EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FOR GRASSROOTS SOCCER COACHES

4 ways to get over a bad start to the season

A run of poor results at the start of the season can really knock a team’s confidence. Sport psychologist Dan Abrahams offers grassroots coaches four tips to help their teams get over a rocky opening to the campaign

Losing games

Highlight the positives

A poor start to the season tends to direct the team’s focus of attention onto the bad moments that have been experienced, such as the goals against, the poor passages of play and any individual mistakes.

The brain loves to attach itself to negatives – in fact it’s like Teflon for positives and Velcro for negatives. Negative thinking leads to negative feelings, which damages on pitch behaviours. Anticipation can slow, awareness can dull and general decision-making can become poor.

To avoid all of this it’s vital you spend time highlighting what has gone well during matches. Emphasise great passages of play, moments of individual excellence and times of team unity.

Focus on the next month

The season is long and after a poor start it can feel pretty overwhelming to have a season’s worth of games still ahead of you. “When are we going to pull this round?” can become a mantra in the changing room.

The brain loves structure and loves to chunk information, so you can lessen the stress your players might be feeling by breaking down the season into months. If you’ve lost your first couple of games you can clear and lift the fog that your players’ brains may be experiencing by setting a target for the next month’s worth of games.

Targeting a number of points or wins over the next 30 days helps your players become present oriented rather than future scared or past stressed.

Coach individuals

A poor start is so often a result of player mistakes. During the early part of the season players can suffer from nerves or just plain old rustiness. As a coach you should be confident to challenge individuals to perform at their best. This doesn’t mean criticising them or telling them to “pull their socks up”. It means coaching them. It means taking them aside and explaining their mistakes and letting them know how to put things right.

As coach you need to be clear and precise in your instructions but you also need to be positive. Begin by pointing out what they’ve done well, but follow this by telling them you noticed a couple of errors that can easily be put right. Affirm your confidence in them and tell them you’ll support them 100 per cent.

Emphasise the idea of ‘team’

A poor start to the season can damage the cohesion of your team from the very first match of the campaign. To ensure your players remain a unit, make sure you take every opportunity to emphasise the idea of the team and togetherness.

It’s useful to get your players talking to each other – this could be for just five minutes before or after training. When you get them together give them a platform to emphasise what has been going well and what needs to go better.

During training you may need to emphasise team work. You may want to reinforce shape, pattern and effective communication. If you can, try to develop some team goals with your players, giving them a collective set of tasks that they can achieve together.

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