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.
Read Dan's latest article, "Gaining Player Trust," in Best of Amplified Soccer Training Volume 1.
I keep saying it and I keep stressing it. Keeping great body language throughout training and throughout a match is imperative. It’s a must. In this article former semi pro player and now coach John Kirby tells us a little about his background and his thoughts on the psychology of football…with an emphasis on that all important body language.
My name is John Kirby and I am currently a coach at AFC Uckfield Town in Sussex County Division 2. As a player I played at Horsham FC in the Ryman League (English football’s 7th division), but unfortunately in 2004 I was forced to stop at the age of 27 due to injury.
I think football psychology is very important, and though it wasn’t as prominent in my playing days as it is today (at least not talked about as much as it is now), it is something I used to work on relentlessly.
Moving On Up
I was only playing park football when someone said I should be playing at a higher level. My initial response was “yeah right, that is proper football!” I agreed to go to pre-season training at a club that competed at a much higher level to what I was used to – and 2 weeks later I was signed on for Horsham in the Ryman League.
My mind-set seemed to change overnight. I thought to myself “you’re now playing on decent pitches, week in and week out, make the most of it”. I put everything into becoming the best I could be and that included training with what were, in my eyes, far superior players.
I knew I had to listen to what I was being told to do in order to improve my game. After not too long I was being told that I was in the first team and only then did I finally think that I belonged there. I had ‘put it’ into my own head that I was an integral part of the side. This helped me grow and improve my game drastically.
Now I am coaching, I strive to tell all my players about the importance of football psychology.
I’m a big believer that mind and body are linked, so I emphasise the importance of what they are putting into their bodies. Players can’t think correctly (especially under pressure) without the right levels of energy. I used to eat a lot of rice and chicken the night before a game and drink plenty of water on the morning of the game. I found I had so much more energy. I realise this isn’t scientific evidence, and I’m certainly not a nutritionist – but learning from other players and coaches about what works is more impactful in my opinion.
Sometimes I get a blank look from players when I talk to them about nutrition – that stare, like I’m mad or don’t know what I’m talking about. I try to use a useful metaphor to explain things as clearly as I can: “You wouldn’t put diesel in a petrol car to drive it, as it would soon break down, but if you oil it regularly and put the correct fuel in, you will be able to use it to its optimum performance”
The Presence of Body Language
The next important thing for me is a player’s presence on the pitch. When I played I wanted to make myself look as big and strong as possible to try to intimidate the forwards I would be marking.
I ask my players to get their heads up, get their chests out and shoulders back. Doing this makes them look more confident and I have seen the impact this shift in physiology has made first-hand and up close. When our players do this, the opposition looks across and they look down at the ground and seemed inferior.
A particularly fond memory of using this technique was when I emphasised body language to my players before a big county cup match. We went on to beat the leaders of the league above us.
Stand tall at all times – head up, shoulders back. This is a must from my players, no matter what is happening on the pitch. If we go a goal down, stand tall. If we make mistakes, stand tall.
Body language is how I got the most from my ability and I use it in every training session and every match to help my players get the very most from their talent.
It matters little what level you play at – as a footballer you need to strive to keep outstanding body language. It is virtually a rule number one for me with my clients no matter whether they’re playing Champions League football or kicking about with mates on a Sunday afternoon at the local pitch.
As John says – stand tall, head up, shoulders back. Be on your toes at all times – alert, alive, lively and sharp.
Just as your football psychology affects your physiology, so your physiology affects your football psychology. Remember this – always!
John Kirby coaches at Uckfield Town and can be found on twitter @johnny070576