Preparing to Play – a Mental Warm Up

The following article was originally posted in our June 2015 Issue of Amplified Soccer Athlete magazine.

By Dan Abrahams, a global sport psychologist helping people to high perform. Dan’s recently released "Soccer Tough 2: Advanced Psychology Techniques for Footballers" introduces soccer players to more cutting edge tools and techniques to help them develop the game of their dreams.

How do you conduct yourself in the hour before kick off? What do you do? How do you go about preparing for an important game?

I think these 60 minutes are the most important of the week – they are 60 golden nuggets to set the tone of focus, and build a momentum of confidence. As the match approaches so you should have protocols that help your body and your mind attune to competitive intensity. 

So let’s go step by step through a great pre-game mental warm up. I hope it will help you.

Have a Script

In my books ‘Soccer Tough’ and ‘Soccer Brain’ I introduce the reader to the idea of a match script. The script is something I ask all my clients to create no matter their age or level. In short, it is several controllable plays that you want to focus on and you want to achieve during a match. They should be related to the responsibilities within your role and/or mindset. Let me give you a couple as an example:

Always on my toes
Head up, find space
Track my man at all times
Non-stop movement
Be brave with the ball – take players on
Fill the space

You see, they are simple focus points that relate to you having an accomplished game. They should be confined to you (not to anyone else) and they should be mastery based (rather than outcome oriented.)

An hour before kick-off is the time to have your script in front of you. It’s the time to mentally rehearse the script – to create the mental blueprint that you want to recreate come kick off.

Picture Perfect

I’d like you to spend 5 minutes picturing executing the perfect script in your mind. The great thing about this is that you really can be perfect. You can be 8/10, 10/10 and even 12/10.

Do this as vividly as possible. If one of the plays in your script is ‘non-stop movement’, then see, feel and hear yourself move on the pitch. Use as many senses as you can. Feel yourself on your toes – relentless. See through your own eyes and from the side of the pitch. See yourself be incredible.

Of course, picturing your script doesn’t guarantee it will happen, but it sure gives you a better chance. 

Get Mental During the Physical

Players say to me that they have to get a great first touch or release a perfect pass in the first five minutes of a match to get the game started in the perfect mood. They are ignoring the great opportunity that lies before they step out into the arena. It is during your physical warm up that a sense of certainty should be developed. It is during keep ball that your brain should be ignited.

I want you to start to see your physical warm up as a chance to mentally warm up. Get busy using your self-talk

“Keep working, keep moving. Focus, focus. Confident, confident”

Get busy using your body language:

“On my toes, sharp, sharp, sharp”

Be relentless with your positive self-talk and your action based body language.

If Not, So What!

I want you to finish your mental warm up with a pledge. This pledge balances intensity and relaxation. It balances optimism with realism.

“I know that if I stick to my script I’m going to have a great game. I know I can have at least an 8 out of 10 game. But I can’t force my performance, so relax, calm, patience”

You can only be the best that you can be. You can’t force a great performance so relax, calm chill – let your performance take care of itself. Just stick to your script with relentless enthusiasm and the outcome will take care of itself.

I just want you to be the very best you can be. And if you’re not, so what! If you don’t play at your best, so what! Reboot and strive to do it next week. Bad games happen – to give yourself a better chance of a great game you have to accept that fact.

“I’m going to have a great game. If not, so what – I’ll have a great game next time.”

Now go have fun, go play with freedom and go focus on your script. 


Dan Abrahams

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist who works alongside some of the leading players, teams, coaches and organisations in the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating easy to understand and simple to use techniques and performance philosophies. A former professional golfer and PGA golf coach Dan has a First Class Honours degree in psychology and Masters degree in sport psychology. Academically he is visiting lecturer at several universities and he holds registration with the HCPC (meaning he is legally safe to practice as a psychologist). Dan works in all sport but specialises in football/soccer and golf. He is Lead Psychologist for England Golf and he works with players from leading amateur through to Tour players. In football/soccer psychology he is regarded as a leader in the field. He has some of the leading turnaround case studies in Premier League history and he has written two international bestselling books. One of these books, Soccer Tough, has been heralded one of the most important books in football. He currently works with players, teams and organisations across 'Planet Football.' Dan also works in the Corporate Sector delivering his sport psychology techniques and philosophies to individuals and groups.