Being a soccer player today is so much more than just being skillful with the ball.
Rewind the clocks a few decades to when the media coverage of the sport wasn’t as big. Less viewership meant less revenue, and less revenue meant less pressure on players.
Soccer players were not as exposed to critics, and the standards for a successful career were not as high either. But all that changed with the drastic growth of media coverage and so much money getting involved.
Being a good player means performing your best in every game consistently, especially the big ones. And for that, you need to have a solid state of mind.
Which is why today, we’ll talk about how a soccer player’s mental attitude dictates his performance and how to become a better soccer player mentally!
Mental fitness is as necessary for a good career in soccer as physical fitness. Champions have the skill and will to win matches!
Your reaction to lousy referee calls, hesitation from the loud chants of your opponent’s fans, and the pressure that big games bring can all make your skill worthless in the blink of an eye.
Think I’m exaggerating? Look back at Zidane headbutting Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup. It’s a magnificent example of losing control in soccer.
He got himself sent off and crippled his team in the final to get knocked out eventually. All because he had his “head” in the wrong place for that minute moment.
So, you see, mental toughness is a vital element of playing soccer at any level, even for pro athletes.
Losing your calm and concentration could lead to a plateau in your career if it doesn’t end it first. That’s why coaches should educate their players about soccer’s mental fitness from a young age.
But if you’ve missed that education in your early years, it’s never too late to start. You’re here now, and that still empowers you for improvement!
And to keep it simple, I’ve added seven methods below about how to become a better soccer player mentally to get you started.
Mistakes Make You Learn
You won’t learn much about playing soccer and being a better player if you’re too afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are the best teachers on the pitch as they’re a reminder of what not to do.
Most young soccer players take a back seat in training to avoid embarrassment. And this kills their chances of improving their game to become a better player.
We don’t realize that mistakes happen on all platforms, whether professional soccer, futsal, indoor soccer, or just a street match.
Tune in to a live soccer game today, and you’ll see the pro athletes committing blunders every few seconds.
Gerrard’s iconic slip against Chelsea, Ramos’ space penalty against Bayern Munich, and Torres missing an open goal against Manchester United are glaring examples of pro players committing mistakes.
However, the difference between a pro player and an amateur is how they react to these mistakes. A pro athlete keeps his head in the game and tries to recover against all odds.
Whereas a newbie will throw down his neck in embarrassment and let that moment affect his performance.
A strong mindset for soccer comes from being open to these mistakes and learning from them. So what if you missed a penalty or gave the ball away to your opponent?
Fill your lungs with fresh air, clear your head, and try making your next touch better than your last one!
Handling Success and Achievement
A big part of becoming a better soccer player is handling success and achievements.
A player’s skill isn’t determined by how he celebrates his victory but by what he does when his back is against the wall. So don’t overthink and exaggerate your successes.
Bragging about your success as a soccer player gives your ego a boost, but it also closes you to learn more about the game.
Like Cristiano puts it, “If you think you’re perfect already, you’ll never be!”
Seeing how humble Juan Matta, Andres Iniesta, Sadio Mane, and Messi are inside and outside of the field should tell you how much handling success matters for a healthy career.
A committed player doesn’t take the back seat in training just because he won the best player award or scored the most goals. On the contrary, we rarely see the same in amateur leagues and teams.
That’s where the best player on the team misses training often, doesn’t hang out with the team much, and even gets way ahead of himself in every game.
And doing so only puts a limit on your growth and learning. Yes, you may be the best player among the players around you, but that doesn’t mean there is no more room for improvement.
Having the same determination to improve your performance on a good day like you would on a bad day is the cornerstone for mentally becoming a better soccer player.
Visualize the Game
What do you do when you’re not on the pitch or the training grounds? Do you replay, in your head, the match moments from the previous day where you would have performed better?
If not, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to become a stronger soccer player mentally!
Mastering a skill in soccer is not only about building enough muscle memory to get it right. It’s about training your mind to react in the ways you’d like.
The training grounds are a perfect place to practice your game but so is in your head. If you couldn’t dribble past a defender in your last game, then replay the scene in your head.
Think about what you did wrong and what could’ve been the right move in that situation. And once you figure the culprit out, test your theory at training the next day.
