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In this article Westside United coach, Josh Brown, points out a crucial differentiator when it comes to success and failure as a coach – being mentally prepared to deliver. If we demand it from players then we need to demand it from ourselves – we need to be as mentally robust as them.
As a coach, one of the telltale signs of how ready a player is for a match or training is their level of mental preparedness. Their soccer psychology is vital!
A player who has to borrow a teammate’s socks or shinguards for a match or training will most likely underperform as they are not mentally prepared for the task at hand.
Another telltale sign of mental preparedness is punctuality. If players arrive late, or right on time (which is late in my mind), they are most likely rushed and not mentally prepared to get to work at training or a match.
In a match, when a player drops his head, loses focus, or complains to a referee about a call, his mental focus will follow suit. In my experience, mental preparedness is contagious, and it starts with the leader of the team: the coach.
So many times I have been at a training or match and seen other coaches who I can tell are not mentally prepared to train their teams. I’ve seen coaches wear suits and dress shoes to trainings, jeans and sandals to matches, or show up to training late (or on time) on a wing and a prayer.
Admittedly, I have not always been innocent of the occasional mental gaffe either, but if the coach isn’t prepared, how can he expect the players to be prepared? If we are to demand this mental preparedness from our players, we must also demand it of ourselves.
Yes, life happens and our focus can be elsewhere at times. But, if we are to demand mental preparedness from our players, we must also demand it from ourselves.
Below are five simple tips and pieces of advice that I have garnered over the years from other coaches and even people from other disciplines who wear multiple hats in the their lives that can help a coach come to training mentally sharp.
Be early. One of my coaching colleagues tells his players that on time is late, and I have adopted this as well. Get to training early, set up the field, and show the players you are read to train them.
Have a written plan. Write down what you plan to do, the length of time you plan to spend on each activity, the progressions, and each coaching point you want to hit in each part of training. Without a plan, you are going nowhere. If you don’t have coaching points targeted to hit, you may give your players too much or too little information. This will help keep you on track and organized. Before training, tell players what today’s agenda and goal is. Show them there is a plan and purpose for the day. They are much more willing to follow your lead if they know where they are going. Also, this can help protect you against liability. Written plans are essential if a player becomes injured and there is a legal issue. With the written plan, you have documentation as to what you were doing and this can protect you as well.
Dress the part. It will be very hard for players to take a man in a three-piece suit or socks and sandals seriously. Our players must dress the part, so we must do the same. My main job is a teacher, and one of my coaching jobs is as a high school team. Somedays, I am rushed to get to the field after a meeting at school, but its always worth the two minutes it takes me to change into my coaching gear. My players need to know I’m prepared, and if I come to the field in khakis and a polo, their attitude about training would immediately change. You wouldn’t wear your coaching gear to a business meeting, so don’t wear wear business attire to coach in. Dress as a soccer professional.
Make an apparel change. This may seem very similar to the previous note, but I believe this is a significant difference and allow me the liberty to explain. When most of us get home from work, one of the ways we transition from the work mindset and enter the home mindset is to change clothes. Slipping into different clothing can mentally change our focus. This concept is also true for coaching. Have something to physically wear that is specific for coaching: a pair of boots, training shoes, a hat, anything that you solely wear when you are coaching. For me, I have certain shoes and a hat I wear when I coach. I only wear these shoes and hat when I am in a coaching role and no other time. The physical act of putting on these shoes and hat helps me to mentally shift from whatever role I just left into my role as a coach. I can almost feel my mind transforming as my outward appearance changes. Give it a try.
Take notes. The best way to stay engaged in training is to take notes. A players is on his game, make a note. A players is struggling, make a note. The activity is working, make a note. The activity is a disaster, make a note. This helps keep training focused on the task at hand, and self-reflection on these notes after training can also help make future trainings more productive
These tips are not all encompassing by any means, but they are very simple ways to effectively put into practice the mental preparation that coaches need and demand from their players every training session. In my personal opinion, number four is probably what helps me the most in my mental preparation. The physical act of changing my appearance does wonders for my mental state. We need to be the example of what we demand of our players.
If you have any tips that work for you that I didn’t mention, please tweet them to me @gaffer_brown.
Josh Brown is an English teacher and soccer coach at Southport High School and a senior team coach at Westside United FC in Indiana.