Given his duties as assistant coach of the Michigan State soccer team and as head coach of Detroit City FC, you would beright to consider Ben Pirmann as a top evaluator of soccer talent on multiple competitive levels. Ben comes from a soccer bloodline that helped develop youth soccer in Michigan, and he has spent a lifetime learning the sport inside and out.
Now that he is a prominent coach, Ben is routinely asked by young soccer players what it takes to get noticed by top soccer recruiters from around the nation. With that in mind, Ben helped us put together this list of six things you need to do in order to be a better soccer player. So, if you want to end up taking the field for the Michigan State Spartans, or in Detroit as a member of "Le Rouge," you might want to keep these tips in mind.
1. Be The Best At Something
In soccer, great care is taken to make sure players are proficient in all areas of the game. However, it isn’t always the best all-around player that gets recruited to play high-level soccer. Instead, it’s the specialist that masters the demands of a specific position or part of the field. According to Ben, if you want to get the attention of a coach or a recruiter, make sure you’re the best on the field in at least one skill area.
“If you’re a forward, can you score?” Ben asked. “If you’re a defender, how many tackles are you making? When I say be the best, I mean that you should stand out. Maybe you’re the fastest and you can chase people down. If you’re the best passer, get on the ball as much as possible and complete passes. Coaches notice that stuff. It could be as simple as being the best player in the air and winning every header. If you have a unique skill set, you can build around that. If you’re solid at everything, then you have a great base and now you can make something an expertise.”
2. Play With People Who Are Better Than You
They say there is always someone better than you at something, and if that something you do is related to soccer, you need to find the person better than you and challenge them to a game. That’s because adjusting to the speed of play at the highest levels of soccer involves being able to process information and adjust to the natural flow of the game quickly, and Ben says that playing against the best players you can find is the quickest way to make the necessary adaptations.
“Unless you’re Ronaldo or Messi, there’s always someone out there that’s better than you,” Ben explained. “If you’re a high schooler, you should try to play with college kids. If you’re good on your team, you should always try to find a group of players better than you to play with. You can always try to harness and improve your skills no matter how old you are. Play with people better than you and be honest with yourself; if you’re not great at something, recognize what you need to do better, and work on it.”
3. Practice What's Important
Having broad shoulders or six-pack abs can be a nice byproduct of your training regimen, but if you’re trying to get better at soccer, the focus of your training should be geared toward making you better. That’s not to say that added strength won’t make you a better soccer player, but there is only so much time available to train in a week, and Ben says you should only focus on things like developing extra strength and power if they don’t take away from your time working on fundamental soccer skills.
“If you have five hours a week of your own time to work on something, instead of spending four hours in the weight room, spend one-and-a-half hours in the weight room and spend the rest working with the ball,” Ben instructed. “If you can bench 200 pounds ten times, that on its own won’t make you a great soccer player. If you do the strength training properly, it will help you with strength and power and quickness of movement and injury prevention. But you can spend too much time on that and not enough on more important things. You don’t ever want one thing to get in the way of the things that are really important.”
4. Learn How To Train
There is a fine line between playing and training, and learning how to train is key if you’re going to move on to the elite levels of soccer. Working on something specific every day that is going to make you a better soccer player is absolutely crucial, and Ben says knowing how to train is what is going to develop you into a better player. Something as simple as going on regular two-mile runs when you have some spare time will translate into better conditioning on the soccer field.
“You should be doing things to improve yourself six days a week,” Brad insisted. “If someone wants to play at a high level, the minimum standard of work is doing something six days a week. Whether that’s doing weight lifting or strength sessions, or whether that’s playing with your team or a game on the weekend, you should be constantly working to improve. Plenty of kids that say they want to get better don’t have good training habits and don’t really know what it’s like to train. Pushing yourself to train is key to player development.”
5. Play Other Sports
In this day and age, most coaches preach specialization and exclusivity in sports. Sure, a wide receiver or running back might be permitted to join the track team in the Spring, but usually that’s because the assistant coach of the track team is also the wide receiver coach of the football team, and he knows he can use track season to help make his receivers fasters. Well, Ben has no ulterior motive, and his experiences have taught him that playing other sports might be exactly what a soccer player in order to develop greater athleticism and rest his body from the rigors of the game.
“Honestly, I think when athletes are playing other sports, I think that’s always a positive,” Ben admitted. “Physiologically, I think it’s good for your body to vary your movements so you’re not doing the same things 365 days a year. Two of my teammates in college had been All-State basketball players, and they had great athletic instincts that I think they developed from playing basketball. Obviously, you don’t want anything to get in the way of developing your soccer ability, but you would be hard pressed to find a kid that can’t learn to develop skills in two sports and improve exponentially at both simultaneously.”
6. Learn To Play Multiple Positions
You may have a favorite soccer position that you are fantastic at playing, but unfortunately you find yourself on a team that has someone better at the same position. What now? Obviously, you’re going to be sitting on the bench watching someone else fill your spot on the field. Or, as Ben suggests, you can learn to play another position and make sure someone other than you is riding the pine.
“If you have the ability to play multiple positions, that’s always going to benefit you,” Ben said. “All it takes is you being a freshman that can only play left back, and they already have a junior All-American at that position; you’re probably not going to beat that kid out. But, if you can play center back or center midfield or left mid, now you have three more options. So, being able to play a variety of positions and styles will be an attribute.”
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.