Simple Tips to Manage your Soccer Mindset

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Managing your Mindset on the Sidelines

To be the most effective soccer coach you can be it's important to become accomplished at managing emotions. Here's my really quick guide to staying calm during a match.

Understanding your Front Brain

What are the key skills of a football coach or manager? People skills? Tactical understanding and implementation? Whatever you put at the top of the list you can guarantee that the skill you pick is governed by the front part your brain – the 'intelligent' brain. The front part of the brain regulates our emotions. It's the goal-oriented part that is responsible for recognising patterns and executing decisions. What we know in science is that your front brain will tend to switch off in times of extreme stress and emotion. The great basketball coach Phil Jackson said that he never allowed his pulse rate to get over a hundred during a game – he didn’t want his decision making being affected by emotion. Passion is a useful source of motivation for any coach – but passion without intelligence limits your thinking ability under pressure. You need techniques to cope with the pressure of matchday.

Remember what your Goal is

Your goal as a soccer coach usually depends on the age group you coach. In adult football you're probably focused on helping your team win. In youth football you are most likely looking to provide players with development experiences. For both sets of scenarios remaining calm is imperative. How do teams win? Primarily through the intelligent execution of responsibilities. How can you help players do that? By a commitment to remaining calm. You can’t advise if you suffer from the tunnel vision that excessive emotion tends to deliver. Equally, how do you best help young players enjoy their game and learn? By remaining calm and thoughtful and by communicating effectively. Remember what you are striving to achieve on Saturday and focus on the how.

Take Breaths and STOP

I talk a lot about the phenomenon of ANTs in my books. Not the insects, but Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). ANTs have to be squashed on matchday if you are to function as a coach effectively. They have to be crushed with immediate effect. Unsquashed ANTs build and build until the front part of the brain shuts down and emotion takes over. In order to squash ANTs it's helpful to have a plan of action to attack them - I call this the SPOT, STOP, SHIFT method. So if a player makes a mistake or your team falls behind and you start to experience ANTs, you firstly need to SPOT the ANTs by identifying these negative thoughts you are having. Then you need to STOP them. To do this, you can imagine a STOP sign in your mind, or you can say STOP to yourself. You then need to SHIFT the ANTs by moving your focus of attention onto tangible things such as your next instruction. Take some deep breaths, keep great body language or talk to another member of your coaching staff. 'Keep calm and carry on' is a great maxim to coach by on the sidelines. 

Managing your Mindset (Players Guide)

If you're a player (or parent of a player) it's a great idea to read the article above (even though it's for coaches). This is because the same concepts apply for players.

It's important to understand that the front part of your brain (your 'intelligent brain') switches off when you become engulfed in emotion on the pitch. When this happens the awareness you have of the pitch and the players around you will lessen. It will also slow down your anticipation and damage your decision making. 

By squashing ANTs and remaining calm, clear and composed you give your front brain its best opportunity to remain fully engaged. You'll see more of the pitch and the play around you - this will help you accomplish more as an individual and as a team mate.

Here's a very quick guide to remaining calm on the pitch:

1. Set yourself the goal of managing your mindset before you play. Rather than focusing on being man or woman of the match, task yourself with remaining calm for the entire game. By doing this you give yourself a better chance to perform at your very best.

2. When you play a match aim to squash your ANTs quickly. Be strong with this philosophy...make dealing with negative thoughts a critical essential. To squash ANTs quickly you have to make this as important as controlling the ball, taking shots and winning tackles.

3. Use your body language. When players get angry they tend to speed up. Some run around like a headless chicken with little thought for positioning or for the responsibilities related to their role. Use your body language to slow yourself down. Take some deep breaths and stand still for a few seconds. Reinforce this by telling yourself to slow down and to focus on the responsibilities in your role.  

These are some really simple steps to help you deal with negative emotions as you compete and to stay calm under pressure. Managing your mindset on the pitch can positively impact your performances so it's important to put mind management at the forefront of your game as you train and play.

Have a great week in soccer... 


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.