Dash Inside Look: Preparing for the Next Level

Talley Johnson

At the request of many youth players and parents, Houston Dash Goalkeeper Haley Carter provides advice on what it takes to play soccer at the highest level and recommends certain attributes that will help generate success at any level.

Apologies for the two week hiatus but life has been pretty hectic lately.  In addition to Dash responsibilities, I recently traveled to the Region III Olympic Development camp in beautiful Montevallo, Alabama as assistant coach for the South Texas Youth Soccer Association’s 2014 Girls State team.  Several other players on our team have also taken the opportunity to assist with summer soccer camps in the area and are enjoying the time they are having in a coaching capacity.

The opportunity to so immediately impact the lives of younger players is always a pleasure and something I enjoy very much (why I started my own business training youth goalkeepers—plug Epic90GK.com).  One of the questions that many of us have received recently from both players and parents alike is what does it take to get to the next level.  How does one become a college soccer player?  A pro athlete?

From the recommendation of other soccer bloggers, parents, kiddos, and fellow players, I’ve collected characteristics or tasks that might help.  These can’t guarantee a playing spot for Anson at North Carolina or a first round NWSL draft pick but they are certainly a step in the right direction.  So without further ado, my suggestions to our youth, and even not so youth, players who dream of a high level roster spot:

1. Be obsessed: To get far in this sport, or any sport really, you have to be absorbed in the latest happenings, games, player developments, etc.  This is easy with the World Cup going on.  If there’s a game on television or web stream, watch it.  This is how you build your frame of reference for developing as a player.  Dash players are serious soccer junkies.  Our head athletic trainer is even a soccer junkie—honestly, she might actually watch more matches than any of our players.  Have a favorite team and a favorite player.  Erin McLeod’s favorite player, for example, is Manuel Neuer (seriously, to say she’s obsessed might be an understatement) and she works hard to mimic his style of play (what goalkeeper wouldn’t?).  Beyond watching the game, take notes of your training sessions and general thoughts--become a student of soccer.           

2. Have accountability: Players at the highest level are expected to keep themselves fit, make decisions that are in the best interest of their performance, and do the right thing when no one else is looking and no one else is training.  In most cases, this involves extra time spent working outside of team training sessions.  If you attend one of our morning practices, you will almost always see the forwards and the goalkeepers putting in extra time afterwards to hone certain skills.  Be accountable for your actions or inactions.  The best players in the world own their development and they ensure they are on time, prepared mentally and physically to train, and are willing to spend more time working than their competitors. 

3. Be unapologetic: Let’s talk confidence.  Let’s talk swagger.  If you work day-in and day-out to be the best, then carry yourself that way.  Now I’m not saying that you should act as though you’re better than everyone else—far from it.  I am a huge proponent of humility and of teamwork; rather I am saying you should be confident in your training and your ability and be fearless in representing yourself.  Feel comfortable proving every day to the world that you deserve to be playing at a higher level.  Many psychologists refer to this as having "prime confidence."  This is the kind of confidence that has one looking forward to high pressure situations and tough opponents as challenges to pursue.  Wake up knowing you’re ready to take on the world.

4. Take care of your body: This can be difficult for players at many levels—even professional.  It involves eating properly, hydrating, resting when you really need it.  Your body is your biggest asset—treat it like a machine.  Understand that you need to eat before training and that you need to hydrate the day before.  Everything that goes into your body is fuel—not just a culinary pleasure.  And care for your injuries when need be—don’t overdo it.  Understand that when your parents, trainers, or coaches make you sit out for an injury, even though you may feel fine, there’s a reason for it.  Playing soccer is not something you can do forever so be smart about caring for your body and you’ll find that longevity. 

5. Keep a healthy perspective: This may go against suggestion number one but ultimately, don’t forget that this is a game and more than likely, you do it because you love it.  The minute you stop loving what you’re doing is the minute you should hang it up.  Getting to and playing at the highest level isn’t easy and the journey can be a roller coaster of ups and downs, believe me.  Personally, I’ve remained resilient through this process by keeping things lighthearted when I can.  As Bianca Henninger would tell you, comedy trumps all.  Remember to laugh at yourself and have fun.  Take no opportunity to play for granted and cherish the friendships and good times you have along the way.

All of that said, my teammates have experienced their own individual battles to achieve what they have thus far in their careers and each of their stories is truly unique—no two alike.  However, I can assure you that the presence of each of these five attributes is shared and consistent among all of them.  They are part of the drive that we all share.

We will continue to be working camps in the next few weeks (I hear there’s a Dash camp next week!!) and we look forward to seeing more and more Houston area youth players out and about.  I hope that these words will resonate with them and help them in some small way to achieve their dreams.  With the right mindset and motivation, anything is possible!

See you guys tomorrow as we take on the Boston Breakers at BBVA Compass Stadium!! #DashOn

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