It’s nearly the end of the season. Your team isn’t chasing anything - playoffs or promotion are out, and you’re safe from relegation. This is the hardest part of the season to stay engaged, to stay motivated and switched on during practice and games. There’s nothing to play for, so it’s just an exercise in futility until next season comes around and you can start over.
There’s always something to play for, even if it’s only the notion of pride. As long as there are points left on the table, there is an opportunity to make a statement, and for players looking to start their professional career, or continue it to a second or third season, that statement is equally as important as making the playoffs or winning promotion.
It matters how you perform when there’s nothing at stake. It matters that you keep fighting until the final whistle of the season. It matters what your body language looks like, what your spirit looks like, and how you play when there’s nothing to win or lose. Because if you can only get up for the big games when there’s something at stake, what good are you to a team if they’re not positioned just right for you?
How willing will a team be to sign you if they know you’re going to switch off for the final few games of an unlucky season? Why would they want to commit to paying you if they’re worried you’re not going to put in the work that you were contracted to do?
It’s difficult to stay motivated, everyone understands that. It’s how you respond to that difficulty though that plays a key role in defining who you are as a professional player. Whether it’s for pride, to spoil another team’s chances, or to get yourself noticed by a bigger club, you have to remember to stay engaged for every practice and game of a season, even when it seems like there’s no reason to. You don’t want the reputation of being a quitter, someone who abandons his team when things get tough, or someone who only thinks of himself. Any negative reputation you build in the game can come back to haunt you, but perhaps none more so than being a player who gives up.
There’s always a chance to make something out of nothing if your season still has life in it. If the team is falling apart and you’re all that’s left, there’s an opportunity to get something out of the season. If you’ve lost every game and the future of the club is in doubt, there’s the possibility that there’s some silver lining in the situation. You never know who’s watching you play, and how they can change your life with an email, a phone call, or a spoken word. If there’s a game left in a season-to-forget, there’s a chance to make something of it. Don’t miss out on that opportunity because you can’t motivate yourself, or because you’ve ended up not liking the club or your teammates.
Maintain a positive attitude, maintain a high work rate, maintain a hunger for success, and even the worst situation can provide good results for you. It’s always good to remember that just as many players from poorly performing teams earn moves, as from strong teams. You can be assured though that very few, if any, of those players showed a tendency to quit when they had nothing left to play for. Those players dug their studs in, gritted their teeth, and showed why they deserved to continue their professional careers.
When it gets tough, when the end of the season comes and it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, will you show the same qualities? Don’t be the player who has to explain to a prospective coach why productivity went down at the end of your last season, or why your old coach gave a bad recommendation when called for a referral. You will only have yourself to blame, no matter how much you try to pass it off on underperforming teammates, poor club culture, mismanagement, or biased coaches. You can’t control those things - but you can control how much fight you’re willing to give each and every training session and game. You can control how hard you go into tackles in a meaningless game, or how you scrap your way through defenders to earn a scoring opportunity, or how you run until your lungs can’t take it anymore… even while losing 3-0 in the last game of a forgettable season.
You can be remembered, even if the rest of the season is worth forgetting. That’s why you never switch off, and always stay engaged.