Re: How to play football as an introvert?

The following is an excerpt from a recent exchange. I am asked about this both because I am introvert and was a football (soccer) player for many years in a semi-professional capacity. The identity of my correspondent remains a secret and this information is shared with their permission.

I am very shy, closed , private guy. I left my childhood without playing any games , because of some body insecurities (too much leg hair )(which has been resolved now) . Now i’m 28 still don’t know anything about games. I think i should change it. I feel so alone , leaved, because i don’t have any friends…. i feel i’m feeling this because i sit all day in coding emacs and playing games. I want to start my first game by Football. Though i literally don’t know anything about football but i still like it . I don’t want to feel like a old man in futsal knowing nothing about football and participate with young kids beating me. Also on other hand it feels overwhelm to play, while other peoples watching i’m learning football , Though I know practice makes perfect. You are a professional football player.

Would you teach me how from beginner to advance (playing ways, rules, strategies)? …..

I know, I would learn by seeing your videos and texts unless i go and do practice myself. But i still want to know everything about your ways of football in general. After this i would go and play football.

I will answer your questions. I think your initiative is wonderful and will make you feel better once you get into the flow. Can I publish my response on my website? I want to include the above quote for context. I will not disclose your contact details. Is this okay?

Let’s start with the “shy guy” part. The footballer who is the greatest of his era and arguably the greatest of all time, Lionel Messi, is a shy guy. You can find lots of stories about this. Basically, the other kids were wondering if Messi could actually talk, as he was always so reserved when he was younger.

In sport what matters is one’s ability. If you put in the effort, if you show that you care, then people will acknowledge it and respect you for it. To be a sportsperson in earnest, then, is to treat people based on what they do that is relevant to the task, not how they look, not what their connections are, not how colourful their personality is. So do not worry about being shy or an introvert (those are not the same, by the way): they are not relevant to playing the game.

Your personality will matter for interpersonal dynamics. Football is a team game and if you are not a team player, you have no place there. “Team player” is a matter of disposition: you win and lose as a team; you do not blame others; you are generous and kind. Don’t worry about making friends or being talkative. When you do the various exercises, you will often be paired with someone else. Even if you are super shy, you will still be interacting with another person. The more drills you do, the more social you will be. Just be relaxed about it.

Sport teaches you to be honest from day one. You cannot fake skill. You cannot pretend that you have the build to run 90 minutes up and down the pitch. You cannot boast about passing the ball with accuracy or shooting it with pace on target because your first kick will already show what you can actually do. Sport keeps you in check. Embrace the ethos of the game and learn to always be a sportsperson: be honest about your qualities and have the kindness to recognise another’s ability.

In practical terms, honesty means that you will show up at your team’s training ground and ask to talk to the coach. You are an absolute beginner, so tell the coach exactly that. Ask if you can train with the team. Because you are a beginner, you have no high expectations of being an instrumental player on the field from the beginning. No, you want to take it slow in order to learn the fundamentals and to improve your fitness in the process.

Furthermore, honesty means that you will always be in the mindset of learning by doing. You will not be afraid to, say, kick the ball poorly. Nobody has those skills from the start: they are acquired through continuous practice. Do not worry about failing or looking awkward: that’s all part of the process. Be attentive to what the coach is showing you and observe how your teammates are doing it. Be in the mindset of learning and do not pretend to know stuff—again, be honest.

This brings me to the point about young kids beating you. Here is a story from when I was ~15. I was allowed to train with the adults. They were much bigger than me. But I was tenacious. We were playing an 11-a-side session. The defensive midfielder of the other team tried to joke around that I would not survive on the pitch. I told him not to worry as I would kick his ass. It was all friendly banter between team mates: I survived just fine and did keep my promise. The gist of the story is that “young kids” still have footballing ability; ability that you simply lack right now. They also probably are more fit than you. So expect to be beaten time and time again. That’s okay as you are a beginner.

There is no shame in losing. You try your best and you do it in honour. Remember the part about sportspersonship: recognise another’s ability. The only thing that is shameful is cheating. You want to be honest and thus you will not cheat. Don’t worry about the rest.

You mention being overwhelmed. My opinion is that you are overthinking it as an outsider. When you actually start running, your body requires all the energy it can get. This simply means that the mind is focused on the here-and-now and does not have the luxury to entertain scenaria. The cycle of overthinking is broken by action. Just go out there and start playing. You will feel liberated when you are in that state of being where you control your actions while your mind is not placing any obstacles along your path.

About me teaching you, I should clarify here that I was not a professional. I was a “semi-professional”. This means that I was training the way a professional does, I enjoyed some perks that were provided by the club, but had not yet signed an employment contract. I would have done that, were it not for an untimely injury that changed my life. It does not matter though, as I always was knowledgeable of the game and have thought about it for long.

The distillation of my experience is that you do not learn sport theoretically. No book or seminar will help you get started. What it will do instead is reinforce your propensity to overthink, to the point where it will prevent you from acting. The best advice I can give you is to muster the courage to find the team’s coach and ask to talk about who you are and what you want. Explain that you are a rookie, that you know what to expect, and that you want to gradually learn and improve.

Theoretical knowledge of football is for those who already are at a higher level in terms of practical skills. You will need to have a good grasp of tactics, formations, time and space on the pitch only when you become more skilful or if you want to be a coach. This is not where you are now, so forget about it. Simply focus on the here-and-now which starts with your initial contact with the coach and your first training sessions.

The kids will beat you. Do not take it personally. The kids may make fun of you for not being a skilful player. Again, do not take it personally. Use it as motivation to try harder. Don’t talk big: train for the day when you prove them wrong and they will not make fun of you anymore. This helps you build up your resolve. You will feel stronger and more confident.

Know that a good leader is one who can first impose control over their own self. Lead by example, not authority or intimidation, and others will recognise what you are doing.

Ultimately, understand that this is a game. Sport has a lot of life lessons to teach us, as I have already hinted. Perhaps the most enduring of them all is to take it easy: it is a game, after all.