Over the years as a youth soccer coach, I’ve discovered that one of the most difficult things to do as a coach and a leader is maintaining the “Mental Edge” and keeping each player’s confidence high. Training your players to be confident can be one of the most difficult tasks you face as a coach. Confidence comes with the mastering a certain technique, mastering a style of play or the most overlooked; mastering the mindset come match time.
You Better “Just Bring It!”
How you start a match sets the tone of play for the entire match. If your players aren’t confident and feel they haven’t mastered the style of play you’re forcing; They’re just not confident. They’re unsure, they’re tentative, they’re not confident in their abilities, they’re afraid of losing, especially during a match against a quality team. If they happen to know the opponent is a quality opponent, they become even more nervous and lose that important “Mental Edge,” when the whistle blows.
I have been fortunate enough to coach a team with superior athletes with superior abilities, they’ve quickly mastered techniques and tactics during training and applied them on the field. When you push their skills as a player, their tactics as a team and reveal the bigger picture behind “the beautiful game.” It can be a bit overwhelming for great players. This is when confidence is lost and an uncertainty peeks in. The “Mental Edge” is lost, KEYWORD: lost; it’s not gone. I have watched my players, while confident, destroy teams who were much more skilled than they were.
What can we do to keep the “Mental Edge”?
The most crucial thing you can do during this “transition time” is to keep preaching the importance of starting the match, “confident and intense.” If they start the match unsure, or tentative, they will most certainly feel like they have failed when the final whistle blows. Winning isn’t everything, growth is. But winning is important to my players, it’s important to their team, so it’s important to me. To see them master a new style of play, while winning, is like icing on the cake.
Keep training and working on the new style of play in practices and training. Keep the same coaching points and tactics until the players become confident and see themselves mastering those concepts and tactics.
The “Pre-Game:” It’s always good to talk about the strong points from the last match. The points in training where they succeeded and progressed. The matches where you played teams of similar ability, but most importantly, sticking to the game plan and playing the new style.
You’ll know when they’re confident. The scoreboard, the attitudes, and most importantly, their smiles will show it!
Derik Griffith is the President and Director of Coaching for Dragons Soccer Club, Inc. a small non-profit youth soccer club in Gardner, Kansas. Derik is a licensed USSF coach with 5 years’ experience.