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Winning mentality in soccer

Here is the mental playbook you need to have to develop winning mentality in your team.

Iceland, a relatively small island with only 335,000 inhabitants, is placed where the North Atlantic meets the Arctic Ocean. The hostile climate and weather conditions do not always welcome a game of football. Still, Iceland made it to the EuroCup quarter finals after jumping past great football nations like Portugal, and beating England in the knockout phase. On top of that, Iceland has qualified for this year’s World Cup in Russia by winning the qualification group in front of Croatia, Turkey and Ukraine. Iceland didn’t win from plain luck or by having the best individual players. Need proof? Name more than three players from the Icelandic national football team.

The secret to Iceland’s success was because they created a strong team and a national winning mentality.

How did Leicester win the Premier League in 2016? How did Östersunds FK go from Sweden’s fourth tier to winning the Swedish Cup in 2017 in just seven years, and winning a match against Arsenal in Europa League 2018? They both created a unique winning mentality on their team.

As the coach for any given team, you have the responsibility for ensuring results and for creating an inspiring, motivating and developing environment.

So here is how you do it:

Winning in football is like winning a war. The soldiers – in this example the players – will execute and try to beat their opponents, but they need somebody to show them the way to victory.

You have the role of leading and inspiring the team towards glory.

It is a coach’s role to set the following three things:

1. Make vision and strategy tangible and clear

2. Define roles, expectations and values

3. Develop a blueprint for teamwork

In this first article, I will elaborate on the first cornerstone, while the following two articles will focus on the roles, expectations and values, and the blueprint for teamwork, respectively.

1. Make vision and strategy tangible and clear

If you do not know the vision, goal or philosophy of the team, then neither do the players.

A clearly defined goal which shows the way and the purpose will create meaning and motivation for your team. Your team vision shows the goal while your strategy shows how the team reaches the goal with a transparent and commonly agreed game plan.

Break it down:

Your team consists of around 20 individuals and you will combine them with a commonly agreed and shared dream and goal. Thus, agree on where you are now (Point A) and from here agree on where you realistically and bravely want to go (Point B).

Do you want to win the league? Do you want to qualify for Europe, knock-out phase etc? Do you want to avoid relegation?

This is your goal. Write it down, make it visible and make it your artifact for the season.

Now you need to know how to get from A to B; the plan of process goals. This is where your attention will be. A few examples:

  • Increase the amount of shots on target and crosses we produce (thus, increasing our goal scorings).

  • Increase our endurance capacity for the last 15 minutes of the game (thus, we do not lose points due to fatigue).

  • Finish our offensive plays and immediately reorganize to our coordinated defensive roles (decreasing the amount of goals conceded by counterattacks).

  • Maintain ball possession for at least 65% of the time.

  • Limit our defensive passing mistake – no chances taken.

Finally, how will you achieve this – the strategy. In which style will you achieve Point B. 

Regardless of whether we are behind or in front, we attack and defend in accordance with the game plan:

We will attack under the philosophy of: A) straight toward the goal, B) pass-combining us to a goal chance, and C) we attack from the wingers whenever it is possible to reach our strong headed striker.

We will defend under the philosophy of: A) everyone is responsible for their respective zones, B) the 2-3 nearby players make an aggressive re-pressure to regain the possession of the ball, or C) all men behind the ball and waiting for the opponents to make errors, i.e. we believe in our defensive tactics.

This is what the team will focus and work on in training.

Training without a purpose and a plan will get you nowhere.

Ask yourself: Does my team have a clear blueprint of how to play and how to react when we are behind?

Find the following for your team: A) outcome goals B) process goals and C) the strategy and philosophy.

Next week in part 2 of the Winning Mentality article series, I will discuss roles, expectations and values. Written by Henrik Hjarsbæk You can read more about mental training in soccer and football here For parents you can read about the parenting role in sports here

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