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Appreciative Coaching: The Power of Positive Self Talk


A football striker wearing the number 10 shirt...
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One  of the biggest challenges that young soccer players face is the issue of inner dialogue or self talk. By this I mean the inner narrative that goes through players had unconsciously or somewhat consciously as the game unfolds in front of them. A lot of things go into what a player here since I better head. Depending on their background and upbringing and culture and the nature of your coaching, they can hear very different things going on and this will have an important impact on how they play the game and how they experience the game as they continue to develop.

If your coaching style is aggressive and judgmental and directed towards the person, it would not be surprising for the player self talk to also be aggressive and judgmental. This can create feelings of intimidation and pressure on the field. This would make it difficult for the player to relax and enjoy the game and to be in the kind of creative mood that is ideal for expressing themselves on the field.

We can affect the self talk in a couple of important ways. I consider to be one of the most important coaching obligations especially with younger players to help them develop the inner resources that enable them to deal with the pressures of the game and their life.

The first thing you can do is provide the player a set of easily remembered words to use as they tried to make sense of the very fluid game. Phrases like “we clear the ball wide and up the side”, repeated often in practice and during games and during question-and-answer sessions make it easy for the player to remember what to do in that tactical situation. Consistency,  repetition and memorable phrases give your players the tools they need to shape their own internal dialogue.

The next important thing you can do is to set the tone for how to approach the results of their efforts. Remember that the game of soccer is so dynamic and volatile that our plans rarely come off without a hitch. We should expect the ball to take funny bounces and for other players to make surprising plays. Our mindset should be one of positive initiative, trying to do the best we can and then accepting the results, and moving onto the next play without being judgmental. In this way we have an opportunity to help our players seize the moment and enjoy the beautiful game.

Self talk is an important part of the young players emotional resilience and personal development. It’s a psychological part of the game that coaches should pay special attention to.

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  1. osamu
    May 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    About cultural gap, when Ivicia Osim came to Japan, the problems and uniqueness of Japanese style of soccer, got most clear, in my opinion. Although he often said “running with thinking”, Japan team was likely to go to “running without thinking”. That is not in a good meaning that reminds zen or something, “without thinking” means “laziness” here.

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