The ideal state of mental toughness is characterized by a clear sense of purpose and direction, a high degree of resilience, emotional calmness, and high positive energy. The following steps should become essential elements of an advanced player’s training routine:
Step One: Develop Strong Self-Identity
Performance is the result of expectations, so thinking like a winner creates winners. Players can help develop a winning state of mind by recalling past successes, allowing only positive self-talk, rewarding themselves when progress occurs, becoming more imposing when the situation arises, and taking responsibility for actions. Body language is also a very important component. It’s been said that “by fixing the body language the mind stands tall.”
Step Two: Become and Stay Motivated
Commitment to play is a choice and nothing can affect performance as dramatically as a sudden loss of motivation. Without the drive to achieve the player can’t develop the mental toughness to survive the challenges of high level soccer. Early in a player’s development, family and friends motivate them. Later coaches exert influence. The final stage switches to the players themselves and this is when mental toughness becomes critical. The player now measures his or her performance against personal standards and controls his or her state of mind and is tougher mentally.
Step Three: Establish a Work Ethic
A player must feel physically capable of meeting the expected demands of a tough game. Questions about fitness, strength, and energy potential will begin to sow seeds of doubt and anxiety. When a team works hard to prepare for a game, a belief is built that the team has paid the price for victory. By committing to the effort the team becomes not only physically tougher but mentally tougher as well. Mentally tough players know when to work hard and when to recover. Their training will include good diet and enough relaxation. Self discipline will win-out over temptations which can lead to bad habits.
Step Four: Develop Self-Control
Mental toughness means staying positive, especially when something in a game produces high emotions that a player struggles to control. When problems lead to an emotional change there are usually four responses…
- the player may withdraw energy and commitment
- the player may become angry
- the player may “choke”
- the player may respond to the challenge in mentally tough way
Mentally touch players view setbacks as part of the game. When problems arise, players need the self-belief to view them as challenges to overcome. Players can’t choose what happens, but they can choose how to respond. Dealing with criticism, mistakes, and successes is important to a player’s development. On the field the real “tough guys” are those that don’t lose control but rather keep control and walk away from a potential problem.