What makes a strong soccer player? A knowledgeable soccer fan may choose among a variety of appropriate answers. Good foot skills. Aggression. Speed. Athleticism. Although all of these physical abilities strengthen a player’s performance on the field, many players and coaches pay little attention to the importance of the mental aspects of the game.
What are the mental components of playing soccer, and why is it important to investigate a player’s mental capacities? Primarily, actions on the field, during games and practice, are direct results of players’ motivation, attention and confidence. Without determination and the ability to focus, the National Team players would never have gotten to where they are today. Every learning experience, every motion and every moment of contact with the ball begins with the mind. A player’s mental game facilitates development and ultimately, the enjoyment of the game.
As a coach, it is important to check up on your players’ mental game and to maintain confidence, motivation and satisfaction among your players. Sustaining positive thoughts and self-confidence will ensure that players will play at their potential and strive to reach beyond expectations on the field. What can you do as a coach to promote self-confidence and a positive mental outlook? Encouragement, communication and support are the foundations of self-confidence.
In order to bolster positive mental attitudes among your players, let’s take a moment to acknowledge what undermines self-confidence. Sometimes a mistake or negative feedback concerning performance on the field can cause a player to lose confidence in his abilities. Other times, the insecurities of being a substitute can weaken a player’s self-confidence. Ultimately, self-confidence is governed by a player’s perception of himself. What kind of feedback are your players receiving about themselves and about their abilities as soccer players?
As the coach, you have an important impact on your players’ self-confidence. When you are demonstrative and clearly convey that you are pleased with a player’s performance, the player will in turn be pleased with himself. Give credit where it is due, and encourage individual players as well as the collective team. A coach’s enthusiasm boosts motivation and improvement. Your positive comments will positively influence players’ self-confidence.
Conversely, self-confidence is harmed when players think that coaches do not believe in them or do not have faith in their abilities. There is nothing wrong with expressing dissatisfaction with a player’s decision on the field, however, the ways in which you communicate your criticism are important. Provide the player with a better alternative, and explain your reasoning behind it. Make eye contact, and try not to lecture your players. Improvement takes cooperation from you and from your players. It is important to recognize that you are working with your players as opposed to working them.
Communication with your players facilitates improvement. When you take the time to explain things, your players will interpret the effort you put forth as an indication that you respect them and believe in them. The best way to bolster self-confidence is to communicate your own confidence in their capabilities.
In order to remind your players of their own strengths and abilities, make sure that variety is a feature of every practice. Players have different strengths and weaknesses, as does the team as a unit, and it is important to develop weaker skills as well as spend time displaying the strengths. Self-confidence is enhanced when players have the chance to witness their own talents. If you spend an important day practicing the tough stuff, end practice with a scrimmage, juggling contest or a fun game of some sort. Enjoyment fosters self-confidence as well.
If one of your players is discouraged by his own abilities, or more specifically by a mistake he made on the field, it is important for you to help him work through his feelings. Validate the player’s sentiments, and assure him that improvement is on horizon as long as he works hard. Determination and hard work lead to success, and every small blunder can be turned into lesson that will bring your players closer toward their goals. If your players aren’t worried about the repercussions of making mistakes, they can exert all of their energy on improvement and striving for success.
During a game, substitution can sometimes be interpreted as a consequence of making a mistake, and many times a coach will pull a player off the field because of an error. Substitution is a touchy issue because of its potential effect on a player’s mental game. Many players base part of their self-confidence on the amount of playing time they receive. It is rare to find a dedicated player who isn’t concerned when he receives little playing time. Therefore, how you deal with substitution can significantly affect your players’ self-confidence.
Continuously pulling players off the field the instant they make mistakes is unwise. First of all, it is best to admit to yourself now that your team is likely to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. If you consistently remove a player every time he makes a mistake, he will spend so much time in fear of messing up that he will be unable to focus on his strengths and the development of his skills. When anxiety about making mistakes is on the forefront of a player’s mind, messing up is almost guaranteed. Players play their best when they feel as though they have nothing to lose.
Ultimately, when dealing with substitutions at the youth level, let your players learn from their faults on the field, give everyone adequate playing time and provide them with constructive criticism when you do decide to withdraw them from the game. This is the best way to sustain self-confidence and strengthen a player’s mental game.
If you believe in your players’ abilities and potential, they will believe in themselves and play without any reservations. Self-confidence is an important key to developing skillful soccer players.