A common hallmark of the greatest players of the beautiful game of soccer is the ability to thrive in difficult moments. In these instances, it seems as if these players were born for these moments. Like eagles, they soar and ride storms that cripple other men.
This difference, this uniqueness, call it a gift, a trait, or an ability; is what differentiates champions from mere men. But the truth remains that no man is born a genius. Every gift and talent requires nurturing, pruning, and years spent patiently in learning.
This is the goal of this article, to educate you on how to handle pressure in soccer. To show you how to sail through difficult moments without breaking under the pressure of expectation or the fear of failure.
How To Handle Pressure in Soccer?
You’d agree that soccer matches can be quite intriguing, especially if you play professionally in any of the big leagues across Europe, South America, or Africa. In these regions the followership of the game is massive.
Soccer to them is a culture and the matches go beyond the 22 players on the pitch. Derbies, rivalries, and many battles for supremacy always end up putting players in difficult positions where failure seizes to be an option.
In game tips
Shield the ball with your body
Depending on the type of game tactics employed by your opponent you may find yourself in a situation where a defender or any player from the opposing team is breathing down your neck. In cases like this, while receiving the ball, the defender may apply pressure on your shoulder.
To effectively deal with this, ensure you move the ball in front of your body. Essentially, the goal is to use your body as a shield to protect the ball till help comes from your teammates. Even if you get outnumbered this can give you enough time to decide on your next move.
This way you can retain possession by using your body as a screen, reducing the risk of giving it away. Choosing this option depends on 3 factors; your position on the field of play, the number of opposition players on you, and the in-game priority of the team in real-time.
Do this only when you are close to the touchline or corner flag. This creates playing the ball out of play as an outlet, a preferred choice to losing the ball and putting your team under pressure.
Make a self-pass
A self-pass is simply putting the ball back into the space from where it was received. This takes the pressure off you momentarily and you are allowed to move into the newly opened space.
Regardless of the tactic being used by the opposing team, constantly moving the ball always puts you one step ahead of the opposition. In cases where a player is being man-marked, a self-pass is the best approach.
This allows you to draw out the opposition player(s), creating a gap that can be used to your team’s advantage. Some players tend to use being pressured by the opposition as a means to draw a foul.
However, this is not advisable as it leaves the fate of your team at the discretion of the referee, instead make that pass. When outnumbered in any part of the pitch, the strength of your awareness comes into play.
Realizing your predicament implies that the extra player on you is a gap in the opposition team’s defensive shape. Utilize these to your advantage and find a teammate to make a pass.
Keep 2 things in mind, one, soccer is a team game, and two, the ball can move faster than you. So making a pass and giving back the ball to a teammate is not borne of fear but an understanding that you are creating an opportunity to receive the ball in better circumstances.
Slow down the game
In the defensive phase of play it is advisable to kick the ball out of play when under pressure. This should be the last resort when backed into a corner. Situations may require taking this seemingly negative decision but one must keep in mind what is at stake.
In most cases, you will have to choose between kicking the ball out of play or holding the ball and waiting for help that may never arrive. During a phase of play where the opposition players have you pinned down on all sides, kicking the ball out of play is a wise decision.
This gives your team enough time to regroup and put up a stronger defensive stance. It also gives you time to retrace your step and take up a better position in anticipation of what is to come.
Ignore that moment of hesitation as it may be the tiny margin that separates you and your team from success or failure.
It may also be helpful to make a tactical foul, or should the coaching staff be sensitive enough, a substitution would also survive.
This will help disrupt the rhythm of the opposing team, giving you time to gather your wits and get back into the game.
Focus on the outcome
In the offensive phase of play focusing on the outcome will help you evaluate either to make an extra pass or to shoot for a goal yourself. With the crowd cheering and teammates calling for the ball, having the right discretion to make the best decision is key.
The expected outcome is to put the ball in the net and if a fellow teammate is better placed to make this happen then the ideal decision is making that pass. On the other hand, believing in yourself and going alone is also advisable provided you are situated at a favorable angle to the goal.
In the end, hit or miss, your motive must remain always, for the team. This will help keep you in the right frame of mind even when things do not go your way.
