John Barnes: skills and values
Former England winger, John Barnes, looks back on what helped him excel in the role – giving advice to coaches and players alike.
The ex-Liverpool and Watford man excited crowds throughout his career as he flew down the wing. While he’s no longer on the pitch, he still kept us on the edge of our seats when he provided an insight into what it took to become a skilful player.
Barnes burst onto the scene in inspiring fashion at Watford, became a legend at Liverpool, and won 79 caps for the Three Lions. As with so many top athletes, the foundations for this success can be found in Barnes’ childhood.
“My dad has always been my biggest influence. He was a colonel in the Jamaican army, so discipline was a big part of his life ever since he was 19 years old.
“He understood the value of not just discipline but determination, drive, effort, and commitment. Yes, talent is important, but from a very young age, that’s what was instilled in me.
“My sister swam for Jamaica, and I was swimming competitively when I was seven, eight years old. We’d have to train every day. On the way, I would stop and play football with my friends. I wouldn’t go swimming.
“My dad said to me, if you’re not going to be committed to what you’re actually doing, don’t do it. I grew up with that. When people looked at the way I played, they thought I was a maverick, and I just played off the cuff and didn’t play with responsibility. But my most important thing was the responsibility to the team, the effort, the commitment and the determination. That was what my father instilled in me.”
Yes, John Barnes’ skills wowed the crowd. But being a skilful player doesn’t mean that you just pull out all the tricks. It’s so much more than that. Reading the game and making the right decisions are key to being successful on the pitch.
“Your talent isn’t just your physical talent. It’s your mental attributes. It’s your decision-making and your ability to play off the ball. Unfortunately, people just look at a player who can dribble around lots of people – Lionel Messi – and say that’s their talent. But their talents are also to play without the ball.
“I had a natural ability with the ball. But my father made me understand the responsibility of the team from a defensive point of view, from a point of humility, working for your teammates, doing all the things to allow your teammates to do certain things, and encouraging them – that is also a talent.
“I do believe I had natural ability, but I knew so many kids my age who had equal ability to me. So, what one considers to be your natural talent is not enough. I believe that I made it because I had those other attributes as well – and most footballers do.”
It’s important to remember that players need the opportunity to hone their skills. Realistic practices that replicate the game will help players develop and link training to matchday.
“I think a lot of people just feel [what you do] comes naturally. But when I was at Watford, the repetition of doing it again and again made it stick in our minds. Because I know that we have repetition – repeatedly work on these things all the time – that’s why it actually sticks in your mind.
“Terry Venables favourite saying is: we all tell our kids practice makes perfect. It doesn’t. Practice makes permanent. Because if you do the wrong things and practice the wrong things, you’ll permanently do the wrong things.”