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Mental Training in Practice

In support of and adding to Article III—Access to Quality Coaching—from the FUNdamental SOCCER ‘Bill of Rights,‘ Dr. Jay Martin, author of the newly released book ‘Lessons from the Best Coach: Develop a Winning Team Culture that Lasts,’ shares these valuable GUIDELINES:

We expect every player to work on the mental side in practice just like they work on fitness, technique, and tactics.  Players can not just “switch on” mental toughness.  Like fitness, the players have to work on it.  Here are the guidelines for mental training in practice:

  • Get the most out of practice:  Enjoy the chance to practice.  View all the hard work that you do as an investment in yourself and the team.  Working hard increases confidence.

  • Devise a pre-practice routine:  Design a routine that gets you 100% prepared for practice.  Leave your concerns and problems in the locker room. 

  • Create a physical and mental mission to focus on before each practice:  Decide on one or two goals for yourself for practice.  One should be a physical goal, and one should be a mental goal.  You should work on each of these in practice. 

  • Goal Dares”: Have a teammate or a coach challenge you to improve in one area.  i.e., Can you juggle 20 times without the ball hitting the ground?

  • Challenge yourself on each activity: Don’t go through the motions!!  Make every touch the best you can make it!  Challenge yourself physically and mentally in every activity.

  • Focused stretching: Use the stretching and warm-up time to get mentally prepared for the practice.

  • Use and perfect your Performance Checklist: Discipline yourself to mentally run through your performance checklist every time you perform – not just games!!   Get mentally ready, have a plan, trust yourself, and evaluate your progress.

  • Simulate competition: Practice like you compete.  Go through every activity as if it was a game.  Develop the habit necessary to compete at a higher level

  • Practice handling mistakes and adversity: Practices are filled with mistakes and problems.  By perfecting your routines to handle adversity in practice, they will be automatic in games.

  • Use downtime to visualize: Use time in lines or between activities to visualize how you will correct mistakes.

  • Use productive and positive self-talk: Stop a negative thought with a cue word and replace it with a positive thought.  Do it.  Make it a habit.

  • Two-minute drill: If you are having problems in practice, focus on the next two minutes and then the next two minutes until things are going better.  This works in games, too.

  • Evaluate: After each practice (and game), evaluate yourself.  That is how you get better.

  • Play with perspective: While soccer is important, remember and appreciate the other important aspects of your life: family, friends, academics, etc.).  Playing with perspective helps you enjoy playing.

  • Have fun: You started playing this game because it was fun; you have gone back to every practice because it is fun; don’t stop having fun!!

Excerpt from his new book, Lessons from the Best Coach: Develop a Winning Team Culture that Lasts, authored by OWU’s legendary Coach, Dr. Jay Martin, explains the management strategy that has made him the most successful coach in NCAA history. Published by Meyer & Meyer Sport and is available from the publisher or Amazon.

Koach Karl’s Komments:

First and foremost, “Thank You,” Dr. Jay Martin, for your unwavering support and valuable contribution to the FUNdamental SOCCER ‘Bill of Rights.

By following these ‘Guidelines,’ I am confident coaches can create a brighter future for their soccer participants, ensuring their Lifelong Love for the Game.

However, just as our country’s founders tailored the Constitution to fit different needs, coaches must adapt these ‘Guidelines’ to suit their soccer environment.

So, I Invite You, Dear Reader, to “Join the Cause actively engage with me, share your ideas and opinions, and join me in shaping the playing environment for our players. Together, WE can and need to make a difference in the future of youth soccer. Because …


Dr. Jay Martin

Editor: United Soccer Coaches, “Soccer Journal” Author: Recently published his first book, “Lessons from a Great Coach: Develop a Winning Team Culture That Lasts!” Head Coach: Ohio Wesleyan is the winningest coach in NCAA men's soccer history with 749 wins, making him the first men's soccer coach to reach 700 wins. Heading into the 2023 season, he boasts a 749-158-80 record and a career winning percentage of .799, ranking 14th all-time in the NCAA. Under his guidance, the 2022 Bishops were NCAC tournament champions, and the staff was named NCAC Coaching Staff of the Year for the 10th time. In 45 seasons, Martin's teams have a 297-30-24 conference play record, winning 26 conference crowns. Martin led Ohio Wesleyan to NCAA Division III national championships in 1998 and 2011 and has reached the NCAA Division III semifinals nine times. His teams hold records for playoff appearances (43) and victories (65). Awards: 16-time NCAA Regional Coach of the Year. Inducted into the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame in 2020. Beyond soccer: A successful lacrosse coaching career and has turned out 61 All-America and 214 all-region or All-Midwest players in both sports. He served as president of the NSCAA and spent six years on the NCAA Division III selection committee. Martin, a professor and former athletics director at Ohio Wesleyan, has also been a color analyst for the MLS's Columbus Crew for nine seasons. Learn more about Dr. Jay Martin at Super Soccer Camp at Ohio Wesleyan University.

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