This article is provided by Dan Abrahams and is from his new book - Soccer Tough.
My new book ‘Soccer Tough’ helps footballers of all abilities to build their mental toughness and develop the mindset of an elite player. In this article I will introduce you to 3 golden rules that will help you become the very best footballer you can be.
Think about your football in a helpful, positive way
How you think about your football on a day to day basis determines how you feel about your football, and how you feel about your football heavily influences how quickly you learn in training and how well you perform on matchday.
I spend many hours every week teaching Premiership footballers how to think effectively after training and before matchday. Here is one technique you can use that I talk about in ‘Soccer Tough’:
I want you to write down your 3 best ever games. Write them in detail just as we’ve discussed before. This will give you something to come back to every day that can help build and maintain a strong soccer image. It will help you take control of the memories you have of your football.
When writing down your 3 best games remember key moments such as the runs you made, the tackles, blocks, passes and headers you won. Add feelings to your story – “I felt strong, confident and powerful” and “I felt like I was unbeatable” – these are exciting images to remember and to reinforce. If your friends or loved ones were watching you what do you think they would have seen? Write their viewpoint down as well.
When you spend time off the pitch reminding yourself of the times you perform at your very best you feed your brain and body confident pictures and images. The footballer who commits to this technique on a daily basis will build self-belief and feel great going into his training session and matches – giving himself an improved chance to learn quicker and play better with more consistency.
Practice with a purpose
Having an abundance of ability in football is nice to have, but however talented you are it is the quality of your training that determines the trajectory of your football. In fact, so important is this that I advise clients to stop using the word training and start calling it practice. And any old practice isn’t enough – it is deliberate practice that is important. As I describe in Soccer Tough:
Deliberate practice isn’t easy and it begins in the brain. It’s not a soccer player doing an hour of training, doing a bit of five-a-side and having fun with mates. It’s mentally and physically taxing. It is a kind of focused, repetitive practice in which you are always monitoring your performance, correcting, experimenting, listening to immediate and constant feedback, and always pushing beyond what you have already achieved.
When you next go and practice make sure you set yourself a goal, preferably a specific area you’d like to improve. Concentrate fully and push yourself out of your comfort zone by attempting the things you don’t find easy on the pitch.
Control the controllables
The biggest killer in football is distraction. Taking your mind away from the game can lead to hazardous consequences. A correct focus of attention in football starts with an understanding of what you can and can’t control. There are plenty of things in football you can’t control and if you play your focus on them you can easily get distracted as you play. As I point out in Soccer tough:
The most obvious ones are the weather and the state of the pitch. It’s fairly evident that you can’t control those aspects. And yet how many soccer players place their focus on them? Many times I’ve walked onto a pitch with the team before a game and heard someone say “I can’t believe how bad the pitch is. How can we play well on this?” Where do you think this soccer player’s performance focus is going to be during the match? Do you think he might be easily distracted?
Similar to the state of the pitch I’ve heard footballers moan about the weather. Last season a player came up to me on Thursday and said he hoped it wasn’t going to be raining during the game on Saturday because he had decided he was rubbish when playing in the rain. I, of course, pointed out that if he wanted a career in professional football in England he was probably going to have to get used to playing in the rain (it rains a lot in England!). Joking aside do you think this player’s thinking going into the game was helpful? His performance focus was inevitably going to be damaged if it rained - something he couldn’t control.
Before the next time you play jot down some the things you can control like your ‘body language’ and ‘how confidently you execute your role’ and try to focus on these. Avoid placing your attention onto the things you can’t control – they will only direct your mind away from what is important during the game.