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5 ways to sharpen up your players
Pre-season training isn’t just about physical sharpness. Sport psychologist Dan Abrahams offers five tips to help you sharpen up your players mentally so they feel ready to take on the challenges that will face them in the days ahead.
1 USE SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
What could be better than the first day of pre-season training to refresh your players’ memories of what they did well during the previous season? Rather than launching into fitness or passing drills, why not spend five minutes at the beginning of your session helping players to open up a catalogue of mental pictures related to their best moments and best performances from last season. Ask them what they felt their best games were, as individuals and as a team. Also ask them what they felt stood out and what they have to do to replicate the performance again.
2 CREATE AMBITIONS
I don’t like the term ‘goal setting’. Instead I tend to use the word ‘ambition’ with the teams I work with. I want my teams to have an ambition – an outcome so exciting that it supercharges their bodies and minds. I want this to be specific and measurable and I want it to be attainable. I want the team to come up with it and I want them to take ownership of the outcome they desire.
Once an ambition is selected, write it down and circulate it amongst your players. Ask them to put it in a prominent position – on their fridge, by their beds or in their kit bags. When they think of soccer, they should be thinking of the ambition their team has.
3 EMPOWER YOUR PLAYERS
Pre-season training is a great time to reinforce the attitudes and actions you want your players to display. I heard that during the first week of last season, a League Two manager left his players in a room with marker pens and a clean board. He asked them to write down how they were going to approach the season, how they would react if things went wrong, and what they’d maintain if things were going great. In this way he placed the onus on his players to find their own solutions – and he had, written in black and white, the attitudes that the players had promised to display during the course of the season. This is a really powerful process that empowers the players.
4 TAKE STOCK OF WEAKNESSES
Pre-season is the perfect opportunity for players to work on weaknesses. It’s a time for them to take stock and be honest about their game. It’s also a time when there are fewer competitive games so it’s a great to be able to work on areas of their game that need improving or that need a complete overhaul. Challenge your players to do this – you lead training, but ask them to come with a few individual goals in mind. These goals might be related to any aspect of the game: mental, physical, technical or tactical. For example, a defender might work on the ability to keep a body shape that allows sight of both the striker and the ball. The list is endless.
5 INSIST ON MENTAL TOUGHNESS
There is little point having ultra fit players if they have little resilience or mental toughness. Pre-season is the perfect opportunity for you to shape the mindsets of your players. The coach’s primary weapons are words, so make sure your sentences are littered with references related to psychology.
Vocalise your insistence that players train with confidence and tell them you want to see confidence – insist on it from the sidelines. If you’re not seeing confident movement, with players on their toes, alert and lively, then stop play immediately. Insist on focus and constantly remind players of the importance of staying switched on. When players haven’t competed for a few weeks they won’t be as attuned to the challenges the game throws at them. Warm up their brain muscles by demanding confidence, focus and intensity at all times.