To succeed in soccer, a player needs strength, power, speed, agility, and skill. However, these attributes are only part of what makes an outstanding soccer player. The true greats also have mental toughness, which carries them through when things get challenging. Mental toughness is especially important for female athletes, who face many barriers on the mental side of the game. Whether these challenges are internal or external, being self-critical or facing harsh critics, being mentally tough is crucial for girls who want to play at elite levels. The good news? Mental toughness is a skill you can develop, just like any other skill you build to use on the soccer field.
Many players don’t realize it, but elite soccer performance requires mental fortitude, and the players who work to develop their mental control will have an edge. When you’re mentally tough, you can tune out the naysayers and keep going even if you’ve made a mistake. You’ll be able to push yourself through pain and fatigue, and you’ll have the strength and resilience to carry on no matter what you’re facing. On and off the soccer team, these are good skills to have.
- It all begins with self-awareness. Players who are self-aware know that there’s a lot they don’t know. They learn from their mistakes, try to see things from other perspectives, and take feedback without getting defensive. They understand their own strengths and weaknesses and know that it’s better to focus on growing and progressing instead of being laser-focused on the outcome.
- Once a player has worked on self-awareness, it’s time to develop a healthy mindset. Self-aware people know that they can always improve, and the right mindset to succeed in soccer is a growth mindset. When you have this kind of mentality, you set realistic goals for yourself and put your all into pursuing your goals because you understand that hard work is the pathway to developing your talents.
- Self-awareness and a healthy mindset lay the foundation for mental performance skills. When a player spends time consistently training herself in mental skills, she will be able to self-regulate her thoughts, actions, and emotions. This helps with making conscious decisions, and it builds resiliency.
How can a young player develop these skills and develop mental toughness? Here are some techniques that can help:
- Visualization: Mentally recreating a scene and putting oneself in it is a good way to practice your responses. Doing this can be a helpful technique for reacting to a loss, and can help teach the art of responding calmly under pressure.
- Positive Self-Talk: Young players should be taught to tell themselves positive things, keeping positive words in their heads. It could be a mantra, a personal saying, or anything else helpful to the individual young person, but holding this affirmation can help the brain maintain positivity and emotional control.
- Meditation and Mindfulness: This doesn’t mean young soccer players need to master meditation, but it can be helpful for them to learn how to acknowledge and release negative thoughts, how to be mindful in the moment, and the importance of breath.
- Using physicality to reinforce mentality: There’s no doubt that the mind and body are connected, and the physical and mental affect each other. As young players become more competent on the field, they should also be working to develop mental toughness. These two sides will support each other, and as one grows, so will the other.
NJ Crush Elite Girls Soccer Club is an organization dedicated to developing female student athletes, offering them a consistent platform of excellence at an elite level of girls soccer, and giving them the room to improve within a team setting. Committed to inclusion of all cultural and socio-economic groups, we offer scholarships for individual players as well as the Lil Crushers/Pathway Program for U7s and younger at minimal cost. Our club’s goal is to attract and retain the highest quality of professional training within the region, and we hold our players, coaches, and parents to a high standard of conduct on and off the field, with the aim of fostering life lessons while instilling a true, lifelong love of the game.
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