Keep your eyes on the ball
One of the tensest moments of a soccer game is when a penalty is about to be taken. Whether it’s within the 90 minutes of play or a knockout format showdown, the weight of expectation on the shoulder of the taker is palpable.
Yet you will find players who seem to radiate an aura of calmness when taking these spot-kicks. Many have a signature style that somehow always outsmarts the opposition goalkeeper.
Some choose varying styles while others just take a whack at the soccer ball with conviction and purpose. Whichever style you choose to adopt, ensure you keep your eyes on the ball and make up your mind on where you want the ball to go, strike in that direction, and fate will do the rest.
Many players make the mistake of overthinking, showboating or being indecisive. It is important to add that experience in the game often plays a role in the ability to take penalties or generally to handle big pressure moments.
Channel the nervenstaerke
In global soccer, German men and women national teams are known to play with a lot of confidence and fearlessness. Check, for example, their penalty conversion in the World Cup competition. They have missed only one attempt from their last 18 since 1982. This is a result of an elite mindset.
One of the reasons for the dominance of the German national team is their embracing of the nervenstaerke (A German term for ‘strength of nerves). Like every other player, they feel fear in difficult situations but they can turn down the volume of their nerves and deal with the pressure effectively.
The key to implementing nervenstaerke starts in the mind, and you must choose to actively replace the negative emotions you are feeling with positive ones. The 3 Physical and physiological signatures of nervenstaerke are a focused mind, a calm heart, and a steady body.
To achieve this within the game, calm your heart rate by taking deep breaths. Focus your mind on creative pictures of the reality you desire and watch it play out before you.
The desire to win can be all-consuming, but you need to find a way around this. Instead, change your goal from being solely winning-oriented to putting in your best possible effort under the prevailing circumstances.
Never stop believing
Many teams have the habit of falling apart at crucial moments. They go a goal or two down and heads drop and resign to defeat. Never let this be you or your team. As long as the match is still ongoing, keep a positive mindset. Stick to your game plan.
A goal deficit often increases the pressure on the losing side and this many times affects team morale. But when you search through the history of the game you will find many teams that rose to the occasion and were able to overcome daunting odds.
A common attribute you will find among these teams is a never say die attitude that still sees a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. These teams functioned as single units and were able to write their names on the sands of time as a result of their belief in themselves and one another.
Good examples of teams with this character can be found for example in the champions league winning teams for Liverpool Fc in 2005 and Manchester United in 1998. These teams at several points during the competition came up against better, more experienced, and talented sides.
Yet they rose above them all and emerged victoriously.
Remember you start equal
Lastly, regardless of the quality of opponents and external influences of fans and the match officials, remember you started the game equally. Both teams are allowed to field an equal number of players and substitutes to execute the game.
This implies that before the blast of the whistle for kick-off, you have a chance at winning. The added pressure of the technical quality of the opposition team often leads to a form of inferiority complex.
This can cripple team morale when not properly checked and a team that expects to fail will ultimately fail. The key to overcoming this is by reminding the team that in the end, it’s a game between 11 men from both sides.
This takes off the extra pressure and allows the team to push forward, giving it their all and making a game out of the encounter. On a good day, with the right belief system, the best team in the world can be upstaged by a team of unknown underdogs with a strong team bond and a resilient spirit.
This is the beauty of the game called soccer, this is why we love it.
- Eat and stay well hydrated
- Rest well, cut out late night outs before games
- Understand your team fan base
- Stay switched on mentally
Learn more about your opponent
In life foreknowledge of what is to come in many ways prepares you for all possible outcomes. This is why horoscopes are popular. In football however, learning about your opponent is crucial.
Learning about the team as a whole, their set plays, movements, and overall tactics also help in reducing pressure. Being able to predict their every move puts you steps ahead and helps allay fears of impending danger.
It is also advisable to learn about players that you may directly have contact with. Players from the opposition team playing your territory should be thoroughly checked. Having knowledge of their stronger foot, or their overall strengths and weaknesses can be the edge you require to come out on top.
Dealing with pressure is part of life and the ability to learn this skill from a very young age can go a long way in creating a path for a great career. With dedication and persistent hunger to improve, rising above difficult pressure moments is an achievable goal.
So, when next you are in the pitch, take a deep breath, know that greatness lies within you, reach in and soar.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
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!