Posted by Sean Gaffney, a former collegiate and professional soccer player. Along with Dr. Carol, Sean is also a principal of Six Dimension Sports Consulting.

Get Back! Get Back! Back post! BACK POST! COME ON, YOU HAVE TO MARK THAT MAN! As I stood on the sidelines yelling, again, getting frustrated, again, and looking around at my teammates also yelling, again, I had to take a second to stop and think. I am a mental game coach, this is my job. In the heat of the moment I know that this is where the hard work of Mental Toughness and focus come into play. What does my yelling, and the team yelling have to do with my Mental Game? Good question.

First, I know that a player with my behavioral style (my style is “high I and D above the line” for those of you who are familiar with the DISC system that we use) is prone to yell and scream and be very emotionally involved in the play. Sometimes this is to my advantage, sometimes not. I hustle non-stop and can be very inspiring when positive, but when the tides turn … I can be very annoying, or even insulting to my teammates. As a coach, I stay very involved vocally as well, likely to shout directions non-stop and get very emotional. To players who are not open to this, it is noise, and it takes away from the good advice that I would be able to deliver them later.

The mental game challenge for all of us is to develop the SELF AWARENESS to be able to interrupt a behavior when it is not working. If I know what I am likely to do, and can watch myself do it, then I have a chance of making a change. For me, spending my energy yelling advice that no one is likely to hear or heed causes me to lose precious time and focus on my own game. This habit is a waste of energy and counterproductive to my goals. I need to pay attention to my own mental progress and habits as much as I pay attention to the field and the ball. If I do not, then I become a liability to my team, and progress toward my goals is restricted. As a coach, I am there to serve the players. It is my job to tune into what is best for them. I need to make sure that the players that I am trying to reach will benefit from what I have to say, not just force my way through. This may appear to be effective at the time, but it degrades the relationship and makes me less effective later on, because trust has been lost.

When I play, I know that I need to be more focused on taking care of my role to be effective. Another tendency of my style is to have a difficult time staying with a plan. This makes for a creative player, but that creativity is best when it works for the team. I need all of the energy that I can muster to get past defenders who are 20 years my junior. For someone with my style it is much more effective to skip the constant commentary, advice and worrying about what others are doing; reserving energy for playing smart and keeping focused on my responsibilities. If I accomplish this, my comments can be saved for positive chatter that can have an uplifting effect on the team, especially after mistakes and things that may knock others right out of their mental game. Keeping comments limited and positive keeps team spirits up and the energy lively. Some players do not want encouragement when they have made mistakes, and mistimed advice can make people resentful. Learning about my own style and others styles has helped me to figure out how to talk to players of all different styles. (As a coach, this type of information is absolutely incredible!)

If it does nothing for me to continually shout advice on the field, but this is my lifelong habit, what do I do to make the changes and develop new habits? Self-awareness is the key and there are methods for developing it. At 6D Sports, we use a daily journal as a place to focus on our goals for mental game development. The journal teaches essential skills to use each day for developing the mental game. One of the most important of these skills is effective goal setting. For a player like me, with a tendency to waste energy and lose focus because of my emotional involvement, it is important to make my communication with others a goal and a priority to focus on in practice and play. Before each game I have to review my goals for the game, one of which continues to be, “I communicate positively, focus on my own play, focus on staying loose and creative.” In time, this will become a habit.

When I do this, the difference in my play is amazing. When I am relaxed and focused, I am always an asset to the team. Keeping my emotions and energy in check keeps me creative and connected to my teammates. I am able to see the field better, and direct the play. I am not going to say that I wish that I had these skills when I was playing professionally, but if I had, I know that my career would have lasted much longer, and I would have enjoyed the game more. It is never too late to learn more about ourselves. It gives us more control and an ability to move our lives in a positive direction. So if you are in a rut with your play or coaching style, figure out how to develop more self-awareness and make the changes that you want to make … and remember to enjoy the game!

Sean Gaffney is a principal of Six Dimension Sports Consulting and a former collegiate and professional soccer player.