Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist helping people to high perform. Dan’s book "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 love giving young coaches a platform to air for their thoughts and opinions. Writing about their beliefs on developing players gives them an opportunity to clarify their core training principles – and the bonus is that we can learn from their journey. Here York City community coach Sam Gevaux gives us his thoughts on helping footballers manage fear.
Understanding and combating fear within youth soccer is an integral process throughout the development of a player. As coaches/parents/mentors we must be able to take that fear out of the players’/participants’ game. That’s important football psychology!
I believe the best thing we can do is alleviate the pressure that comes with playing football – we need to allow players to be confident in all areas of the pitch including the so called “Dangerous Areas”. If you can give the player the freedom to be creative within his or her ability there will be no limit for that players’ growth and development, not only as a player but as a person.
From my own experiences the ability to create a free thinking, fearless, educational and fun environment has been the key to long term success. The players understood that mistakes meant a self-learning process was being undertaken and that they would make many mistakes along the way.
Helping them Handle Fear
There are many aspects to consider and the continual learning process that coaches go through is vital when considering psychological matters within sport and especially when focusing on eradicating fear.
The first thing I tell my players when taking over a new team is that there will be no anger, no punishment for mistakes, for trying new things, for undertaking the ideas that were once perceived as ‘dangerous play’. I also tell them that the two fears they are born with, the fear of falling and loud noises are the only two they cannot get rid of and everything from that point becomes man made. This statement then becomes the start of the process of eradicating the players’ fears.
When it comes to other players increasing the fear within their own team this needs to be managed and dealt with quickly and efficiently. Soccer psychology in action!
A way I have found useful is the terminology of the players wanting the ball in different scenarios, such as instead of saying “Give me the ball” or screaming “I’m on, I’m on” I would get my players to say “I’m here if you need” or something similar. This then gives the player on the ball the decision, not only allowing them to become better decision makers but also allowing the player to recognise that there are options around them to help the team move successfully up the pitch.
The way players treat each other is obviously very important and there cannot be negative connotations between players. The behaviours you set as the coach or mentor will reflect on your players. That is something I believe needs to be solved if it is a problem within your team. Players will tend to lose interest if they turn up 2 or 3 times a week just to feel down and negative about their performance due to comments from team mates.
This is just a short insight into the eradication of fear within football but will hopefully make you think about how your behaviour and comments can affect players’ performances and development in either a negative or positive manner. It is a continual learning process that grows and evolves all the time so you have to frequently update your philosophy towards the psychology within the game.
Sam Gevaux is a community coach for York City FC.