Winning Your Players through Trust, Loyalty, and Respect: A Soccer Coach's Guide

High School Soccer Programs: Pregame Mental Preparation

How do you address your soccer team before a game? Is it laced with the word ‘winning’? Should it be?

In our sports-minded society, it seems winning is the only thing that’s important. Players and coaches are judged on whether they win (or not) and coaches are often fired when they lose too many games. Players’ abilities are often questioned when they don’t win enough.

How about your soccer team? Do you catch yourself saying, “We really need to win this game tonight!” Is winning more important to you than your players? Do they really know how important a particular game is? My guess is yes. So, with that in mind, do we overemphasize winning before the game and at halftime? By reminding players about the need to win, are we adding to the pressure and inhibiting their ability to play?

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In my view, certain words and phrases add to the pressure.

  1. This is a huge game.
  2. Tonight is a must win.
  3. Lose and we go home.
  4. Everyone is counting on you.
  5. Remember, no mistakes tonight.
  6. We’ve never lost to this team.

Pointing out anything negative is never helpful before a game. In addition, emphasizing bad moments from the past can be destructive, such as:

  1. Don’t make the passes you did in the last game.
  2. Let’s play better than we did on Monday.
  3. Our defending was terrible the other night.
  4. Keep the ball on frame, unlike the ones in practice.

Whatever we didn’t do in our previous game (or games) – this should have been taken care of at practice or discussed after the game. Negatively rehashing past moments serves no purpose now.

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How can we get our point across – before the game – without overusing the word “winning?” Here are a few suggested phrases:

  1. Play your best tonight.
  2. Leave it all on the field.
  3. Play like we practiced this week.
  4. If you get tired, dig deep and believe in yourself.
  5. Demand the best from each other.
  6. Pick your teammates up and encourage them.
  7. Let no one intimidate you. Stay focused.
  8. Play with more passion than you’ve ever played before.
  9. I am so proud of every effort you’ve given this season.
  10. We’ve been here before and know what it takes to be successful.
  11. You’ve earned the right to be here tonight.

Here’s an effective mental imagery technique for doing it the right way; a means to allow your players to ‘see success’ before the game.

Seat the team and have them close their eyes as you set the tone with these statements and questions:

  1. What do you hear?
  2. Picture your teammates in a line. Walk down the line, stop, and look each one in the eye and say, “You can count on me tonight.”
  3. Go to your best game. What do you see? Why was it your best game?
  4. Focus on the play or plays you made. How did they make you feel?
  5. Think forward to this game. Picture yourself making those same plays.
  6. Think how hard you’ve worked to get here.
  7. Repeat this phrase in your mind, “Tonight is our night!”

If you do this outside the locker room before the game, your players will be able to hear the crowd which is good because it reinforces that positive mental image of support from the fans. Remind them there are many people who’ve supported them all year, and they’re there because they believe in them.

Making soccer players accountable to their teammates gives your athletes an extra incentive to be at their best. It reminds them the game isn’t just about them; it’s about the team.

Taking them back to their best game allows them to see how well they played and how capable they are of doing it again. While seeing the play is important, they also need to remember how they felt after the play and the joy and jubilation that followed.

Bringing them forward to that night’s game is crucial. It reminds them of the task at hand and lets them see themselves and their teammates as having the ability to make incredible plays.

Remembering how hard they’ve worked throughout the season and practice justifies the right to be successful on this night.

Just saying, “Tonight is our night,” will not ensure success. Players must believe in themselves and their teammates to have a chance. By being positive, offering encouragement, and laying the groundwork, you’ve given them a reason to believe.

We spend hours practicing technique and tactics, but it can all go up in smoke when our team isn’t mentally prepared or focused. So much of that has to do with us – coaches – through our demeanor and communication. Certainly, however, no one soccer team is like another, and preparation varies from year to year. Hopefully, by playoff time, you will have mastered the best technique to use with your team.

About this Article

This article was extracted from Winning Your Players Through Trust, Loyalty and Respect (C23) by DeAngelo Wiser.

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