With a week until the BAFA season, there will be numerous different types of players getting ready for opening day. There are really 3 types of player:
The Seasoned Veteran: An arbitrary designation really, but with having to pick a number out of the air, this player is probably in their fifth season of Senior football. They’ve been there, done that. This sport has gone beyond the casual aspect, in that they are committed to their team and the game itself. For this player, it is very much business as usual. The most difficult thing for this player is probably how the many seasons have impacted their body.
The Returner: 2nd year to fifth, this player is in the middle ground. They are a veteran of the game in their own right, but they’re still in the development stages of the game. In the NFL many players truly begin to understand the game after their third year which somewhat informed my choice, but this player is probably popping ibuprofen before a game as a preventative measure, rather than popping a loading dose prior to the game to prevent the knee pain.
The Rookie: This player is in their first season. The choices as to what made them take up the sport is largely irrelevant, as every person has their own motivation. Whether it be the classic ‘I wanted something different’ or the ‘I’ve won my third championship on Madden, so thought it was time to give this a crack’ (coincidentally, I largely started playing because I thought Madden was awesome, and then found there was a team in the UK that would allow me to put the controller down).
The rookie year is probably the hardest year for any player. There’s a number of reasons for this; the novelty of the sport, the relative availability of playing time, the cost incurred for initial start and the complexity of the sport as a whole. I have no statistics regarding how many players who join as first-time players go on to play their second year. But as a community you could ask any player and they may well have a tale about a rookie who arrived on day 1 and wasn’t there by the time the season ended, or retired before the next season. With this in mind, I thought I’d try to write an article based on what I have largely seen through a season of coaching at University, and the experiences I had.
1 Many rookie players have images of them getting ample game time and making tackles, catches, interceptions and every other play they see made on their TV. However, often that’s not the case. As a rookie, you need to be aware that the reality is you are an unproven commodity. With limited experience, coaches will always prefer someone who has more experience. The best advice I received for how to stay motivated in training and build yourself is simple steps. Remember, ‘Inch by inch, life’s a synch. Yard by Yard, man life’s hard.’ When you go to practice, don’t overthink what you’re doing. Don’t say you want to have a good practice, find something that you want to improve, but keep it small. Focus on your pad level, focus on just your eye discipline. As you get better in smaller parts, you’ll find your overall game improves.
2 Don’t take it personally. Whether it’s a coach shouting at you, or you not getting on the field until the fourth quarter, remember that these aren’t comments on you as an individual. If your football isn’t there yet, that’s what a coach will be critiquing you on. You can still be a committed team mate, something that is valued by coaches. Turning up to practice, being on time, watching film. These are the little things that teams appreciate because it shows you’ve got a good attitude. Attitude isn’t coachable, but your football is.
3 Learn to love Special Teams. Special teams are an important part of the game, but they’re hard work and raw athleticism can be more important than technique. For this reason, many coaches love having rookies get game time through special teams. This is a prime opportunity for you to stand out. Players who make big plays on special teams do stand out, and a team loves to get behind a player who makes a big play. If you have a some stand out plays on special teams then you may find coaches start pushing you into training situations.
4Be flexible. When a coach asks you to change position, embrace it. Learn all you can and put the work in to play that position. Versatile players are a real commodity for teams. You may also find that you enjoy the position far more than you had originally envisioned. Many players will have found they joined and had no idea where they wanted to play, but some rookies may find they already knew exactly where they wanted to play. Embrace change and it will get your more time on the field. Injuries happen, and if a coach has moved you to a side where there’s a shortage you need to learn quick so when time on the field is available you can grasp it with both hands.
Many of these tips may seem very basic, but these will provide a building block for you as a rookie to develop your game. You’re not quite building Rome, but the old phrase ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ applies here. Patience will get you through much of the first season. After that, you’ll continue to develop and everything will slowly fall into place. Remember that the sport can be highly intense, but also immensely enjoyable, so enjoy as much as you can. For whatever reason you’re playing the sport, embrace the why. If you are playing to get fit, use it as motivation to go to the gym. If you just want to get away from everything for a few hours each weekend, be sure to relax and let yourself go when you’re there. Play in the moment.