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The Mental Game Of Soccer

Are You A Mentally Tough Athlete?


Bill Cole, MS, MA
The Mental Game Coach™
Silicon Valley, California


What are your mental strengths as a soccer player? Do you have mental toughness, particularly under pressure? Do you have the ability to let go of mistakes in a contest? Can you maintain confidence in the face of setbacks? All of these skills are needed to be able to compete at a high level, and I have taught all of this to athletes in over 75 sports so far.

I am also a mental game coach to many soccer players, many at the national level. I work with a number of athletes at Stanford University. One of my soccer players helped win the Division I NCAA National Women's Soccer Championships for Stanford. I also coached a player who was picked in the first round of the Women's Professional Soccer Draft. I have been mental game coach to many players on the national teams of the US and other countries, as well as FIFA World Cup competitors. I have a number of high school and collegiate soccer players I work with. All of these athletes were successful before they called me. But they all hit mental bumps in the road that they could not navigate by themselves. Even their soccer coaches could not help them out of the rut. They needed special assistance. This confuses many athletes. They ask themselves, "What has happened to me? I used to be confident, and mentally tough. Did I suddenly forget how to do all this?" In a way, they did forget. They lost their way. They usually have entered a transition period in their sport—moving up in age, weight, grade, league, out of the house, etc., and this change threw them off where they couldn't regain their balance. They were the same person, but once they started to doubt themselves, they also began to over-think. They started wondering how this could have happened, and what they needed to do to get out of it. Slumps like this are entirely natural and common.

That's where I come in. As a mental game coach I help athletes at all levels reconnect with their confidence. I help them reignite their passion for the game, and I assist them in finding their mental focus and calmness again. These are all learnable skills. For the experienced soccer player, these skills are still there, but they are lurking under the surface. What I help them do is to find, sharpen and master these mental skills so they rarely have another bout of self-doubt.

Here are four mental strategies you can use to boost your mental soccer skills back into overdrive.

  1. Stop Trying To Figure Out Why You Make Errors: My offices are located about 20 minutes south of Stanford University, near Palo Alto, in northern California. This is the heart of Silicon Valley, and anyone living here who works in high tech has very smart kids, and many of these kids play soccer. So I coach many highly intelligent soccer players, and the biggest problem they have with their mind is they attempt to figure out the reasons for their mistakes in the actual game, while the ball is live. Of course when they do this, they are busy thinking and they miss the next play, and the next. My advice is to stop thinking. Stop analyzing what went wrong and just keep playing. Don't be a scientist and mentally pause to look at the reasons for your poor play. Just dig in, compete strongly and shrug off any errors as normal. Making a big deal of mistakes is a sure-fire performance killer.

  2. To Focus Better, Clear Out Your Mind: Before a game, do you have a system or process you use to mentally transition away from your "normal life" and into your "special sports world"? You should. You need a mind bridge that helps you leave the worries, concerns and focus in your family, school and social worlds so you can focus on your soccer world. An easy way to do this is to use good time management. Create a buffer after your last activity before you leave to go play soccer. Don't just rush out of the house. Sit quietly for 10-15 minutes and clear your mind out. Visualize how you want to play in the upcoming practice or game. Set some goals for that day. You'll feel the calming effect this has on your mind, and you'll play better.

  3. Use The Inverse Relationship Formula: If you have ever noticed in a game that your energy has become flat and your feet have stopped moving, you have probably begun to think too much. This can happen for various reasons, but the key is to become aware of it in the moment. Then use the inverse relationship formula to counteract this. Begin moving your feet much faster and more intensely than normal, where you even feel like you are "over-doing things". That's the whole idea. As you throw yourself into more physicality, your mind will stop thinking and your body will start acting. You'll instantly become more athletic. Hence the term inverse. As one side of the equation goes up (your physical activity), the other side goes down (your over-thinking).

  1. Take All Opponents Seriously: The moment you think to yourself, "This opposing team is weak. This'll be a simple, easy win.", you're done mentally. Or at least you put yourself into a mental hole that will take some digging to get out of. That's because you just told yourself that this will be a boring game, that it will barely be a challenge, and hardly worth your effort and focus. That's where the danger comes in. Now your mind has signaled to your body, "You can take a break. This is in the bag!". But it won't be with that attitude. Now you need to change the game into a challenge so your mind and body "gets up for the game." You can do this by setting interesting goals that create curiosity. For example, how many steals can you make? How many people can you stop? Can you shut out the other team or severely limit their scoring? Goals like this create intrigue and help you play your best.

Now you have some new mental insights into what makes you tick as a soccer player. And now you know more about the mental game of soccer, and of how to manage your own mental approach. Take these out on the field and put them to good use. Good luck!


For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. Here is a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot. This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with mental coach Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.


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Copyright © 2014 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.


Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps sports teams and individuals achieve more success. He is also the Founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published author of books and articles, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports and big-time college athletics.


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The Mental Game of Soccer


Bill Cole, MS, MA
Sports Psychology Coaching

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