As an athlete, you never feel like you’ve reached your full potential, regardless of your skill level. That’s the great thing about not only American football, but all sports: you can always push yourself further than you’ve ever been. The human body and mind are capable of extraordinary feats, and sports offer us a way to channel our personal growth into something tangible and positive.
Here are the Top 10 ways to become a better football player:
1. Practice Makes Perfect
There are countless ways to improve the level of your game, but actually playing your sport is what makes the greatest impact. Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” (Amazon: USA/UK/FR/ES/DE/IT/BR) spent years researching the common denominators among some of the world’s most successful people. According to Gladwell, the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of approximately 10,000 hours. The “10,000-Hour Rule”, as it has come to be known, can be applied directly to sports to make you a top-level athlete. With enough time spent on the football field, you can become a phenom in your league and respected by your peers for your skill and dedication to the game.
First and foremost, never miss a team practice. Showing up early to team training to get in some extra work not only gives you an advantage over your teammates and competition, it shows the coaches that you’re committed to the team and to becoming the best player you can be. Outside of scheduled practice time, you can meet up with a fellow teammate to practice skills: catching, blocking, passing, covering, and form tackling are just some of the things you can do. If you can’t find a partner, find time to train on your own. There are elements of every position that you can practice by yourself. Quarterbacks can work on their footwork, drop, and scrambling. Receivers can work on their routes and their release off the line. Linemen can work on their first move, footwork, and hands. Defensive backs can work on their backpedaling and break to the ball…and there’s much more. The question is not what can be done, but rather how committed are you to getting better?
2. Learn the Rules
It happens every time a field goal or punt is deflected. Some players simply don’t know what to do – do I pick the ball up and run with it? Do I let it go? What happens if the opposing team picks it up? Even many NFL players are unaware of some of the rules of the game, and it’s their profession. If you don’t believe it, check out Donovan McNabb’s infamous press conference after the Philadelphia Eagles’ 13-13 tie vs. the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008 where he admitted that he had no idea a game could end in a tie. Talk about embarrassing.
Knowing the rules better than your opponent can be the difference between winning and losing. Make sure to brush up on the rules of the game so you can avoid the same thing happening to you. Most leagues in Europe play by NCAA rules, so check out the updated NCAA Rule Book to brush up on any gaps in knowledge. Remember, knowing the rules means knowing ALL the rules.
3. Lift, Lift, Lift
We all know that putting time in at the gym will get you bigger and faster. Focus on strength and mass, and less about looks. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve played with that really looked the part, but couldn’t lay a block or make a tackle to save their lives. You’re training for football, not a swimsuit competition.
Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Body” (Amazon: USA/UK/FR/ES/DE/IT/BR), recommends focusing on a concept called the “minimum effective dose”. Rather than putting in 4-6 sets of one exercise he suggests maxing out on one set of 8+ reps until you can’t move the weight anymore, which is the minimum you need to lift to see the results you want to achieve. This way you’re getting 80 percent of the value with only 20 percent of the time and effort.
Make sure you establish a solid plan and record all the details of your workouts. This will enable you to follow your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment every time you reach a personal best. No goal can be reached without a solid and realistic plan to get you there.
Many nutritionists have estimated that what you eat accounts for 80% of muscle growth, while training accounts for only 20%. If you don’t watch what you put into your body, you’re unlikely to get the results you want. Protein is vital to muscle growth, and chances are you’re not getting enough protein in your diet. Dr. James Meschino, a renowned expert on dietary health and muscle development, suggests a simple formula to calculate your ideal daily protein intake. Moderately active people that exercise 5-7 times per week, including weight training 3-4 times a week, should multiply their weight in pounds by 0.6 (for kilos, multiply by 1.3) to calculate the number of grams of protein they should eat per day. People who engage in advanced activity, which includes exercise 5-7 times per week and at least 1 hour of weight training 5+ times per week, should multiply their weight in pounds by 0.7 (for kilos, multiply by 1.5) to get their number. Lastly, elite-level athletes should multiply their weight in pounds by 0.8 (for kilos, multiply by 1.7) to maximize their muscle growth.
