Written by Millie Davies
You and your team have worked hard all season. You’ve won game after game, scored goal after goal, and it’s paid off; you’ve made it to the finals! You’re all excited, and you deserve to be. However, you might also be a little nervous because you really want to win. So how can you prepare for that game and ensure you play your best game?
To bring your best self to that Grand Final, you need to address your mental health as well as your physical health. Even though soccer is a team sport, a great striker is a major component to a successful team. You can’t win a game if you don’t score goals. This might be a little daunting at times and you might feel the weight on your shoulders start to take its toll, but there are ways to combat the stress and anxiety that comes naturally when a big game is upon you.
So, with finals just around the corner, we’ve put together our top 10 tips you can follow to help bring your A-game to that final football match.
1. Practice taking penalty shots
You’ve probably heard it time and time again; your team can’t win if you don’t score goals. So, take the time to focus on what you do best; taking penalties and scoring goals. This is a simple thing to practice as you can do it anywhere and at any given time of the day, like your backyard, local park or at a nearby football field. This will probably be part of your team training anyway, but it’s important to give yourself time to really hone in on that penalty practice in the lead up to the big game. It’s often referred to as purposeful practice and refers to the idea of repetitive training, where you practice one technique over and over until you master it like a Pro. Purpose practice – it is about getting your shot nearly perfect so always shot to the one location and remember down low is better, so, choose the right or left bottom corner and practice, practice, practice.
2. The power of visualisation:
Some of the most notable football coaches in the world regard visualisation a very powerful tool in manifesting success in a game. Powerful visualisation means using your own mental imagery to imagine your goals and what you want to achieve. It’s a widely used training tool in sport with a variety of different techniques surrounding it. A famous striker who often uses visualisation techniques is Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, who once said that he often “visualised scoring wonder goals” from a very young age. He must be on to something because Rooney comes second place for goal scoring in the history of football!
Visualisation is such a versatile technique; you can even practice it while you’re lying in bed. Imagine the game. Focus your mind on the goal. Think about what you might do if the ball was in a certain position. What movements will you make? What would you do differently if the ball was positioned a little to the left? This process can help you achieve pin point accuracy on the day. And, don’t be afraid to give yourself a little pep talk while you practice, both before the game and throughout. The power of positive thinking can do wonders!
3. Practice your mental toughness
It’s one of the most important traits of a top striker. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” quotes Mia Hamm as saying mental toughness is the most important skill for a soccer player to have. It will help you stay calm under pressure or in the unfortunate situation where you miss a goal. As a striker, you’re always in the spotlight so being mentally strong will help you keep your focus and pick yourself back up when it’s most needed.
4. Stick to your normal routine
Sticking to a routine is an important aspect of training and preparation. Lots of top athletes follow their routine to a tee to help maximise their training and performance. There are lots of aspects of training and game preparation sessions that you simply can’t control – the weather, the grounds or your opponents to name but a few. What you can control is your own routine. Whether it’s always training at the same time every day, performing the same exercises when you train, wearing the same gear in your important games or eating the same meal the night before the big day; routine has been proven to effect performance on the day. In the lead up to the finals, don’t change your routine – if you know it works for you, there is no need to change it. If you have your own routine and preparation under control, you’ll be well equipped to deal with anything unexpected that pops up during those crucial 90 minutes.
5. Take some time out
A secret weapon to playing your best game is to stay cool, calm and composed both for the game and in the week leading up to it. You might be practicing your penalties daily and trying out visualisation techniques, but don’t also forget to relax and unwind to keep your stress levels low and nerves in check. Take time out from your football preparation and do something you enjoy doing. Whether it’s kicking a ball around with a mate – just for fun – going running or watching your favourite show on Netflix. Taking these moments to do something else means that when you come back to your game prep, you’ll be more rejuvenated, calm and better able to focus. You don’t want to train so hard that when you get to finals day, you’ve got no fuel left!
6. Get enough sleep
It’s important in the lead up to the finals you are getting a good night’s sleep, so you have enough energy for both practicing and the final match. Experts recommend 8-10 hours for those aged 12-18 years old. If you don’t get enough sleep your reflexes will be slower, and you won’t be able to think as clearly which will impact how well you play. The night before the game you might be excited or nervous which can make it difficult to sleep, so try and get into bed a little earlier to give yourself extra time to wind down and relax before you shut off.
7. Food and water
While you’re training as well as playing, you’ll lose a lot of fluid through sweat so it’s really important to drink lots of water to remain hydrated. If you become de-hydrated, you’ll feel dizzy, nauseous, headachy or tired. In many cases, your muscles might seize up and feel cramped. It’s also important to eat balanced meals which include a good level of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates. This will give you the energy you need to give practise and perform at your absolute best. Lots of fruit, vegetables, salads, pasta and rice, whole grain cereals or bread as well as lean meats will help you balance nutrition levels and prepare you for optimal performance. And one final tip; whatever you eat before the game, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to digest the food before you have to play.
8. Chat to your coach
If you’re still feeling nervous – which is totally understandable - chat to your coach. They are there to help you, support you and give you advice and guidance whenever you need it. They’ve seen lots of nervous players in their time as a coach and will know the best tactics to put your mind at ease. Whether it be giving you practical advice or running through game strategies with you, trust that they have your best interests at heart and want to see you perform at your optimal level as much as you do. It’s important to them and you that you are relaxed, happy and confident ahead of the finals.
9. Be prepared the night before
Avoid any last-minute and avoidable stress by making sure you have all your gear laid out and ready to go the night before. There’s nothing worse than realising at the last minute you’ve misplaced an important piece of your kit. Make a list of all the bits and pieces you need a few days before the big game and check it off as you go. You eliminate the risk of added stress on the day, allowing you to concentrate on what really matters; staying focused! It will only take a few minutes to get prepared and you’ll thank yourself in the morning.
10. Enjoy the game!
Finally, the most important thing is to have fun! It’s normal to forget why you’re doing this in the first place so remember to have fun and enjoy the experience. Not everyone gets to play in a Grand Final. Too much pressure isn’t good for anyone, so try to remember why you started to play football in the first place – because you love the game!
Want to improve your football game even further?
At Golden Boot Striker Academy, we provide tailored football training to help strikers and attackers improve their touch, skills, accuracy and confidence. Our soccer training program has been developed for males and females of all abilities, ages 10 and up. For more information on this, click here.