The mindset of top players

Nicklas Pyrdol

By: Nicklas Pyrdol, MSc

Nicklas is a trained consultant specialized in sports psychology and works with players and coaches in the Danish Superliga and the Danish 1st Division, while also being part of the crew assisting the national under-16 football team.

Pyrdol has conducted a master thesis about Ajax Amsterdam and has, during his research, been supervised by sport psychologists from the Premiere League. Throughout his research he found that one of the most important factors to succeeding in professional football is the dedication to detail.  

Four years ago, I attended and observed a training session with Ajax Amsterdam’s first team, and it made a big impact on me. Already in the warm- up games the passes were practically kicked into the opposing players feet with full force and the focus and intensity was at a high point. This went on for 90 minutes straight and when the training session had ended, the players walked calmly off the field, that is with the exception of two players; Lasse Schöne and Christian Eriksen.

The two players each grabbed a net with ten balls and placed them 3-5 meters off pitch. One after the other, they placed a ball and completed a detailed routine with distance assessment, breathing exercises, run-ups, and kicks followed by reflection. It was clear that every detail in the free-kick sequence was well-considered and put together so that the kick could be sent off with such speed, precision and curve that it would make it impossible for the goalkeeper to save that ball.

The last couple of years I have been a part of the team surrounding the under-16 national team and have witnessed our young Danish players beat nations such as Brazil, France and Holland. These are young boys who together are a great force on the field, because of a strong team spirit and a good football practices in general. However, these boys are not only a force to be reckoned with on the field, but as individuals they also strive for the best.

This is especially seen in these instances:

  • Players that re-watch videos of themselves on WyScout to analyse their own performance.
  • Players that watch videos of teammates matches and give each other constructive criticism even though they are from different, competing teams.
  • Players that take ice-baths after games and rest with compression socks to recover in the best way possible.

This is the same attention to detail that can be seen in the worlds’ top players like Cristiano Ronaldo. It is the tireless search for improvement. These players crave the ability to create the ultimate competitive advantage.

But why have this mentality in the first place?

There are many examples of players that have not worked as hard to obtain a good contract.

The reason for this, is that the requirements-lists have become longer and longer when dealing with top-tier football players.

Around the world, player’s growth has become so professionalized, that it comes down to the details whether or not you become the crowned super-player of either the Danish 2nd Divison, the Superliga, the Honorary League or the Premier League. It is these small details that determine whether a player is able to perform their absolute best at that exact time, in that exact match and thereby get the chance that all players dream about. But most importantly, the psychology in the detail work can become self-reinforcing.

If you as a football player feel that you are doing everything you can to become better and better, it gives you a sense of self confidence and calmness when playing.

If you prove to yourself in all that you do, that you will become the best you can be, this will eventually rub off positively in everything you do.

No matter how great it would be to relax and go with the idea that you shouldn’t focus too much on bettering yourself, it is important to realize that no one will get to the top of the professional football world, without realizing that the devil is in fact in the detail.


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