How To Be a Better Soccer Player – 10 Mental Habits To Develop

We here at performance soccer know that mentality is a very important component of your game. If you want to know how to be a better soccer player

How to Mentally Prepare for a Soccer Game
How to Build Confidence in Soccer
We here at performance soccer know that mentality is a very important component of your game. If you want to know how to be a better soccer player, you have to evaluate the way you think about the game. I don’t mean tactics here. I am talking about the mental edge that you must have in order to succeed in this sport.

Get your head rightWe have all seen great players have bad days on the field, and not-so-great players have amazing days. Why is this?
It’s because of their ability to channel their mind.

If you want to be great, you must make your mind work for you, rather than against you. This is easy to do compared to suicides, because it is simple, but it can be very tough in its own right.  So, without further ado, here are the top 10 things you need to start doing today to become a better player.

1. Be the hardest working player on the pitch. Always.

This one is obvious, but it is #1 because it is not something you can turn on and off like a light switch. If you start to get lazy you are sending your brain the message that it’s OK to be lazy and complacent on the field. Obviously, it’s less demanding and easier to give yourself some slack. However, the small things you do will snowball into big things.

Think of each game or practice session like an opportunity to add fuel to a fire. You can either add fuel to the “lazy” fire or add fuel to the “hard working” fire. One individual session, just like one individual log of fire wood isn’t going to make or break you. But, if you consistently fuel the wrong fire, it will grow into a big uncontrollable flame and you wont be able to stop it when you need too. However, if you fuel the “hard working” fire it will be a big unstoppable flame whenever you need it. So, do you want to be stuck in the habit of being complacent and lazy on the pitch, or stuck in the habit of working as hard as you can?

Even if you can’t be the fastest, strongest, most technical or smartest player, you can always be the hardest working. Make sure that you are the hardest working at every practice and every game and you are guaranteed to improve. This is not about comparing yourself to others. It’s about comparing yourself to your own standards

2. Sprint back.

This is a mental thing to work on because most players hate tracking back, so they are pretty casual about it (if they even do it at all). If you can get in the habit of mentally urging yourself to sprint back instead of jogging when you track back, you will be in a better position to take care of your defensive responsibilities.

You’ll make the other team work harder to catch you, and you will notice that the game is easier when you are proactive about getting back. So, don’t walk or run, sprint the first 3 steps when you know you have to get back. You can rest when you get there or after the first 3 steps. You’ll notice there are very few players that do this, so you will definitely stand out in a positive way. Do this at all games and practices.

3. Concentrate on the basics first.

When a game starts, especially a big game, many players are eager to start showing off their moves. They want to take players on and score a goal in the first 10 minutes. You must actively resist the urge to do this.

Instead, focus on getting the basics right for your first few touches. The first few touches of the game (first 5-10 mins) should be doing the simple things right. Receive the ball properly with the inside of your foot, then pass it to an open player. Don’t start running at people, because if your first touch of the game is an attempted run where you lose the ball, your confidence will take a hit.The rest of the game from that point will be an uphill battle against the voices in your head. So keep it simple at first.

It will build your confidence and empower you to take on greater things, especially if you tend to get nervous before games.

4. Take practice as seriously as a match.

See #1 about fueling the right fires. Competing isn’t something you can turn on and off. If you don’t practice having the right mentality in a practice session, you will not be able to produce it in a game. Make it a point to give it 100% at every practice, in every drill, in every rep. Just by doing this one thing, you can improve so much. Too often, people goof off at practice because they think it doesn’t count. Or they will cheat on their last few times doing a drill. Maximize the benefits of practice to your game by taking practice seriously. Always.

5. Commit to seeing through every single play.

This is another time when you have to consciously fuel the right fire. If you get in the habit of giving up on a play prematurely, it will be tough to break that habit when it counts and your game will suffer because of it.

For example, if you’re a winger and the play is moving forward on the other side of the field, you would normally be getting forward to see if you can seize an opportunity to get onto the end of a cross. However, there may be times when you don’t think its worth it to put in the effort to get all the way up the field “this one time” because you don’t like your chances of getting the ball.

By giving up and holding back, you are fueling the wrong internal fire.. you are teaching yourself that it is ok to cheat. That is a slippery slope that is hard to climb back up. So, commit to what you are doing 100%. If you commit to it, you must follow through, no matter what the situation is. Even if the ball bobbles and it looks like you aren’t going to get it, see it through. Make this a habit. This one thing can make all the difference between scorning (or saving) a goal.

