When Negative Thinking Actually Helps

The Dan Abraham's Soccer Academy helps players, coaches and parents work together on the mental side of the game. It's packed with fun, animated video sessions that bring the psychology of soccer to life.

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In my first book, Soccer Tough, I recount a story about former West Ham and England striker, Carlton Cole.

One of the most important questions I asked him before every match was this:

“What will you do if it’s going wrong?”

Over time Carlton got into the habit of telling me in precise detail exactly what he’d do. He’d use his athleticism to bring the defenders in deep or drag them out wide. He’d make sure to stay on his toes and keep moving, keep running, keep working hard.

To begin with Carlton thought I was asking a very negative question. Why would he want to think about the game going wrong? Why would he want to even contemplate the defenders getting the better of him?

But eventually he began to realise that asking himself this seemingly negative question enabled him to strategise for every eventually. He grew to understand that by asking himself this question he wasn’t being defeatist, he was being realistic.

Everyone has tough times during a game of soccer. The match doesn’t always go to plan and form isn’t always found. It isn’t negative to acknowledge that things can go wrong, provided you take the time to think about what you’ll do during the game to put things right.

This is what I’d like you to do if you’re a player. And this is the question I’d like you to ask your players (for coaches) or children (for parents).

“What will you do if it’s not quite working out for you? If the opposition are playing really well or if you’re not quite finding your best form?”

What you are doing is giving yourself (or your players) a better opportunity to think proactively on the pitch, as opposed to reactively. Mentally skillful players are proactive rather than reactive. When things are going wrong they are able to think flexibly in the moment. They are able to find solutions.

By asking this ‘negative’ question a few days before the game you’re priming your mind (or the mind of your players) to be able to find solutions in the moment. You’re priming the brain to be proactive.

Of course there are fun and simple techniques you can use to get even better at being a great problem solver on the pitch. At my online Soccer Academy I teach players, coaches and parents about developing a ‘Game Face’ and using ‘Controllers’. Both techniques are fun, powerful and very effective.

Have a great week in soccer…

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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.