What is visualisation?
Visualisation is an established psychological technique. It has been used for many years to help people achieve their goals in life, overcome fears and reduce anxiety and stress.
Seeing yourself achieving your goal makes your brain believe that attaining that goal is possible, regardless of how difficult it may be.
Visualisation will not give a player technical skills that he or she didn’t have before but it will make them believe that they can play well, impress their team-mates, score the winning goal or make a great last-minute tackle. And if they believe they can do these things, then the chances of them actually doing them are greatly increased.
How can I use this technique with my players?
Children are experts at visualisation. They spend a lot of time in an imaginary world where they explore the possible consequences of their worst fears and brightest hopes. So all we have to do as soccer coaches is to guide our players to imagine (visualise) what they can achieve instead of what they fear might happen.
There are three ways to do this. We can either use internal visualisation (where a player imagines doing something themselves), external visualisation (where a player watches themselves do something as though they were standing on the touchline) or we can mix the two.
Before a match, in the changing rooms or a quiet corner of the field, I tell my players to spread out a little and make themselves comfortable.
First, I calm their minds. They close their eyes, take a deep breath and hold it for ten seconds before exhaling. We count together.
Then I ask them to remember the best game they ever played as a team. To help, I remind them when it was. Note: it doesn’t have to be a game that the team won, although it helps if they did.
I ask them to visualise (imagine) how they felt that day, how much effort they put in and how they played.
After a few seconds I ask each player to share something that they remembered about the game. A defender might remember a great tackle, an attacker the goal they scored, a midfielder a good pass or run.
They might remember how it felt to be congratulated by their parents on the way home or even what they had for tea that day!
Sharing these thoughts is an important step. It helps the team bond well and builds trust between your players.
Next, I ask them to visualise playing today’s game in the same way and with the same outcomes.
I give them a few seconds to do this then ask each player to tell the team what they are going to do to help the team today.
Again, sharing is important. If a player just keeps this thought in their heads it is easy to ‘forget’ the part they are going to play if the going gets tough. Vocalising makes the players more accountable.
The whole process takes five or ten minutes.
Visualisation can help your players overcome match day nerves. It can reduce fear, boost self confidence and will make soccer more fun for your players.
If your team consistently performs better in training sessions than in matches, loses to weaker opponents or has a problem with negative self image (‘we always lose to this team!’) visualising success will help them.