Be Incredible With Your Mental Game
As the USA Women’s National team arrives in Canada for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, EPL’s SoccerToday’s columnist Dan Abrahams speaks up on how this team could bring home the gold and be victorious. “Be incredible with your mental game. Play with fun – enjoy it. Play with freedom – loosen up. Play with focus – pinpoint your attention on the important stuff.”
A global sport psychologist and author specializing in soccer, Abrahams is based in England and has helped hundreds of professional soccer players – many of them who play in the English Premier League (EPL). 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.
A Message to the U.S. National Women’s Team
Being from England, and being a patriotic kinda guy I’d obviously like to see the England women’s team lift this summer’s World Cup. But if it’s not them then I want the U.S. to win it.
I love the passion the U.S. has for the women’s game – it’s unsurpassed globally.
It is the U.S. players who have taken the game to the next level over the years. It is the U.S. that has produced some of the finest players in the World. I’d love to see the USA be victorious again. Jill Ellis is a great coach. She obviously believes in each and everyone one of you. Although you have prepared and are probably already good at dealing with pressure, I wanted to share some tips that have worked with the pros I have helped. So, if I may be so bold, here is my message to them to help them get the result they want:
Play with fun – sounds strange to those who have never dealt with this level of pressure, but you pros know what I mean.
Under pressure the body tightens.
Under pressure the body doesn’t do what you want it to do and a first touch can go missing. Your feet feel stuck to the pitch, you feel heavy – weighed down. Under pressure your mind can fog – your confidence diminished – you have to be ready to unshackle your body and loosen your footing.
Perfect pressure play requires a commitment to relaxing the body and clearing the mind. It’s tough to do but possible. I do it every week with players and it starts with this:
Relax, relax, relax. You can’t force a great performance. Trust me – you can’t force a great performance.
I know you want to be at your best, but by forcing it you will rifle your best further away then ever before. Your best, your dream game requires a relaxed attitude to your performance. It sounds bizarre right? Don’t try to perform at my best? That sounds strange. But it is the sporting paradox that prevails – if you try and force it you will tighten. If you try and force it you will play worse.
I want this for the U.S. National players – I want you to play with fun. It’s ok to play with a smile on your face. I want you to strive to enjoy the game. I want you to get on your toes and love every second of every minute of being on the pitch.
And once you’ve established this mindset of fun I want you to move to the next level. I want you to play with freedom.
Play with freedom and focus on what you can control
Be ready to be carefree. This doesn’t mean care-less. Carefree means understanding that you can’t control the result and outcome. Being carefree means you understand that you are better served putting the score and the result to the side as you compete and focus on the relevant and controllable things as you grace the pitch.
Being carefree means that you are committed to keeping a relaxed body and a quiet mind. Being carefree means you know that to win you have to take risks at times in the right areas – and these risks might not come off. But hey, you’re never gonna win if you don’t take risks!
Play with freedom in the World Cup. Show your fans incredible body language whether you are a goal down or a goal up. Make how you hold yourself a visual spectacular – you will be non stop positive with your communication and your gestures. You will stay free from the first minute to the last minute. Give the ball away and you will stay free. Momentum against – you’ll play free. Miss a great chance – stay free.
Relax, calm, cool – play with fun and play with freedom – now let’s add a pinch of focus…
Play with Focus
Play with focus. Have a match script – condense your responsibilities within your role down to two or three plays. Make these plays controllable – they must be about you, they must be simple and they must be cues and keys that help you get back to your job. These two or three things are the details that you want to successfully execute on the pitch. Let me give you some examples:
- Close down the space always
- Non stop on my toes
- Confident catches on crosses
- Be aware – always know where I am
- Check shoulders non stop
Your script helps you stay focused on what is important and turns up the volume of attention as you compete under pressure.
So my message to you ladies of the U.S. National team and anyone who is competing this summer – youth soccer players and professionals is this – relax, relax, relax. Be incredible with your mental game. Play with fun – enjoy it. Play with freedom – loosen up. Play with focus – pinpoint your attention on the important stuff.
Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist specializing in soccer. He is based in England and has some of the leading turn-around stories and case studies in English Premier League history.
Abrahams is sought after by players, coaches and managers across Europe and his 2 soccer psychology books are international bestsellers. He is formerly a professional golfer, is Lead Psychologist for England Golf and he holds a degree in psychology and masters degree in sport psychology.