Stay away from processed foods, caffeine, and sugars. Eating meat is fine, but be aware that not all meat provides the same amount of protein per calorie. Lean meats such as chicken and turkey provide more protein with less calorie intake, while fatty meats such as beef and pork have a much higher calorie content. Skill positions such as receivers, defensive backs, running backs, and quarterbacks should focus on building lean mass (high protein/low calorie) while linemen and linebackers should focus on adding bulk (high protein/high calorie). Again, Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Body” (Amazon: USA/UK/FR/ES/DE/IT) is simply the best work written on the subject.
5. Watch film
There’s a reason why Peyton Manning is one of the best in the game. He is not a great athlete, lacks any kind of real speed, has below average arm strength for an NFL quarterback and, is not particularly accurate compared to guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers. However, no one questions Peyton’s preparation and knowledge of the game. Most of this is achieved through the hours and hours he spends studying film. He studies his own game film and practice film, plus game film for upcoming opponents. This makes him mentally superior to almost anyone on the field.
Watching film allows you to learn from your mistakes an see things from another perspective. You can also learn new techniques and moves from other players. As Malcolm Gladwell states, “Achievement is talent plus preparation.” Ask your coaches for a copy of their practice or game film to evaluate yourself. If your team hasn’t established a viable filming strategy, help them establish a plan to make this a reality. Be part of the solution.
6. Position Specific Training
Make sure you identify the specific skill sets that are valued for your position. If you’re an offensive lineman, strength, size, toughness, and team-first mentality are valued above all else. If you’re a defensive back, quick feet, speed, good instincts, and a short-term memory are most important. Whether you’re in the gym or going for a run, make sure that everything you do centers around those skill sets. Linemen rarely run more than 20-30 yards on a single play, so a 5-mile run is probably not going to provide much value. Quarterbacks rarely need to make a tackle, so taking part in tackling drills is going to be minimally effective. By focusing on your position’s most-valued skill sets, you’ll prevent injuries and focus all of your available time on being the best you can be at your position. You need to be as efficient as possible with your time and effort.
7. Get Your Sleep
Your body does 90% of its healing while you are sleeping. This is vitally important during the football season and most-important the night before a game. Alcohol interrupts your sleep cycle as well as the production of testosterone, which is beneficial for building muscle and energy. On game day, you need as much of both as you can get. Testosterone is generated from cholesterol, which is produced between 4:00-6:00am. Keeping a regular sleeping pattern and getting a full night’s sleep will allow your body to recover and give you the energy you need the next time you play.
8. Play against better competition
One of the best ways to improve your game is to literally elevate your game. There are all sorts of creative ways to play against better competition. If you’re a Junior, ask the Senior Head Coach about attending Senior practices. Even if you’re only participating at a practice level, performing against players that are bigger, faster, and stronger will only force you to raise your skill level to compete. You may even consider playing for a team in a higher division within your own country, or in another country that has a higher level of play altogether. There are Dutch, Austrian, and Spanish players playing in Germany, for example. If you really want to challenge yourself, consider spending a semester or year abroad in the United States and walking onto the football team at your school. In all of these scenarios, the more you play against the best, the better you will be.
9. Endurance training
By the 4th quarter, most football players are performing at about 85-90% of their normal capacity. Imagine if you were able to maintain 100% capacity for the entire length of a game? That would mean that you’d have a significant advantage in crunch time, the point at which most games are decided. If you’re still at peak endurance near the end of the game, you’re playing on an entirely different level than everyone else on the field. That means you have better focus, your coaches are more inclined to call a play that allows you to become the hero, and you garner the confidence of your teammates when the game is on the line.
Work to get yourself in game shape by practicing at game speed. The more you play at full speed, the more prepared your body will be for the rigors of a football game. Run 40’s after practice, take more snaps, or run more routes. Just make sure you’re ready to go on game day.
10. Get feedback
Ask your coaches for feedback on your play. The benefit of an objective opinion is that they see some things that you may not. You’ll be expressing the fact that you value their opinion and that you are focused on becoming a better player. These are very strong impressions to make in the eyes of a coach. Plus, you’ll be learning a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of your game that’ll give you some confidence and some areas to focus on.
What are your thoughts on this list? Do you have anything to add to any of these points, or would you have included something else with this list? Let’s discuss in the comments below.