England goalkeeper Joe Hart provided an exclusive insight into his formative experiences as a young player and goalkeeper at a Q&A session for FA Advanced Youth Award candidates recently.
The Manchester City number one, training at St. George’s Park with the England team, joined one of the course’s classroom sessions after training and discussed the social and psychological challenges that he faced growing up in the sport, starting with his first experience of joining a professional club at just 11.
“It was at U11 that I did a tiny stint at Shrewsbury Town, but it was way too serious and didn’t interest me football-wise,” he explained.
“I just wanted to play with my friends, and because I was playing for my local team with my friends from school I didn’t play in goal, I played outfield.
“But I always had a good relationship with Shrewsbury through playing for Shropshire, my county, so there was always a link back there and I kept an eye on it.”
It was with his county that he began playing regularly in goal and which led to a short trial spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
However, once again, the lure of playing with his friends in Sunday league football as well as his eagerness to continue playing for the love of the sport proved too difficult to ignore.
“I was playing in goal for my county and then I got trials at Wolves, but I wasn’t particularly interested,” he revealed.
“It was a bit too serious for me, a bit too much with parents getting involved and things like that.
“I was just trying to angle round getting back playing with my Sunday league team as quick as I could really. [I would] play a game or half a game for Wolves and then rush back.”
Eventually though Hart did make the step up to a professional academy when, at the age of 14, he accepted an offer to join Shrewsbury Town.
Despite the obvious attractions associated with joining a professional outfit, Hart explained that his motivations were, and always have been, deep-rooted in his love of the game.
“I just absolutely love football,” he enthused.
“I love every aspect of it. I love training, building relationships and meeting the people.
“I love winning. I love improving and it seems the harder I try the better things come my way in terms of games and opportunities to be involved in things. That’s my motivation.”
One of the focuses of The FA Advanced Youth Award centres round the ‘Five C’s’, a set of five psychological skills that form a core block of mental qualities players need to perform at elite level.
Commitment, Communication, Concentration, Confidence and Control; they have all been identified as key components in young footballers’ development.
For Hart, to be a keeper with his reputation and stature within the game there is no doubt he possesses all five.
Interestingly though, Hart explained that there has been pressure to hone his concentration skills from a young age.
He said: “I have always played at the level where quite a lot has been expected of me so I have had to concentrate.
“A mistake not only hurts me or costs me, but it costs the people around me as well. So that has maybe helped to develop my focus as best it can.
“It is hard to tell someone how to concentrate; it is a lot easier to tell someone how to dive. So being fully committed helps, it really does.”
Similarly with his confidence, while he admits as a young goalkeeper he was often unsure of his place among elite players regular validation from those around him played a major role in developing his self-esteem.
He added: “In most sporting things I have done, people older than me and the people in charge always said really good things.
“Half the time I didn’t personally see it. I was involved in the first team, they were getting me in the first team and I didn’t see it.
“I didn’t see how I fitted in. I had all these people telling me I could do it and I was at that level.
“At the same time [I understood that] there was no need for me to be there unless someone wanted me there.
“It wasn’t like I had hopped the fence and started playing. Although I didn’t feel ready, I felt that people had accepted I was ready.”
Joe Hart was speaking at The FA Advanced Youth Award hosted at St. George’s Park. For more information on the award please click here.
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