One of the first things you must understand if you are going to develop the mind of a champion for yourself as a player, coach or as a soccer parent is the idea that all performance is self-fulfilling. Before you run off and find a dictionary let me explain this concept for you. This idea revolves around the theme of “you get what you expect as a player, coach or a soccer player”.
On a personal level, if you go into a match expecting to play like rubbish, the chances of you under performing are high. As a coach, if you lack the confidence and the trust of the players, more than likely your team will be defeated in every match. As a parent, if you install the fear in your child of not playing well, then chances are that your child will succumb to these pressures. However, if you go into a match expecting to have fun and play to the best of your abilities, you will! This is nothing new its based on the Mind-Body Connection.
The rest of this post will focus on you. “You” can represent you as the player, the coach or the soccer parent. The information provided here is very generic and can be applied to various situations and circumstances. Now that we’ve established the ground rules, lets get started….
If you go into a game situation and you are telling yourself things like
- This team is so good we are going to lose.
- I feel tired.
- I feel lousy.
- I’m out of form and played terribly last game.
- What happens if i make another mistake.
What do you think the outcome will be after all these negative thoughts? If your a betting man you’d bet that the same negative outcomes will occur. Lets try and dissect this phenomenon and investigate why this is so common amongst players at all levels.
When you continually feed yourself these negative thoughts, this is what is beginning to happen inside your body. Your muscles are beginning to tighten up, your breathing is becoming faster and shallower, your heart and pulse rate are increasing and you begin to lose circulation to your hands and feet. Do you think your body is ready to perform at its peak? The result of this negativity is
- Your reflexes and foot speed slow down. This is caused by the tight muscles.
- Your basic movements become less fluid and awkward. Once again this is attributed to the muscles tightening up.
- You lose your feel for the ball. This is caused by the lack of circulation to your hands and feet.
- and finally your endurance suffers. Even if you are match fit and conditioned, your breathing pattern of short and rapid breaths will not allow you to compete at your best.
So can you tell me the difference between your best game and your worst game? (I’m assuming that the fitness levels of your game have been reached and that you have been conditioned for matches). The difference between your best games and your worst games is “upstairs”. The mental side of your game is extremely important. Your mental strategies, which are your thoughts, self affirmations and self image before your best games are very different than the ones that you use before your worst games.
You might agree with the above, but now your wondering how you can implement this information. The following exercises are designed so that you can discover your “inner coach”.
Exercise 1: Review your best Performances.
Go to your favourite place in the house where its quiet and free from distractions. Get comfortable and close your eyes and think about the last time you had a great game and the last time when you believed that you were a great player. Use your imagination and revisit this moment and see, hear and feel everything that went on in this match that made it so special.
- Focus on what happened before the game. How did you feel? What were you thinking? Were you looking forward to the match? Did you visualise any of the match before the game? What was your “inner coach” telling you before the match? What were you concentrating on before the match?
- What was going through your head while you were playing? What kind of self-talk were you aware of? How did you react to a mistake or when you were beaten by an opponent? What did you say to yourself when you made these mistakes?
- What happened to you after the match? How did you feel?
Exercise 2: Review your worst Performances.
Go to your favourite place in the house where its quiet and free from distractions. Evaluate your worst game using the same questions used above. If you spend a little time with these exercises you will soon see how your play is directly related to “what you think”, before and during the game. Games are won and lost before they even start. When was the last time you were mentally taken out of the game because you got psyched out by the other team, another player or by the size of the crowd?
Exercise 3: Comparing Good and Bad Performances.
The first 2 exercises should help you understand that good and bad performances are not random, but are directly related to your mindset. If you enter a match worried and stressed your play will reflect this. When you make mistakes during the game, you will have a tendency to hang onto these mistakes and bring yourself down even further. Conversely, if you go into a game with positive self talk and optimistic thoughts, you will perform much closer to your potential. You will quickly rebound from your mistakes and they will have no adverse effect on your play. Remember, all players make mistakes, its how quickly you bounce back from the set back that counts.
The purpose of these exercises is to provide you with an awareness of your before and during the game mental strategies. It is the awareness that will help you make the necessary changes to become a mentally tough player. Without awareness you will not be able to change negative or self defeating thoughts or behaviours. Instead, you will become another victim to them.
AWARENESS IS THE KEY TO CHANGE.
Let me just repeat that, “Awareness is the key to change.”
Its time for an example: Lets say you are having trouble controlling the ball with one touch. Change and improvement to this problem can only occur after you become aware of the problem. Once you can feel, see and understand the mistake, only then can you rectify it. This same principle applies to your mental game. You must first get to know your negative thoughts related to your performance before you can change them. If you do not play to your potential against certain teams or opponents you must become aware of how you mentally sabotage yourself in these situations before you can correct the problem.
As a player, coach or a parent it is critical that you do not underestimate the power of your “inner coach”.