Why aren’t you including mental training as a “standard practice” in youth soccer?

Mental skills training continues to be the final frontier for soccer coaches. You know it’s vital, but probably aren’t sure how to make it happen. Many coaches have the perception that mental training is difficult to teach, but today I’m going to give you a straightforward way to integrate mental skills into your daily soccer training.

As a youth coach, you are in the ideal position to teach, develop, and help lead your players towards mastery of mental skills. Researchers suggest that coaches should integrate physical and mental aspects of performance directly into daily practice (Foster, Maynard, Butt, & Hays, 2015; Harwood, 2008; Henriksen, Diment, & Hansen, 2011; Sinclair & Sinclair, 1994).

Earlier this year, in the International Sport Coaching Journal, researchers from the University of Tennessee and Indiana State (Zakrajsek, Lauer, and Bodey) identified 4 steps for coaches to follow to integrate mental skills into daily training. Here’s how you can make it happen:



Step 1: Pre-Training Preparation

Identify the mental skills you want to develop during the season. For example, managing self-talk to learn how to let go of mistakes quickly and refocus.

Step 2: Develop the Training Plan

Choose a mental skill for the day. For example: Use Instructional Thinking to stay focused and keep working after a mistake. Next, create a drill that will create pressure and encourage mistakes. Allow 20 minutes for drill and debrief. Explain the drill (physical and mental components) and identify potential challenges. Describe how to use instructional thinking to shift from past (focus on mistake and frustration) to present thinking (focus on now…”transition” or “man up”).

Step 3: Reinforce the Mental Strategy

Instruct players to stay focused and present. Periodically stop the drill and ask, “Are you performing to the best of your ability? Why or why not?” If yes, “How are you able to stay present?” If no, “What is keeping you from staying focused during the drill?” “What can you do to shift your self-talk after a mistake?” “What instructions are you finding helpful?”

Step 4: Extend the Mental Strategy

Ask players, “What other situations could you use instructional thinking (staying present) in?” “How can you use instructional thinking in training?” “How does using instructional thinking help you be a better player?” “How will you use it in this weekend’s tournament?”

Follow these 4 steps to start integrating mental skills into your training today!

Click here for more advice on mental skills training from Mental Mastery Online.