Mind over matter.  The power of the mind has proven to be the most powerful force on earth over and over.  In the realm of business, health, relationships and even sports, the mind is the catalyst to success and often greatness.

Realizing that soccer is a very physically demanding sport is crucial.  However, this does not suggest the physical aspect of soccer is the dominating characteristic of soccer.  Being in shape, fast and strong will absolutely help in the making of a great player, but all great players have one common characteristic: they understand the game.

To understand the game does not mean to understand the rules; understanding the game goes far beyond this.  To understand the game means to understand the field, the players around you, but also, to understand your heart and mind.

In the summer of 2009, Stephen Hart – coach of the Canadian National Team – held a camp for a boy’s high school team.  The team consisted of a group of average soccer players who did not necessarily stand out to the average person.  In an attempt to prove that soccer is played 90% with the mind and 10% with the legs, Stephen Hart decided the boy’s high school team would be the guinea pig.  Along with a crew of approximately 20 coaches and trainers, Stephen Hart setup a few drills to get a perspective of where they stand.  The boys, knowing they are practicing the Canada’s soccer coach, gave it their all.  Unfortunately, it had many of the trainers and coaches burying their heads in their hands with the lack of talent and abundance of elementary mistakes.

The next morning, Stephen Hart took the boys and sat them down in a change room.  He asked them how they felt about their performance the day before and not too many replies were given as the boys seemed to have come to terms with their abilities – or so they thought.  Stephen Hart took a piece of chalk and wrote down 90% mind – 10% legs.  He looked the boys in the eye and told them that a great soccer player is not a talented soccer player – a great soccer player is one that understands his role, has the mental strength to be better than his opponent in the moment and believes.  Instead of drilling the boys about their technical abilities, he challenged their minds and instigated their hearts.  After another hour or so with the boys in the change room, Stephen Hart explained the following: awareness, mental strength and belief make you great.  The boys stepped on the field for the next few hours and performed so well the remaining coaches were in awe.  Everyone was in awe except Stephen Hart and the players.  Why? – Because Stephen Hart and the players understood that success in soccer has everything to do with the mind and little to do with the legs.

Awareness.  Being in the moment is vital.  Giving your entire, mind body and soul to a moment is what distinguishes the good from the great.  Great soccer players are always aware of their roles and surroundings.  When you play a position, understand your role.  If you commit to your role and promise to do the best you can in it and the rest of the team does so accordingly, you will be successful and so will your team.  Once you begin trying to do too much or too little, everything will break down.  Know your strengths, your opponents’ strength and your teammate’s strengths and tailor your game.

Mental strength.  Mental strength can be a variety of things: motivation, positive thinking, unwillingness to give-up and etc.  In this instance, mental strength is living in the moment.  Like I referred to above, playing in the moment is what will distinguish the good from the great.  Here is why: once you decide that you are going to be the better player that day, that moment, you will be unstoppable.  If the opposing team is a better team, or the player your guarding is a better player, that game – that moment – that should mean nothing.  You need to make a conscience decision that no matter what, you are going to be the better player.  No matter what has happened in the past, no matter what might happen in the future, today you will be better.  Grasping this thought and planting it in your mind will do wonders.  You must believe – have the mental strength.  One of the main deterrents of mental strength is fear.  Fear you might not succeed or fear you cannot stop the other player.  Fear, like mental strength, is a decision.  If you choose to be afraid of the opponent, he will be better than you.  If you choose to be better than opponent, you will prevail.  Make the choice of mental strength.

Belief.  Many soccer players lack belief.  Some of you are technically better than others; some are stronger than others, some are faster than others; but the ones that are usually better than the others are the ones that believe in themselves and the team.  Much like mental strength, believing in you can is a differentiating factor.  The distinction between mental strength and belief is this: mental strength is the decision to be better – it is a matter of the mind.  Belief is about the heart.  Believing you can is half the battle.  

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