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Resources Feb 01, 2016

Chapter 31: TARGETING – ROOKIE: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer

ROOKIE Cover JPEGThis is the closest thing to a secret that I can offer you about competing for a position. If you’re competitive and reasonably smart, you might have eventually gotten around to figuring it out on your own. I’m just going to use this opportunity to flatten out the learning curve for you.

Preseason can seem overwhelming based solely on the large number of people fighting for positions. It’s pretty common to look at the herd of 25 players and hope to be one of the top 11. That type of thinking can devour you. Instead of worrying about the group of 25, we’re going to focus on just one, single teammate.

Targeting is the process of figuring out exactly who you have to beat and then using that knowledge to motivate you on a daily basis. For example, if you’re a left winger, and there are three other left wingers on your team, you try to figure out who is the best of the three and you focus on being better than that one player each and every day. Instead of worrying about beating out 24 other players or three other left wingers, now you’re focused on outshining just one of them. It’s a way to streamline your focus into bite-sized portions that are easily digested.

I want you to understand that I am not talking about anything underhanded. I’m not talking about sabotaging a teammate. I’m not talking about trying to physically damage one of your teammates or even wishing for her failure. I’m talking about using this one teammate as the measuring stick for your own efforts. Each day when you step on the training field, make it your mission to be better than that one player. Whatever she does, you do it just a little bit better. Wherever she runs, you run there just a little bit faster. If she quits after 99 push-ups, you make sure you get to 100. Whatever the case may be, make sure you are outdistancing her, even if it’s just by one inch at a time.

Why does this work? Because it gives you a concrete model to measure yourself against. It gives you a living, breathing reason to perform at your very best each day. And it works because the player you target will have no idea that she’s in your crosshairs. While she is motivating you, there’s a good chance that no one is motivating her.

Now, since left wingers rarely confront one another directly during an 11v11 game, your opportunities to go against her head-to-head are limited to other drills and exercises. Chances are you’ll spend more time trying to out-perform her than actually trying to conquer her in direct combat. That’s why it’s good to have a second target who will play opposite you. We’ll call her your counter-target.

If you want to win the spot as a left wing, you’ve got to prove that you are the best attacking presence in that position. The easiest way to do that is to prove that you can conquer the best defender. If you’ve got the confidence to take on such a challenge, then your counter-target will be the defender that the coaches rate as the best. Try to find ways to match up against her whenever you can. When the coach breaks the team up into groups of four, five, six or whatever, try to get yourself into her group. Your objective is to match up against her in as many 1v1 duels as possible.

This probably sounds a little bit backwards to you, and believe me, I’ve seen a staggering number of players take the opposite approach. If they see they are about to be matched up against a very strong opponent, they’ll find a reason to switch their place in line so they can duel against a softer opponent. Let me tell you why my way is better.

First of all, you don’t back into great achievements. You’re not going to sneak your way into the starting line-up. It’s not like the referee is going to blow the whistle to commence the opening game and then the coaches are going to think, ‘Hey, how’d she get out there?’  The Trojan Horse approach won’t work in this environment, so you should abandon it before you get to campus.

Counter-targeting works for the same reason that targeting works: You have a reason to be inspired when your counter-target might not. While she’ll still play hard and well – she is the best defender for a reason – you’ll be playing with something just a little bit more. While she may be determined to play well, you’ll be determined to beat her. Believe me, there’s a difference.

Will this always work? There’s no guarantee, but if you can consistently win your battles against the best defender on the team, your coach is going to notice and he’s going to like what he sees in you.

Look, you’re going to be matched up against that teammate countless times throughout the season anyway. You can’t duck her all year. Why not just roll the dice and try your luck from the very beginning when making a statement will do you the most good? Proving that you can beat the best is an excellent way to get yourself on the field. And incidentally, this strategy works equally well for a defender who can consistently outduel the top attacker.

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