As a soccer parent, I am thoughtful with the words I use when talking to my young soccer player. I try to make just the right comments after a game or when I pick her up from practice and I force myself to not allow a single word out of my mouth from the sidelines during a game (at the request of my daughter!). And, I have always felt as though my carefully chosen words to her before a game were exactly what she needed to hear to deal with pre-game nerves.
I don’t think I was necessarily wrong with my pre-game comments to her in the past, but a recent conversation I was lucky enough to have with Sport Psychology Consultant and Soccer Expert, Dan Abrahams, author of Soccer Tough and Soccer Brain, taught me quite a bit about what, as a parent, I can do better.
Before reading Soccer Tough and talking with Dan, I would say things like “You’ll feel better when you start kicking the ball around,” or “You’re going to do great” when my child was expressing pre-game nerves.
After reading Soccer Tough and talking with Dan, I am armed with a handful of specific tools to better support her.
“What you originally would have said is no bad thing,” Dan told me. “Clearly, it’s not bad to say I know you can do well and I know you will. On a scale of 0-10 that is sort of in the higher echelons of what you could say.”
“I think the next step is probably reading the book and having a bit of training from a psychological expert like myself and so you do have some tools and techniques and communication skills and some perhaps less than obvious communication strategies that can help a young player deal with situations like that. Clearly, a parent reading up about this stuff and having some kind of education on this stuff is really, really useful.”
I would agree with Dan in that I found Soccer Tough to be very, very useful.
Here are three Communication Strategies straight from Soccer Tough to deal with pre-game nerves that I think will help all parents.
3 Ways to Help Your Child Tackle Pre-Game Nerves
1. Help them Pull from a Positive Memory Bank
Encourage them to tell you about their best game and ask them to remember small details such as the temperature, what uniform they were wearing, the field and details of their opponent. Maybe you can ask, as Soccer Tough suggests, “How did they feel in the first ten minutes of the match, what their body language was like, and what they were saying to themselves and others during the game?” pg. 22, Soccer Tough
As you speak to them and they start remembering the details of one of their best games, you will see them start to mentally forget how nervous they are and have a physical response that parallels the feeling of belief they had in themselves during that game.
2. Encourage them to Develop a “Match Script”
Help them focus on what they can control – themselves. Have them think about and concentrate on a few specific plays they want to perform during the game. Some examples from Soccer Tough:
- Non-stop movement
- Win my headers: time jumps
- Push winger on the outside at all times
- Work hard – box-to-box
- Talk to myself confidently at all times
- Focus on me
- Be strong in every challenge
- Be dominant on balls in the air
Be sure these plays are expressed in a positive manner. For instance, instead of saying “I don’t want to back out of any challenges” they should say “I want to be strong in every challenge.”
3. Help them Develop Self Belief and be a Positive Thinker
“How you see the challenges you face on and off the football pitch shapes your soccer image and subsequently reinforces your self-belief and confidence levels. You have to take control of your perception.” pg. 46 Soccer Tough
Self Belief stems from hard work
Talk about all the practices and work your child put into getting to this moment.
Instead of lecturing them by saying “You have worked so hard these past three weeks to prepare for this game, you’ll do great” maybe you can encourage them to remember it themselves by saying something like “Your team’s been working so hard in training, what was the hardest training session you had recently?”
Once they start talking about that session you can say “I believe all the hard work will pay off and this will be a great performance for you and your team. What do you think will be your greatest play this game?”
Armed with these tools and techniques and communication skills and strategies, parents can best help a young player deal with their pre-game nerves.
Personally, I found myself thinking “Thank you, Dan” the other day when I realized the new advice I’d received from Soccer Tough was helping my daughter deal with her pre-game nerves in a much more productive way.
I hope you have some “Thank you, Dan” moments yourself!