By thinking about your moves and reactions in a soccer match, you build a habit of being in the game, whether you’re on the pitch or off of it.
And becoming a better soccer player is more about living the game than just playing it.
The more you fill your routine with training, playing, and thinking about soccer, the more you amplify your mental fitness for the sport!
Set Goals for Your Career
Having a clear path set before you makes it much easier to have a match-winning mindset in soccer. Define your goals and picture how far you want your career to go.
Whether you want to become a sharp freekick taker or a master dribbler, both paths are worth your time and effort.
That difference knowing your goal will make is that it’ll narrow down your approach in training.
If you’re aspiring to be accurate at freekicks, perhaps you need to focus more on the drills and exercises that improve your accuracy and shot power.
Or, if being an unbeatable defender is what you want, focusing on the workouts that strengthen your physique and agility will bear the best fruit.
Newcomers in soccer usually waste too much time training for skills that don’t match their goals.
Having an all-around performance is good for a soccer player. Still, you need to specialize in specific skills to become a professional.
And when you train with your goals marked in your head, you start seeing the results you want. This keeps soccer interesting for you and gives you the mental strength to pursue it even further.
Have a Pregame Ritual (Mindfulness)
Nothing trains the mind better than meditation and mindfulness. There’s tons of research and countless claims from experts to back it up.
So, if you’re looking to improve your mental performance during a game, look nowhere else!
We often think of rhythmic chants, deep breaths, and a calm environment when we think of meditation and mindfulness. But it can take many other forms.
One form of mindfulness native to most sports is having a pregame ritual. It can be listening to music, walking barefoot on the turf, 20 pushups, or even just a few deep breaths.
Anything that can clear your head!
The key takeaway of having such a mindfulness practice is to silence all the noise in your head. When you stop thinking randomly before a game, you create much more space for the task at hand.
Pick a mindfulness practice as a pregame ritual and repeat it until it becomes a habit. And once it becomes a habit, you’ll gain much more control of the different situations in a game.
If the referee booked you for an undeserving foul, take a few deep breaths and get back to playing at your best!
Try to Understand Your Opponent Before Each Match
There’re two aspects to becoming a mentally stronger soccer player. The first is self-improvement and development, which is elaborated in the points above.
But the second and equally important part is knowing your opponent well!
If you usually choke out in some of your matches and get overwhelmed, it is always good to have a little information on your opponent before the game.
You can watch their past-recent matches and figure out the team’s tactics in a game. Other than that, looking up their tactical charts should tell you about their team’s strong and weak links.
Having this kind of information in your head before the match should give you confidence on the pitch.
Even when you hesitate in your first few minutes, seeing your opponents replay the same tactics will assure you of how predictable they are.
Most great players use this strategy to keep their head in the game and get the upper hand in performance.
Because if you know what the other team is up to, you’re mentally prepared to respond to their tactics rather than being caught by surprise and overwhelmed.
Ignore the “Dirty” Media
Media is a two-way sword for well-performing soccer players. It praises and glorifies a player on his triumphs and snubs and criticizes him on his bad days.
And soccer players who pay too much attention to the paparazzi are mostly left disappointed at the end.
To become a mentally stronger soccer player, you need to distance yourself from the dirty media. If you let it boost your ego on the good days, it will shatter it on the bad ones as well.
But seeing how media has crept into our palms and from our mobiles, into our lives, distancing yourself from it is not exactly a piece of cake.
A healthier way forward is to surround yourself with groups and people that inspire you to become a better player.
Staying away from the critics and dirty media will leave you with enough time to focus on your game. You’ll know the areas you lack naturally and can work on them.
Perhaps, that’s why you’ll see most star soccer players appear very rarely on media screens and respond to their comments.
To become a better soccer player, you need a combination of physical and mental fitness.
Your ability to execute a skill is only useful if you know when and where to perform it. Being a better soccer player mentally means accuracy in reading scenarios and knowing what to do.
And off the pitch, when you’re training, being mentally fit helps you stay focused on your goals and give it your best.
Luckily, you can train your mind to be fit for soccer just like you can train your body.
And in the above five methods, I’ve tried to explain the different approaches to how you can be a better soccer player mentally too!
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!