity, sure. But most importantly train with a focus on improvement. Train to get better.