Having the soccer game of your life is one of the best feelings in the world. Below are some tried and true methods that will have you flying in your next match.
1. Empty Your Cup
“Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” That's right, I just kicked this off with a Bruce Lee quote.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more aware of the present moment. Itcreates a space, if only for a brief moment in time, for the mental clatter that you are not even aware of, to be examined. By fixing your attention on the present moment, breathe, or paying attention to physical sensations or sounds, you can empty your mind of the neurotic thought patterns."Almost all our suffering is the product of our thoughts. We spend nearly every moment of our lives lost in thought, and hostage to the character of those thoughts. You can break this spell, but it takes training just like it takes training to defend yourself against a physical assault." - Sam Harris
Why is this important for improving soccer performance?
Well, the last thing you want to be doing while receiving a ball with a defender breathing down your back is to be analyzing what surface area of your cleat you're going to trap the ball with. That is paralysis by analysis at it's finest. Checking your shoulder, and thinking ahead about how to exploit space on the field with a first touch or an early pass is where we want our focus. We don't want our minds worrying about the intricate technicalities of the game or counting statistics like how many times we have turned the ball over versus kept possession.
By sitting down 10 minutes a day and focusing on the air coming in and out of your nose and observing thoughts as they come in and gently letting them go, you are training your mind to reach peak performance states. When you step on the field, your body can do the thinking while your mind can do the dancing. (great book - Thinking Body,Dancing Mind).
If you're not comfortable with meditating on your own, check out the App called Headspace. They do a great job of offering free 10 minutes a day meditation.
2. Be the Director and The Star
Visualization can be a powerful tool, or it can actually be harmful. For someone like me who over-analyzes by nature, visualizing correctly took, and still takes a lot of fine tuning. While many Olympic athletes use visualization, some athletes like Messi feel as though they are better off without it.
"I never think about the play or visualize anything. I do what comes to me at that moment. Instinct. It has always been that way."
While the quote from Messi shuns visualization, it does speak to the power of limiting over-thinking which we develop via mindfulness meditation. If you do want to give visualization or imagery a try, are a few tips:
-If you are the analytical type, keep visualizing to a minimum and place more emphasis on meditation/mindfulness and in the game just react, like Messi
-If visualizing, stay positive and if negativity creeps in, STOP. Start over with a new script
-Use imagery and incorporate as much detail as possible such as sound (what great things the coaches, teammatesand fans will be saying)
-Imagine the post game- people congratulating you, high fives, compliments from specific people, how good the post game meal will taste after a stellar performance
-Use "anchoring" which involves a incorporating a physical act while eliciting positive thoughts and visions that you can use to bring back the positive emotional and mental state with ease. Touching the thumb to the middle finger is one example. Or nodding the head up and down like to the beat of a good song is another.
3. The Art Of The Taper
Tapering is the intelligent cutting back on training volume (and sometimes intensity) that allows your body to have a mini super-compensation phase where it hopefully peaks on the day of competition.
In a study involving soccer players , the effect of a 2-week overloading training phase followed by a 2-week tapering phase on salivary cortisol (the stress hormone), stress tolerance, and upper respiratory tract infections symptoms were examined. In the overloading phase, there was higher resting cortisol concentration than the tapering phase and upper respiratory tract infection symptoms was higher.
In swimmers, examination of their arm muscle fibers before and after 10 days of intensified training showed that the type II (fast-twitch) fibers exhibited a significant reduction in their maximal shortening velocity. This loss in power output has been attributed to changes in the fibers’ myosin molecules where the explosive type II fibers became more like that of the endurance type I fibers.
Coutinho, Bale, Alexis Sanchez- any player who hopes to win games with explosive displays of skill need their power outputs to be high.
One method of tapering I have found to be extremely effective is as follows- say you have a game on Saturday. Wednesday you get after it and train hard. Thursday you have an off day that includes going for a walk, recovery methods such as foam rolling and mobility work, maybe some soccer tennis (pictured above) etc. Friday you go out at the same time as the game and do a short technical session lasting around 20 minutes with a nice cool down. Soccer tennis can be a great on these days if you have friends. I like to use a wall for extra reps on passing, receiving, and turning.
4. Go Hungry Or Go Home
There were plenty of times in the past when I have felt hunger pangs and thought "how will I possibly have energy to play?", yet had one of my better performances. There have also been plenty of games when I eat too close to the time of the match and feel undigested and slow, both physically and mentally.
For most human beings, the stomach should be not be working hard on digestion while there is a demand for blood to be shunted to muscles.
A stomach full of food not only slows you down via the energy spent on digestion, but food also carries physical weight that can slow you down. In addition, a hungry (not starving) brain, is going to be sharper and more alert than a brain that is in the middle of negotiating the effects of a big meal.
Eat enough, but eat light the night before and day of the game. Food quality is of the utmost importance, but that has been discussed plenty.
5. We're Jammin'
From FOUR FOUR TWO Magazine
“If you synchronise whatever activity you're engaging in to the tempo of music there's a very clearly energetic effect,” says Professor Peter Terry of the University of Southern Queensland. Various studies point to a 10% reduction in perceived exertion because the body’s emotional state can be transferred into a physical reaction. The dressing room or in the car on the way to the game is a perfect setting where high tempo tunes can match a player’s anticipated heart rate and inspire them to on-field success.
I like all kinds of music, but heavy metal or rock and roll was never it for me on game day. Rocky was not it either, although I love the soundtrack. I prefer to listen to rap or some Brazilian/capoeira music with a lot of rhythm. Something where I could nod my head in a calm way and cultivate feelings energy and looseness at the same time.
"We want their script to be positive, energized and hopeful so those are the key phrases in a song that resonates to an individual,” says InnerDrive’s Bradley Busch. He cites Jay Z’s ‘Encore’ – which features the lyric: “I came, I saw, I conquered” – as an ideal song in dressing rooms across the country.
6. Consolidate your gains
In other words, do not dismiss any success you have as a fluke or "getting lucky". No, you put that great play or game into your confidence piggy bank and lock that sucker up. When someone says "good job" or "nice play" there is never the need to respond with anything but "thank you" with the attitude of "of course, that is what I do". If you want to throw in any profanity or superlatives to drive it home, by all means. "Thanks, that's what I do, bitches" works pretty well.
7. The Obstacle Is The Way
In soccer and in life, we cannot always control what happens, but we always have the ability to choose our response to it.
From none other than Rocky, to his son:
"Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!"
Remember, the great players are not defined by mistakes, but by the impact they make. Make a promise to yourself that no matter what happens (early mistakes, feeling "off", etc.), you're going to have the attitude of a champion.