How to Mentally Prepare for a Soccer Game

This is it. You've been working hard for months on end, and now it's your first game of the season. Or maybe you have one game to impress the coach

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This is it.

You’ve been working hard for months on end, and now it’s your first game of the season. Or maybe you have one game to impress the coaches who are scouting. Or maybe it’s the championship game.

Either way, you have a once in in a lifetime opportunity where 90 minutes will make all the difference to you and your career.

In this post, you will learn ways to manage your nerves and build your confidence for these important games. You will learn exactly what you should do before, during, and after every game to help you perform your best every time.

Last time we looked at a general framework for how to start building your confidence, today I will give you specific advice that you can use every time you have a game.

2-3 Days Before Kick Off

In the days leading up to the game, you should take special care to prepare your body and mind.

Don’t start amping yourself up now. Your main focus should be on staying calm. Figure out what works for you.

When you feel anxious, you’re body becomes tense and can lead to poor performance or injury. Some techniques for staying calm include Progressive Muscle Relaxation, “brain dumping” or writing down all of your worries and anxieties on a piece of paper, or listening to a calming/meditative sound track.

Try to stay as calm as possible, but if you feel anxious, recognize it and realize that it’s normal. Don’t start to feel anxious about feeling anxious. Call that jittery feeling a sign that you are eager and ready to go dominate!

Remind yourself of all the preparation you’ve done so that you can confidently say that you are the best you have ever been, you are in the best form you can be in.

Night Before Kick Off

If possible, find out ahead of time exactly what you will be wearing, where you will be playing, what type of style your opponent will be playing, what position you will be in, and what your role will be on the team. Use all of these details to visualize yourself performing really well. Visualize exactly what moves you will make, when you will shoot, pass or run. Visualize the crowd, where the opponent will be applying pressure, where they may have gaps, etc. See yourself doing it in as much detail as possible, if it’s just before you fall asleep, even better.

At the same time stay calm and cool. You are as prepared as you can be. There is nothing left for you to do now except try your best.

Keep reminding yourself of that. Remind yourself of how far you have come, and how well you are able to execute in practice. Remind yourself that if you can do it in practice you can do it in the game. You got this.

Game Day

Stay calm.

In the hours before the game, your focus should still be on staying calm. Distract your mind if you need to. Talk to people, have fun, keep things light and laugh. Listen to music if it will calm you down. Don’t start getting amped up yet, because if you start getting amped up in the hours before the game, you will get too amped, overly anxious and physically exhausted by the time the game comes. Get some touches on the ball, but don’t exert yourself.

Pay attention to your body language.

Try to stay calm, but recognize any jitters as your excitement and readiness. Recognize that your body is fully alert and prepared to perform optimally. Even if you don’t feel totally calm and confident, pretend that you do. Act that way in front of others, and you will begin to feel that way.

Strut around the pitch. Keep your shoulders back, back straight, chin up, and find a reason to smile. Your body language is intimately connected to your mood and emotions. Usually, your emotions control your body language, but it also works the other way. By acting calm and confident, you will trick your mind into believing it. Soon, your posture and mood will fall in line. This is called “power posing”, popularized by Amy Cuddy. 

Think positive, even if you’re nervous.

At the same time as your using positive body language, flood your mind with positivity. Even if it feels opposite to how you feel, force yourself to think positive thoughts. Remind yourself of all your preparation you’ve put in. Tell yourself that you got this.

If someone asks how you feel, tell them you feel excited, even if you feel very nervous. This is an out-loud declaration that the way your body feels is “ready” and it will subconsciously help to calm you down.

What you specifically say doesn’t really matter, as long as you are inflating your ego and promoting positivity.

Your anxiety is coming from a place of doubting yourself and your abilities, which is normal. Just remind yourself that the jittery feeling will go away, and that the jitters are good sign that you’re physically ready to perform. Remind yourself that you have prepared well, and now all your hard work will pay off.

Get Amped.

In the hour or so before the game, once you’ve been calm and positive, continue to strut around. If you’re one of those players that likes to listen to upbeat music and give/get big long speeches, do those things. But do them in the framework of positivity and confidence. Start to get amped up in the minutes (10-20) before your warm up and throughout the warm up.

Don’t try to change things on game day.

It wont work, and it will just undermine your confidence. Your mind should be clear. You have to rely on your body to do what you’ve trained it so well to do. Trust that you’ll know what to do when the time comes. Just focus on clearing your mind.

Pick a mantra that you can go to to reset your mind.

This mantra should help you re-focus on only what you can control during the game. You can’t control the other team, your teammates, your coach. You can’t control if you’re going to get a lucky bounce, and, most importantly, you can’t control the outcome. This applies to every outcome: miss or score, pass complete or incomplete, etc. You can only control your effort. Your mantra should help to remind you to keep going, give it your best shot, and no matter what outcome happens, you can feel good knowing you left it all on the field.

Some examples of mantras that I have used at different points in the past  are “Empty the tank”, “Feeling good, looking good, I should be in Hollywood“, “10 quick steps”, “be the hardest worker”, and “rise above”. The mantra is just a phrase that reminds you of the idea that you should try your best, stay positive, and not worry about the outcome. The outcome is for others to worry about and debate.

After the Game

Once you’ve had a chance to decompress after the game, you should get out a journal and start reflecting on your mindset at different points during the game.

Write down and reflect on what went well for you during the game and what went wrong. Write down how you mentally reacted to what went wrong. Look for times when you were negative, and how you can improve your mindset in those moments. For example, you may have lost a tackle and started to think “Oh no, Im losing my tackles, I let my man get by me, the coach is going to pull me off soon unless I step it up.” Think hard, and try not to distort your thoughts from the match as much as possible. List the situations and then your reactions.

Next, go through your list and reflect on what you could have thought instead that would have been better. You could have changed that example above to “I lost that tackle, but I will win the next one. I can work harder”.

This way, you can track your mental progress over time. You can see exactly where things start to go wrong for you mentally, where negativity starts to creep in. This process will reveal insecurities you may have on the pitch, which you can work on in training.

If you’re stuck, try asking yourself these questions to get you going on the right path:

1. What happened ? (Ex. I missed the net with my shot)

2. What did I do in response ? (Ex. I winced, I put my hands on my head, I put my head down,  etc.)

3. Why did you do that? (Ex. I was frustrated, I was mad at myself, etc.)

4. What were you thinking in that moment, specifically? (Ex. “That was so close, that sucks that I missed, I should have taken a better first touch, is my coach upset? Should I have passed instead?”)

5. What might have been better to think or do? (Ex. Run back on defense right away, think “that was a good effort, I just need to keep trying”)

As you identify your insecurities (either in your abilities or in something else), you can develop a specific plan to overcome them. Eliminating your insecurities systematically is a sure-fire way to build confidence. If you keep track of your progress in a journal, you will be able to start seeing the results from week to week.

Be sure to leave a comment letting me know what you think of these tips. Did I miss something? Is there something you want to know more about? Leave a comment to let me know.