Playing Soccer Under Pressure
When your BIG opportunity arises, are you ready for that moment or overwhelmed?
When soccer players think of their “big” opportunity (ex., your first start, trying out for your college team, being chosen for a penalty kick, etc.), many of those players become anxious and fearful.
What underlies those negative emotions?
Negative emotions result from your perspective or appraisal of a situation. When you view an opportunity as BIG, you will feel you need to play BIG or BETTER than you have in the past.
High expectations often accompany big opportunities, “I have to produce, or I will never get another chance.”
In these situations, you will feel excessive pressure to meet the demand. You are not fearful about the opportunity per se. Instead, you fear you might mess up your chance. It is the fear of the unknown that causes stress.
The reality is that an opportunity is just another opportunity. The opportunity may mean a new situation, but the game remains the same, despite the circumstances. It is essential to stay focused on your game, talents, and skills rather than the importance of the occasion.
In our Mental Game of Soccer Survey, we received the following question:
“I don’t get a lot of playing time, but when I do, I become so nervous that I make a lot of mistakes. I play great in scrimmages. What can I do to play better in games?”
If you think of it, what makes a scrimmage different than a game against an opposing team? The rules are the same. The goals are in the same place. There are still 11 players per team.
The difference between scrimmages and games is how big or important you make the game. The more significance you attach to the game, the greater pressure you will feel. In games you view as BIG, you will experience such a high level of anxiety that you will be unable to focus and make quick decisions. Alternately, in scrimmages, you play free and loose.
USWNT forward Ashley Hatch makes the most of her time on the field, whether in practice or games.
In a match against New Zealand in the 2022 She Believes Cup match, Hatch scored six minutes after she subbed in for a teammate. The goal was her third goal in three appearances for the women’s national team.
HATCH: “I’m just trying to take advantage of whatever opportunity I get to step on the field, whether that’s during a game or during practice. We learn a lot here about the style of game that the United States wants to master, and so I make sure that I understand that and can perform the correct role that I’m given, and am able to add my own individual talents to help the team in attack.”
Just like Hatch, if you maintain the same mindset for practices, scrimmages, games, or playoffs, you will lessen the pressure you experience.
Taking the edge off is a matter of normalizing each game or treating each game the same, despite the circumstances.
Managing Pressure During Games:
One way to manage the pressure is to talk yourself down. Make the game smaller. Instead of telling yourself, “This is my big shot,” remind yourself, “The game remains the same.”
Keep in mind that expectations you have about your game can lead to feeling pressure–both from yourself and others. You want to be mindful of the expectations you feel to be great for your teammates and coach.
- Mindset for Tough Conditions
- How to Overcome Anxiety During Soccer Games
- Your Peak Performance for Playoffs
- Subscribe to The Sport Psychology Podcast on iTunes
- Subscribe to The Sports Psychology Podcast on Spotify
Discover Mental Game Secrets to Soccer Confidence!
Does your confidence seem to disappear when you go from practice to games?
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Learn the top eight mental game lessons for soccer players to boost your mental game and improve consistency. You’ll learn how to mentally prepare for games to performing under pressure to building.