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.
I know what it feels like.
Feet heavy, your soles stuck like glue to the pitch. Hips stiff, back immobile. It feels horrendous. It feels like you’re having an outer body experience. It feels negative and downbeat.
Internally your mind goes into overdrive. Continuous thoughts flood your conscience – they mostly anxiety ridden.
“I can’t believe I’m playing so bad”
“This is going to be another terrible game”
Every thought marching to a negative beat. Thoughts that release a stress hormone – cortisol - into your bloodstream making you feel even more sluggish and even more lethargic. Suffering from tunnel vision, you don’t spot the space. You don’t see the runs and the movement of your team mates nor the opposition. You don’t take risks. You don’t play with fun and freedom.
When that game is over you breathe a sigh of relief. That can’t happen again surely? But then it does. The following week you experience the same sticky feet, the same lethargic feel, and the same nervousness on the ball. You suffer the same lack of vision, the same languid and lazy movement, and the same slow and ineffective decisions.
This is the body and brain of a slumping soccer player. At the time of writing it’s the body and brain of many of the Chelsea footballers. Under-performing, under-achieving champions who seem unable to find the form that won them the Premier League title last season. Similarly, it’s the same body and brain of the Aston Villa players (currently at the foot of the EPL) – good soccer players who are performing poorly, who are slumping.
Slumping players lack self-belief and performance confidence. They suffer from displaced or dispersed focus. And they experience the kind of emotions that are destructive to their game.
In this short article I’m going to give you a very quick and simple technique that can help you emerge from a slump, and even prevent you from getting into a slump in the first place.
When soccer players start performing poorly and start to feel that dreaded sense of a loss in confidence, their game is often accompanied by the thought “What now?” They lack certainty and authority. Everything seems foggy internally and externally the game seems to be in super speed.
The thought “What now?” demonstrates a brain overwhelmed by fear or anxiety. It’s imperative that soccer players changes this inner voice. They need to take charge and take control. They need to weave a different inner narrative.
The beauty of this technique is that it requires just two words. Those words are “What next?” Instead of thinking “What now?” I want you to say “What next?”
Notice the subtle difference between what now and what next. What now is a thought. What next is self-talk. There is a difference between your thinking and your self-talk. As I outline in my new book Soccer Tough II thoughts happen to soccer players, while they do their self-talk.
Your thoughts happen to you – you do your self-talk.
I want soccer players to become experts at self-talk. I think self-talk is as important as first touch. By developing the ability to use your self-talk so you improve you capability of managing yourself on the pitch. By saying (self-talk) “What next?” rather thanking thinking (thought) “What now?” so you give yourself a chance to play proactively. So you give yourself a chance to get onto your toes and act alert, alive and lively. So you give yourself a chance to play with certainty and authority and subsequently find your confidence again.
“What next?” can lead to crisp strikes of the ball. It can lead to head up which helps you see more of the pitch. And it can lead to faster, more effective decisions.
So if you feel like you’re having a bad game and if you start to slump into a “What now?” mindset start to say “What next?” to yourself. Start taking control of your mind and body to be the very best you can be, and to prevent you from entering the game’s silent killer – a slump in form.
Soccer Tough 2 is split into four sections - Practice, Prepare, Perform, and Progress and Dan's goal is simple - to help players train better, prepare more thoroughly, perform with greater consistency and progress faster.
Each section offers readers an assortment of development strategies and game philosophies that bring the psychology of soccer to life. They are techniques that have been proven on pitches and with players right across the world. Get it today!