It’s been months since football was allowed to be played here in the UK and there are many players chomping at the bit to get back playing. As of the 29th March, the Government has stated that grassroots football will be allowed to recommence, giving us all that chance to get back playing the game we love.
Many players will be desperate to get back, not only for the physical side of the game but the mental, meeting teammates, having a laugh and joke.
But when the referee blows their whistle, it will be all systems go, and I’m sure you will all want to do your very best.
It may be your first game back for a new side that you just joined prior to lockdown, or you’ve just come back from injury. In either of these situations players want to impress, but we must make sure that we don’t over-compensate and try too hard. When you get back in to football after not playing for a long time it’s about managing your performance, building yourself in to the game, rather than going gung ho for the first twenty minutes.
When you are desperate to play well, in your first game back from lockdown, or even at trials for new teams, or big games, the temptation is to work as hard as you possibly can, which is great.
But at times, this can actually make it more difficult to impress.
The first factor to consider is your fitness. Being match ready is the key. Many players will have been going out and working on their fitness regularly, but it’s not quite like an actual game. The intensity of a game will be higher, there’ll be many changes of direction, sharp sprints and physical duels. This is very tiring and we won’t be match ready straight away, so make sure to think about your movement and the runs you make. Do too much too soon and you could potentially feel the fatigue set in within the first 15 minutes.
It’s important to build yourself into the game, getting a feel for the pace of the match, the ebb and flow. As you do this you’ll build yourself into the match, finding better positions and realising that you can manage your fitness, which is especially important after months of no matches.
The situation of the first game back is similar to how many players feel when they are trialling for a new club, or playing in their team’s cup final.
The nerves, anticipation, and desire to succeed, are all heightened, which can in some cases cause some rash decisions.
We’ve all been there; you’re playing for a new team, desperate to make an impression and you over-complicate things, trying to do too much too soon. In bed the night before the game, you’re dreaming of scoring the best goal, or thinking of that wonderful dribble you’ve made, leaving five defenders in your wake. While this is great, we’ve got to make sure that we play calmly, so start gradually and do the simple things well.
And the simple things are just that. For the first ten to fifteen minutes play simple passes, completing as many as you can. Focus on your first touch, maintaining good control of the ball while building your confidence, knowing that you are doing the things you are doing well. Sprinting after the ball that you won’t get, or trying to dribble past too many players at once, will give you very heavy legs, especially after such a long time without playing.
Get the simple things right, build your confidence and then the game opens up for you, allowing you to notice the spaces and gaps that give you the opportunity to impress.
The first ten to fifteen minutes are vital for the player in games they are desperate to impress in. The most important aspect is control: control of the ball but more importantly, control of yourself.
Can you play maturely?
Can you play while being in control of your abilities, no matter how important the game?
This is where the best players stand out. They know when to try the forty yard pass, or the quick step-over, but they also know when to keep it simple.
Many scouts go to matches and see players who are are looking to impress, performing too many skills and trying the hardest things to catch the eye. The best thing that these players can do is play simple, doing the most common things correctly and consistently.
And it is just the same for all of you getting back in to playing again after months and months of lockdown.
The first thought should be to manage your fitness. It won’t be at its highest levels, so make sure you choose the right times to pressure the opponents, and don’t go chasing after every ball. Give yourself a chance to grow into the game.
Then, for the first ten to fifteen minutes, the focus should be on doing the simple things consistently; good five to ten yard passes, confident control of the ball and dribbling in the right areas of the pitch.
Do this and it will help you grow in to the game, giving you more confidence while also allowing you to feel good physically, providing you with the chance to show your skills and take opportunities as the game progresses.
If you’re flying around the pitch, as soon as the referee blows their whistle, then there is a good chance that your legs will begin to feel heavy, especially in that first game back.
When you get tired, your physical capabilities reduce, as do your mental capabilities.
I know I’ve been there, receiving the ball with legs that feel like jelly, the simple pass may be on but you just don’t notice it, missing the opportunity to move the ball on, getting it tangled in your feet.
Allow yourself to settle into the game. Be mindful of the runs that you should make and take the simple option. As the game develops, you’ll find yourself in better positions, with a clear mind due to not being worn out.
Then you will be able to show everyone what you can do.