Pressure To Win At Tournaments
One-game elimination or facing an early exit from a soccer tournament creates a lot of pressure from tournament play.
You have probably been in this situation yourself… It’s a must-win situation… Your team has been under-performing or some of the team’s top players are unavailable for the game…
You can’t stop thinking, “If we lose, our season is over and we are playing a strong team without some of our best players.”
The pressure seems overwhelming and unbearable… You feel tense and anxious…
During pre-game, you watch the other team warm up and they look unbeatable… You can’t focus on anything but being eliminated.
This self-defeating mindset puts you at a tremendous disadvantage.
Focusing on losing negatively affects your game in three major ways:
- Increased muscle tension causes you to react slower to fast-pace action
- Excessive negative thinking interferes with your ability to make quick in-game decisions
- Fear of losing creates excessive anxiety and pressure, moving you away from an aggressive style of play to a more defensive approach to the game.
The USMNT faced a make-or-break World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Losing this game could potentially eliminate the US Men’s team for the first time since 1986.
Some teams would crumble under the pressure of a game of this magnitude and, for some of these players, this game would be the biggest game in their athletic careers.
The US responded in resounding fashion beating Guatemala 4-0 and keeping their hopes alive for the 2018 World Cup.
USMNT midfielder Kyle Beckerman talked about the pressure faced by the US squad and the importance of staying focused on their game and style of play.
BECKERMAN: “I think there was pressure, but it’s nothing that we haven’t been in before. We talked about past qualifying rounds where we’d been in similar situations. It was just about going out and executing and showing aggression and intensity and finishing our chances. That’s what we did tonight.”
USMNT captain Michael Bradley expounded on the team’s mindset heading into the game.
BRADLEY: “It didn’t take much explaining to realize what was at stake. I talked yesterday about the need for every guy to understand that at different times throughout these cycles you’re going to play a game where everything’s on the line—where if you lose you’re done. And that can’t scare you. You’ve got to have guys who embrace that challenge, who knows when those moments come that’s what it’s all about. For tonight we dealt with it well. We had guys respond in a big way.”
If you want to be on top of your game and play mentally tough soccer, you must view elimination games as challenges.
There would be no fun or sense of accomplishment if you never experienced athletic challenges.
Keep in mind, fear crushes but challenge pushes.
Tip for developing a strong mental approach to must-win games:
You have three choices of where to place your focus during elimination games:
The possibility of losing, the strength of the other team, or your strategy for the game. The first two will hurt your chances to win.
If you want to play your best, you must focus on your strengths, talents, and game plan.
Throughout the game keep reminding yourself of a key word or phrase (“stay aggressive” or “attack”) that helps you focus on your game plan.
Focusing on your capabilities (instead of the other team’s ability) can improve your chance of success.
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