6. Do not reflect during the game/practice session.

Don’t start thinking about why, how, where, when something went wrong while you’re still training/playing. Stay in the moment, or even better, stay 1 step ahead. Always be mentally concentrating on what you need to do next, don’t think about what just happened or what should have happened. At every moment, know where you have to be next and concentrate on making that happen. This mindset stops you from reflecting on what you should have/should not have done and allows the possibility of bouncing back from mistakes.

7. Visualize.

Research shows that visualizing yourself performing an action makes it much more likely that you will successfully do that action when it counts. So, before each game close your eyes and imagine yourself performing a skill that you will need to perform. This could be receiving a ball, dribbling, beating a defender, or taking a shot. It could be anything. Imagine it in as much detail as possible. Include the field, the other players, your teammates and even the spectators. This helps you feel confident that you know what you have to do, and it decreases the likelihood of hesitation during the game.

8. Have a pre-game ritual.

Make it a habit to always do the same things before a match. This could include eating certain foods, listening to certain music, or saying and doing certain things. Include the following in your ritual: a few minutes of visualization, a few minutes reflecting on all you’ve done to prepare for the game, a few minutes thinking about your specific coaching points for the game, and finally, a few minutes of standing & walking as tall as possible and with as much swagger as possible. Performing this ritual will help you boost confidence before the game, ease nerves, and will stop your mind from wandering into places it shouldn’t be, which can cause anxiety.

9. Reflect after each session.

Well after the game is over you should spend time after  writing 5 things you did well & 5 things you would like to improve. Make an action plan on how you are going to improve those 5 things. Be kind to yourself, and don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes. Instead, see your mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow as a player. Your mistakes have identified holes in your game that are going to make you a better player once you fix them. Always concentrate on how to keep growing.

10. Always remember why you do it.

Spend time reflecting on your large goals in the sport. Why you do it, where you want to take it, how you’re going to get there. Always, always, always remember the reason why you’re playing. That usually is because you love to do it.

Armed with these 10 tips, go have a blast doing what you love to do. Please leave a comment if you’ve found this article helpful.



  • comment-avatar
    Ronnie Jordan 1 year

    Being an old basketball player from the 70’s, I totally agree with the all those mental habits. They do affect your performance. I use to get in a warm shower before I played and it seemed to totally relax my performances.

    • comment-avatar

      Hi Ronnie,
      Thanks! Glad to hear that these tips are transferable. Maybe I’ll try out the warm shower technique before my next game!

  • comment-avatar

    What great advice! I’ll definitely be having my soccer obsessed 11 yr old daughter read this. Advice is always better coming from some one other than Mom.

    • comment-avatar

      Hi Janet,
      Thank you! Yes that sounds great. Larissa and I were once aspiring 11 year old players ourselves. Have her take a look around the site for some advice, and be sure to email us if she wants to know more! (Leaving comments is fine too 🙂 ). Tell her to watch out for more posts coming soon

  • comment-avatar

    I really enjoy reading this post. So often, we forget about the mental aspect of the game and only focus on the physical side of football. We know some players on the pitch that shows up ready to play and ready to win and at other times, I wonder if they are still on the team bus. I am a big fan of Ronaldo but I hate it when he just strolls on the pitch or jog back. Thanks for this post.

    • comment-avatar

      Hi Kay,

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I agree. So often in football and in life the mental aspect of preparation is overlooked (preparing for a job interview, preparing for a big move, etc). Maybe I see things differently because I studied psychology. Having a mental edge is so important for success in everything we do.

      As for Ronaldo, I could write a whole other post about my feelings on him. He’s a great athlete but there are definitely things to dislike as well (**diving**). Cheers.

  • comment-avatar
    Brendan 1 year

    This article was a fantastic read. I really appreciate this, as I am a basketball and golf player, two sports that mental game is absolutely critical in (as it is in every sport). I can take this article and use it in many different areas in life, including my online success. My favorite is #10. You can use the last tip in literally everything you do. Thank you for the great content!

    • comment-avatar

      Thanks Brendan! I suppose you’re right, taking time to reflect on why you do what you do will surely help you in many areas of life. Thanks for the feedback & support.

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