Soccer Players: Dealing with an Injury – Part Two
A global sport psychologist and author specializing in soccer, Dan Abrahams is based in England and has helped hundreds of professional soccer players – many of them who play in the English Premier League (EPL).
Soccer Players: Dan Abrahams on Dealing with an Injury – Part One
Recently helping a Crystal Palace player succeed on the field, Abrahams has held contracts with QPR, Fulham, and West Ham United among other clubs and works quietly, behind the scenes with many coaches from top clubs across the Atlantic. Abrahams is a columnist for SoccerToday and wants to share his expertise on player development with our readers — Here is important info on how to mentally manage the hardship of being injured.
In my last article I talked about ways to deal with an injury when you’re facing a long lay-off from the game and when you’re rehabilitating.
When Recovering — It’s vital to feed your brain thoughts that help you feel great.
In this article I’m going to draw on my experience working with players who are returning to training – a time when confidence can be fragile, emotions can be difficult to manage and focus can be distracted.
Soccer Players – Remember your Best
As your rehab reaches its final stages it’s important to use as much positive visualization as possible.
It’s vital to feed your brain the kind of thinking nourishment that helps you feel great. That helps you feel ready to line up with your team mates and compete with confidence.
ADVICE FOR SOCCER PLAYERS RECOVERING FROM INJURY: A really simple idea is to picture your very best games as often as you can in the days before you return to the practice.
And I don’t mean “just picture your best games”. I mean REALLY picture them. Take a high definition snapshot of you playing your personal highlights reel. Did you score goals or did you keep a clean sheet? Did you complete passes or win tackles? Whatever your best game looks like picture it – make it big and bold and bright.
The brain can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined.
When you exercise your memory to envision your best game your brain actually thinks it’s happening. It fires an electrical current across the brain cells – an action that mimics the brain’s response to a live event. To your brain, your inner pictures are a real representation of what’s happening in that very moment.
Take 15 minutes everyday leading up to your return to the pitch. Convince yourself that this is how you’re going to play. It may not actually work out that way, but you give yourself a better chance to be closer to your best if you engage in this activity.
Soccer Players – Squash those Pesky ANTs
When you do return to the pitch I want you to squash ANTs. By ANTs, I’m not talking about the creepy crawly insect versions.
ANTs is an acronym for automatic negative thoughts. I want you to squash all the ANTs.
You will have negative thoughts. It’s inevitable. There will be thoughts that relate to ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ and ‘never’. Accept this. It’s going to happen. But your job on the pitch is to deal with them as quickly as possible.
The player returning from injury who allows unhelpful thoughts to linger and over-stay their welcome will lack the kind of certainty, clarity and decisiveness required in training. This player will linger too long on the ball. This player will avoid tough challenges and this player become immersed in any mistakes made.
So how do you squash the ANTs that can wreck your game?
Emphasize self-management. Use your self-talk to keep yourself popping the ball around positively. Use your body language to stay on your toes, alert, alive and lively. Direct your focus onto the most appropriate plays every single second, every single minute.
When you return to injury make sure you commit to dealing with any thoughts that prevent you from being the very best you can be.
Soccer Players – Commit 100% to 50% to 60% to 70%
It’s important to manage your expectations when you return to training.
It’s ok to expect to be at 50% of your normal standard. But the key is to accept this, expect it and then commit to your game mentally. And commit hard – commit with passion, with enthusiasm, and with a surge of energy.
You might not pull off your normal passes and you might not time your tackles quite so beautifully as before. But you must, must commit your brain and body to your tasks on the pitch.
When recovering – be 100% committed to your game, even if your performance is at a lowly 50%.
Then slowly strive to progress. Be 100% committed while playing at 60%, then 70%, then 80%. Provided you stay 100% mentally committed, your game will gradually return to its original form. It will be restored to its former glory.
In contrast, the soccer player who expects to play at 100% but is only 50% committed because of his long lay-off will be disappointed. This player’s lack of commitment will be exposed. This player wants a great game but is too slow, is too weak and too sluggish. This player is unrealistic. And this player is scared of becoming re-injured.
This player is frightened of being back on the physio table so he or she lessens his or her aggression and assertiveness. As a consequence the player’s commitment is 50% and can only play at 20%. This player may even become re-injured when trying to avoid exactly that.
Relax about the standard of your game when you return from injury.
You can’t expect 100%, but you must demand mindset from yourself. You must demand commitment, desire, assertiveness and as much work ethic as you can muster.
Soccer Players – Putting it Together
When you climb off the physio table picture yourself at your best. The week before you return to training picture you at your best. The night before your first training session picture you at your best. Show yourself inner pictures of excellence. Show your brain who’s boss!
When you finally get out there with your team mates you’ll have ANTs. That’s ok, but be ready to squash ‘em quick.
Self-management must be your watchword.
It’s not just about playing soccer, it’s also about dealing with the game mentally, especially after you’ve been injured.
So use your self-talk – become quick at utilizing your inner voice. And use your body language – stand tall, play head up, shift onto your toes and stay there.
Impose yourself on the soccer game at a time when the game itself can feel a little intimidating.
Related Articles: Dan Abrahams on SoccerToday
Originally published on March 9th, 2016