Cup finals, league play-offs and even relegation deciders can be tense, nail-biting affairs. But if you want your players to give their best you have to plan your pre-match routine very carefully.
It’s a good idea to have an established warm-up routine.
Your players shouldn’t be asked to learn anything new just before a game and having a regular routine helps them settle into the right mindset for matches.
But often coaches decide to change their warm-up for big matches to make absolutely sure their players are mentally and physically ready. That’s a mistake.
Introducing a new, super-charged warm-up for just one game will make your players nervous and give the impression that their coach is concerned about the game to come. Sticking to the usual routine, on the other hand, helps your players see the game as just another, winnable, match.
Shall I talk about the opposition?
Don’t talk to your players about the other team and don’t allow your players to compare themselves to their opponents or they can easily become negative and worried.
Instead, talk to your players about their strengths: How well they pass the ball, how strong your defence is and how good they are at goalscoring.
Let the other team worry about you!
I must give my lot a proper pep talk today…
Many coaches think they need to psyche their players up before a big game. But this approach can backfire, especially with young players.
Their parents have probably been talking to them about the match and they are probably going to be on edge. You need to reassure them so be positive and keep your body language nice and relaxed.
Say: “If you play like you do every week you’ll be OK” or “I’m looking forward to this game and I know you’re going to enjoy it too” or “this is going to be tough but if you all try your hardest you’re going to be fine”.
Don’t tell your players to “get stuck in” or “it’s time to prove how good you are”. Statements like that only serve to make players think of the consequences if they don’t get “stuck in” or what you’re going to say if they make a mistake.
Plan to spend two or three minutes on your pre-match talk and plan what you going to say beforehand.
Don’t make it up as you go along!
And team talks should be just that – a talk to the team. If you feel it necessary to remind individuals of their responsibilities, do it in private. If you want to tell Mary that her job is to score goals (not that you would, I hope), doing so in front of her team mates will only add to the pressure she is feeling.
Visualise your way to success
I’ve used the psychological technique of visualisation several times with my girls’ teams before big games and I’m sure it has helped them overcome any nerves they might have been feeling.
What is visualisation?
Children are good at imagining. They can “see” monsters under the bed, have invisible friends and dress up as princesses or soldiers.
Imagination is not just a game for school age children. It helps them deal with problems by thinking through the different outcomes. It also allows children to mentally rehearse and practise the skills they are going to use on the football field.
You can use this to help them before a big football match. Basically you get your players to close their eyes after your pre-match talk and calm themselves by breathing deeply for a seconds.
Then ask them to remember a match where the team played particularly well. Tell your players to remember how they felt on the day and then run a video in their minds of a good tackle they made or a good shot or anything else they did well.
When they’ve done that, I ask my players to share their thoughts and tell everyone what they’re going to do to help the team today.
If someone feels uncomfortable with the sharing, that’s fine, but putting such positive thoughts into words is a powerful motivational tool.