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How to get selected for the national football team

You have to play in the park, practice a lot and take responsibility for your own training. But you will not become good on your own.

Martin K. Erikstad plays with football.

Football researcher Martin K. Erikstad shows how you can play with a ball.

"Football is a team sport. Thus, it is important that the environment in the football club is good. The coach plays an important part in that area," Martin K. Erikstad says. 

He has studied 1,000 Norwegian football players in the age of 14-15 to find the distinctive traits of the players who have been selected for age-specific national teams. In addition, he has researched what role the coach has in creating good players.

"I have studied players from district junior teams across the country. Almost all of them were aiming to eventually become professional football players. Those going from district junior teams to age-specific national teams were, among other things, more conscious about what they needed to work on at practice," Erikstad says. 

Erikstad has followed the PhD programme at the Department of Public Health, Sport and Nutrition, University of Agder (UiA). He recently defended his doctoral thesis on developing football talents.

Playing in the park

Small or large goals. That does not matter when playing in the park. The ball is more important. Playing football in the park is the start of a successful football career.

"Playing football in the park when you are young is a good idea. It is a good foundation for playing for the national team later in life. In the park, football is about fun and playing. Playing and enjoying what you are doing are important to progress," the new doctor says.

Good football players exercise and practice a lot, especially with the ball. Therefore, the researcher emphasises the importance of starting at a young age.

"But practicing other sports is also good. You do not need to be one-sided and too serious when you are young," he says.

Conscious football practice

The football researcher does not believe that children and youth must specialise as early as possible to be the best at playing football. It can be equally important to play for fun to get better.

The researcher points out that those who play for fun while practicing playing football in the park, get more practice in ball control and fitness. Thus, they can endure more when they eventually partake in football practice with a team and a coach. 

But playing for fun is not enough. At some point, practicing must become more serious in order for the individual player to develop as a football player. 

"My research shows clear traits among those players who are selected for national football teams. They are better at taking responsibility for their own development than other players. They do not show up for practice just because someone will coach them, but they often have a goal of becoming better at something specific," Erikstad says.

Not good on your own

Erikstad emphasises that a good team environment must be established in order for individual players to develop their skills.

"You will not become a good player on your own," he says.

He points out that a good environment and a wise coach are important for developing individual players.

"The coach must not focus purely on the two-three best players. The rest will then lose interest quickly. Additionally, it is uncertain if those who are the best in their teenage years have the largest potential of becoming the best as adults, Erikstad says.

Motivation and solidarity

Some football players are motivated for a lot of practice while others give up faster. The team and the coach play a key role here.

"The coach must also create a good social atmosphere in the team. Good solidarity can motivate many players to work harder and practice more often," the researcher says.

An important point from his thesis is that the football coach must be aware that practices involves more than just teaching football.

"The coaching role is about more than organising practices and strategy. Relations to players are important to create motivated players. Fairness when selecting players for the team and feedback at matches and practices contribute to motivating the players," Erikstad says.

He underlines that the social aspect of the team is also important for making the good players motivated.

"All players, regardless of their current level, become motivated by having a good environment," he says.

The recipe for being on the national team

According to the researcher, Norwegian players practice sufficiently compared to other countries. And after thoroughly examining the practice history of 1,000 young football players, studying their individual approaches to football and researching the coach role, he presents this recipe for those wanting to play on the national team:

  • Play football in the park.
  • Show up for practice and know what you need to practice on.
  • Practice and exercise a lot.
  • Play for a team with a good social environment and with teammates who want to develop their skills.

Because you will not become good on your own.

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