How to Earn a Starting Football Position

Everybody knows the ’superstar’ type: Those naturally gifted athletes who don’t have to work much to improve their abilities. These are the players who hit the hardest, run the fastest, throw the farthest, and achieve MVP status by age 15. By some rare combination of genetic traits and mental faculties, these people seem destined for greatness in whatever sport/activity they choose.

For most people, however, athletic success doesn’t come that easily. Instead, it requires a significant amount of effort applied to improving in several different areas to be successful. The amount of effort applied directly results in the level of success enjoyed for these people; the players who work the hardest play at the highest levels, and the players who do just enough to get by generally don’t make it past reserve/back-up status.

For the latter type — those who are content with being part of a team and only occasionally contributing — more power to you. It’s certainly better than not playing at all. However, for those who are willing to put in the extra effort to earn a starting spot, there are some steps you can take to raise your level of success.

Train on Your Own Time

It’s true that football is a team game, but the team’s overall performance and success can (and routinely has) been directly affected by the actions of a single player. That relationship is quite the double-edged sword, as a single brilliant maneuver can win a game, but one solitary mistake can also result directly in a loss. The key to being in the position to make those game-winning maneuvers, or preventing those kinds of mistakes, comes down to individual preparation.

Whether it’s still weeks before the season or half way through it, being a starter means working for it on your own time, outside of scheduled practices or training sessions. It’s not a fun decision, but putting in the extra time will pay off in the long run.

Use Your Time Wisely

Weekends are when most people have the free time, and much of that free time is spent in leisure. For players trying to win a starting position, this is the time to work on specific skills and conditioning. As tempting as five hours of playing video games followed by a nap sounds, that time would be better spent lifting weights or going for a run.

Hot Tip: Strength Training

Speaking of lifting weights, it’s no secret that strength pays off at any position. Spending 30 to 60 minutes before school or work in the weight room is a great way to supplement the effort put in during practice.

It Takes Brains and Brawn

Football requires its players be very physical, but knowing how and where to direct that physicality is just as important. The ability to run well and make blocks becomes ineffective if you don’t know where to run or who to block. Being a starter means knowing as much about the responsibilities of your position as possible.

Educate Yourself

Instructional sessions are a really good time to learn about what your coaches expect at each position. However, depending on when your team has them, it’s very easy to let your mind wander and not pay attention — especially during preseason two-a-day practices, when you’re really tired. This will help you know your role to the fullest you can. Depending on the position you play, and the formations your team uses, it’s safe to say that your responsibilities will change every single play.

The more you know, the more successful you’ll be on the field. While it only takes one or two mistakes to get noticed by the coaches, they’ll eventually recognize a continuous streak of nearly mistake-free play. The better prepared you are ahead of time, the more consistently you’ll play well… and coaches like consistently good players.

During Practice/Training Sessions

Performing well during a game should be a fairly obvious way to get on the coach’s radar (though performing poorly also gets noticed to the same degree). However, consider the difference between the amount of time spent at practice or in training sessions, compared to the time spent in a game. Say you practice/train for three hours a day, four days a week, and then have a game on the fifth day that runs approximately two and a half hours. That’s 12 hours of total practice versus two and a half hours on game day.

Even if game time is more important (and it is), the sheer amount of practice/training time is a huge opportunity to showcase your talents and desire to have a more active role on the team.

Go All Out, All the Time

Attitude plays a big part in helping coaches decide who starts and who sits. You want to be a starter? You need to show it. Approach the various drills and activities as you would game situations — by giving maximum effort.

Maximum Effort Defined

Maximum effort doesn’t mean laying out a teammate during a walkthrough. It means paying attention to learning about all the various responsibilities attached to your position. Strive for excellence during these situations; walking through plays and scenarios is the best way to train yourself to react properly come game time.

Consider regularly volunteering to be the ‘workout players’ in drills — the players who let the rest of the team practice skills on them. It’s more work than you’d normally have to put in, but the coaches will eventually pick up on your effort.

Speaking of effort, go all out during those really hard conditioning sessions, especially at the end of practice. You might be tired and ready to give up, but those are some of the mental hurdles that have to be jumped. The coaches know how tired the players are; part of the reason they run those conditioning exercises is to see who’s putting in the effort, and who’s just going through the motions.

Talk isn’t Always Cheap

Demonstrating your willingness to work, and your overall attitude/commitment to the team, is important during practice/training and in games. At the same time, literally communicating to your coaches that you want to become a starter can accomplish two things:

  1. It can get you on the coaches’ radar
  2. It can give you a better understanding of the kinds of things the coaches expect from their starters

Actions do speak louder than words, but when there are only a few people who have to watch the actions of a large group, words are the more effective approach.

Timing and Approach Are Key

If you attempt to have this kind of conversation in the middle of practice, your coaches likely won’t respond in a favorable manner. Approach them before or after practice, or during free time at school (assuming you’re a student and one of your coaches works at the school).

Be direct in your approach, and in how you frame the conversation. Don’t ask questions like, “why aren’t I starting?” Instead, start by directly saying, ‘Coach, I want to be a starter.’ The question could potentially come across as whiny and defensive, while the statement should (hopefully) be seen as evidence of your desire.

Also do your best to listen and respond when you have that conversation. Ask specific questions about what they want to see, or what they want you to work on. And if a coach has a critique of something you’ve done in practice, do not take it as a personal insult. It means two things: One, you’re on their radar; and two, they are taking the time to try and help you improve.

Stay With It

Unless you happen to gain superpowers overnight, the journey to becoming a starter will likely take some time. It will be difficult, and you may get frustrated to the point of wanting to quit.

Guess what? That’s always an option, and sometimes a really tempting one. But if you stick with it, and eventually earn that starting spot, the satisfaction of success will be far sweeter than the relief of giving up.

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