Thousands of players have passed through the First Steps Soccer Academy over the years, and it always gives the Coaches a great thrill to see our graduates competing, whether it’s for their school, junior club, or a professional academy/centre of excellence.

We all find it fascinating to watch players develop, and we’ll often chat to each other about the qualities we see in a particular student at our sessions, and how they have impressed us. These might be physical attributes like skill or speed, but they will just as likely be a willingness to listen, a capacity to learn, or an ability to keep trying until they have mastered a technique.

We always like to convince ourselves we are good judges of how high a level someone will play to; it’s a common failing of most Coaches that we will remember the ones we get right, but conveniently forget those that fall out of love with the game, or dedicate their lives to BMX biking!

However, I do think that many of the best junior players by the age of 11 have a set of mental and physical characteristics that are quite similar, and will equip them to play to a higher level than their peers.

Here are my top eleven, in no particular order:

WELL MOTIVATED: Put simply, the child shows a commitment to improvement that stands out. They will practice for longer periods, and with greater intensity, than other players.
In training sessions and games they will try their hardest, and display a focus, drive, and will to win, in even the most trying of circumstances.

REACT WELL TO FAILURE: The player learns from a failure, is not discouraged by it, shows tenacity to overcome the problem, and has the ability to move forward quickly to the next challenge.

DOMINATES MATCHES: The player is always the best footballer on the pitch in school or club games. They can do things no other player in a Match can do, and their performance will invariably decide the outcome of a game.

TAKES RESPONSIBILITY: Children are honest about their performance, whether good or bad, and do not hide behind excuses, or blame others, when things go wrong.
They accept advice and praise equally well.
For these reasons they often bring out the best in others, both off and on the pitch.

GAME AWARENESS: The player makes good choices on the pitch, anticipates well, and identifies vulnerable space in attack and defence. They often seem to have a little bit more time than other players when making decisions in game play.

SELF CONFIDENT: By this I mean the child trusts their ability, wants and demands the ball even in a difficult game, and is willing to try the technically advanced skill or technique that might turn a match.

AGILE: More than straight line speed, agility is a vital tool for a footballer. This young footballer moves well, is light on their feet, and can react quickly and with precision in tight situations.

GOOD TECHNIQUE: The child has a good first touch, controls the ball well with a nice range of skills, and passes and shoots with sound technique.
The player has often been well coached, has received support and advice, and through focussed, goal orientated practice, is used to working on their weaknesses as well as their strengths.

LOVES THE GAME: A child, who has an enthusiasm and passion for football, wants to play at every opportunity, whatever the weather is, and loves watching, or talking about the game.

EMOTIONAL MATURITY: The junior footballer listens well, concentrates, and has a well rounded character. They don’t show off, and will demonstrate respect for their team mates and Coaches. They are aware of the consequences of their actions, and consequently make good choices.

FIT AND HEALTHY: The player possesses an athletic build, has a decent level of aerobic fitness, and enjoys a diet that compliments their sporting activities. They make good, healthy lifestyle choices, often with the support of their Coach or Family.

Most of the children we train will possess some of these characteristics, but it’s only rarely that you come across the child that has all eleven. If your child does tick all these boxes, then their odds of playing professional football are probably as good as one in a thousand.

Now I’m off to find my eldest son, show him where he went wrong, and why it is the poor boy now has to work with me for a living!