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Mental Focus for Soccer

Roy Keane of Mancehster United
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“How do I stop being so nervous before a big soccer game?” First off, don't worry too much, everybody gets nervous for tryouts or big games.

Yes, being extremely nervous is a common and sometimes frustrating issue experienced by even the most talented of soccer players. Often you'll hear stories about the best players feeling like they almost have to throw up before a big game they get so nervous. But what you might not understand is that being nervous is actually a good thing.

Yup, that’s right! It means that you care about what you're about to do, and that’s definitely something to be proud of. You may not realize it, but it’s completely natural to feel nervous before a soccer game.

But you still might find it hard to play under the kind of big soccer game pressure that causes nervousness. The key to overcoming this is to focus on what you can control and not on what you can’t.

Don’t over burden yourself with worries like, “What if this happens?” or “What if this player is playing?” or “What if so and so is watching?” Don’t worry about that stuff! Just focus on playing soccer well, with patience and simplicity. You love playing soccer, don’t you? Then, what’s there to worry about? Just play the game and have fun doing it. And keep it simple to start with by playing one and two touch soccer.

Also, if you've put in the training and work prior to the tryout or game, then you know you're ready. If you've gotten in good shape and worked on improving your soccer skills during the off-season, then you deserve a lot of credit and should feel confident about your soccer abilities. If you've done all the hard work that leads up to the game then you deserve to succeed.

And even though you might want to eat before a game or a tryout, since you're so nervous, make sure you get enough food in your stomach and drink enough water. Stretching and doing Yoga can also help calm you down and get you to relax. Moreover, getting enough sleep is essential if you want to play well.

One thing that works in overcoming pre-game jitters is practicing visualization. Prior to the game or tryout, picture yourself at the soccer field running through various skills and moves. See yourself crossing the ball or shooting or dribbling past the defender. See yourself calm and comfortable and playing well. See yourself overcoming any problems that might arise.

Granted, all that sounds easier said than done, right? Don’t worry. If you have pre-game jitters, then read on and discover how you can relax yourself before a soccer game or what to do during the game so you stay sharp and overcome your nervousness:

Here are some quick points to keep in mind if you want to overcome pre-game nerves:

  • run through a pre-game or pre-practice ritual - series of things you do to get ready and feel confident. Some people swear by stress balls
  • practice a consistent pre-game or pre-practice ritual - series of things you do to get ready and feel confident - listing to music, stretching..
  • know where you want to play the ball before you get it
  • play simple one and two touch soccer (pass and move)
  • work hard and get stuck in when you need to on defense (hustle)
  • ask for the ball all the time (communicate)
  • make direct and decisive runs
  • recognize where you are on the field and where your options are (don't over dribble in the defensive third)
  • have fun and encourage your teammates (you all want to win)
  • forget your mistakes and make up for them with hustle and determination
  • keep your head up
  • play until the final whistle
  • think positive - don't be too hard on yourself
  • allow yourself to get into the game with a few simple plays and then build off of that
  • play crisp and sharp passes (play with confidence)
  • be cheeky (take chances in the attacking third - take players on, try that step over or that back heel when it's on, take shots, get your crosses in the box)

Keep it Simple: The legendary Dutch player and coach Johan Cruyff once explained that if things were going badly on the soccer field, it was helpful to do a few small things well — just makes some easy passes to a teammate near you — to get your confidence back.

Two other things you can do to help allieviate your pre-game nerves: 1) Talk to someone about it, whether it's your coach or a friend. Sometimes just telling someone you're nervous can make it a lot easier. 2) Get a good warm up in before the game. This means work up a sweat. A good warm up will help get out the pre-game jitters and allow you to focus on the game.

Learn more about how to stop being too nervous for soccer games and overall mental focus at the pages below...

Again, the key is to not put too much pressure on yourself, as though you have to win the game all on your own. Remember, you have a whole team that supports you and that's on your side trying to win the game.

Also, see mental training for soccer players from our fitness and nutrition guide.

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