This weeks blog post is about actual tasks that players can try to use to help them progress through the four mental skills that help young players succeed at the next level. Read last week’s blog post: Youth Soccer Player Psychology
There were many “thank you’s” and positive comments about the timing of last weeks post that I wanted to take extra time completing this week’s version…so here’s the rest of the entry that I developed for young players to take the next step and how I coach many of my kids to develop these skills along with foot-skills and ball striking abilities that I’ve come to be known for.
I can’t tell you how many kids and parents come to me about player confidence and if I can help. I firmly believe that if players take the time to develop these mental skills then they will be better players and in the end, better people.
Courage is one of the attitudes that is also a skill, something that can be developed over time with repeated use: Here are some ideas about how to build courage.
1. Act like an animal. Imagination is a powerful tool to build mental strength so use it. The Tiger is courageous to the point of stupidity but is ferocious in how it attacks. A wolf attacks within a pack and is a focused hunter, similar to group defending. Many players have had great success believing in the power of animals to overcome their fears. It can also help to summon the power of a horse when you run, the deception of a dragonfly in your checking runs or the movements of particular animals to spur the imagination and skill on the field. (“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” –M.Ali)
1. Focus on effort. Many players get so caught up in the success or results that they forget or don’t know how to develop skills over time. Juggling takes thousands of attempts. Goal scoring well requires focus and takes time. If you only focus on the result then you’ll constantly deflate your confidence. Instead, build confidence by focusing on 1 or 2 tasks in the process. Focus on the effort inherent in trying to do something well. You may not always succeed but the more times you attempt and fail will bring you closer to being successful faster.
Remember commitment isn’t just showing up at practice, it’s doing great and giving all of yourself to each task and moment in your life. How you go about that is like this:
1 ) Goal Setting: Commit to two to three goals(technical, tactical and physical) per game or practice. While it’s hard to control your practice goals, ask your coach what could you do extremely well today and then go do it. A good coach will tell you the focus of each session and the technical skills that you’re practicing for that session. Focus on one or two ball skills in each game that you can control and succeed at (one that you’ve had success at and one that is new). Even if you try three step-overs but fail to beat the defender that can be deemed success. Go to practice the next day and then get those three step-overs in practice. Commit to being a better player daily. Be the player that gets better each day. (Stay tuned for the next LFC Project Announcement coming soon!)
2) Get involved in the play early and often: Players with excellent commitment make runs even when they don’t get the ball. They look to get back on defense even though it looks like teammates will win the ball and they also get several positive touches immediately or as early as possible each game. Great players are great because they make something happen when everything is going against their team. They renew their effort and intensity even when they’ve been scored on or they scored a goal.
Composure or Calm Mind
A calm mind starts and ends with acceptance of our limitations and patience with ourselves (and others) as we continue to learn and grow. Where we put our attention will dictate what we can achieve. Many players cannot concentrate over a period of time but also haven’t learned how to focus without tensing up. These simple games and tasks can help build this skill.
Concentrate over a period of time: Forwards and backwards
We can all recite the alphabet or count to 100. But can you do it backwards? Can you do it standing on one leg? Can you do it on a boat?
Step 1. Sit down and close your eyes. Count backwards from 100. 99, 98, 97, etc. If you get distracted go back to the number you remember and start again.
Step 2. Try the alphabet. Sit down and close your eyes. Start with Z, Y, X, etc. Try not to cheat by singing the song. Use your recall as much as possible to focus. Can you do it without pausing.
Step 3. Find a posture, like standing on one leg, or kneel on the ground with one leg up and one leg down. Can you count backwards and recite the alphabet in the same sitting? How long does it take you?
Count backwards from 100 using each breath as one count, inhale and exhale for each number. How long can you concentrate on the task at hand?
Focus Your Attention without Forcing Results: Trash Basketball
Sit about 10 feet away from a wastebasket. Crumble up twenty little balls of paper. Get ready to play.
Step 1. Without paying any attention, casually toss some balls toward the basket, and see if you sink any.
Step 2. This time, focus your attention intently in the center of the wastebasket. Sink your mind into the basket. Staying relaxed, toss a few balls in. (don’t force the effort or you’ll become tense; just let them go in.) Check your results. Were you focused?
Step 3. Repeat Step 2, but have a partner standing behind you periodically poke you in the ribs, at random, as you’re about to shoot. Notice how this affects your mental focus and accuracy. Then overcome it.
If you practice several of these mental skills daily or even during games and practices you’ll notice a huge improvement in your general attitude. You’ll even begin to notice how it impacts not just your game, but your life!