Parenting The Mental Side


Time and time again we have been told to leave the coaching to the coach, and for the most part we are successful in this regard.

During games, we are asked to not coach from the sidelines and we understand and respect that.

However when we see our child struggling with fear or anxiety or lack of focus or competitiveness – what is loosely regarding as the “Mental Side of the Game,” our parenting skills kick into full gear.

Good news, in these situations – dealing with the mental side of the game – parents can – and often should – speak up!

Dan Abrahams, Sport Psychology Consultant and author of Soccer Tough and Soccer Brain, put it this way in a recent conversation I had with him.

I actually think that this (sport psychology) is an area that a parent can get really involved in. I think that parents, where they can go wrong, are in the being the coach themselves.

“In general for the parent getting involved from the technical, tactical and physical side of things is probably not the best way to facilitate the process in which your child develops as a soccer player. But I do think the mental side – and this is the beauty of it – is an area where you can be very involved.”

“How you see the challenges you face on and off the football pitch shapes your soccer image and subsequently reinforces your self-belief and confidence levels. You have to take control of your perception.” pg. 46 Soccer Tough

As parents, if our child has ever struggled with the mental side of the game, we know how difficult it can be. Dan presents numerous strategies in his book, Soccer Tough, which I would definitely recommend as a must read for parents and players.

In our conversation, he goes on to talk about a number of strategies he uses frequently with the soccer players he works with and has some excellent recommendations for parents.

“There are a lot of communication strategies you can use. For example, tapping your child’s memory system. Instead of that child rehearsing and using their imagination so they worry about what is going to happen in the future you are just tapping into their memory banks and it’s just the art of asking good questions.”

“Tell me about when you had a great game, what happened? Tell me about what you did? Do you remember that great game you had last year or last month? What do you remember about that? Just have a think about that for a few minutes.”

“So, that’s a great technique that parents can use.”

How do we do this? By helping our children focus on, remember and hold on to all the great things they do.

Try asking this question the next time you are in the car or at the dinner table:

“What was your favorite play of the game?”

“What was something you did in practice that was awesome?”

I love that these questions, followed up with other questions like “How did that feel?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Did it hurt?” and more can be a springboard to smiles and laughter and remembering a tough tackle or a great run or a perfectly weighted pass.

I remember what a great feeling it was when things fell into place as a player, so encouraging my daughter to focus on them after a game or practice and therefore helping her create a memory bank of awesome memories is one of my favorite ways of helping her build an excellent soccer mindset.

Our conversation progressed to Dan talking about some other Communication Techniques he would recommend parents use.

“I talk about a match script in Soccer Tough so getting involved with helping a young player develop a match script and helping them squash out Automatic Negative Thoughts.

“I talk about that in Soccer Tough and it’s actually a really effective way a parent can get involved. I really do think that the mental side of the game does provide an effective platform that is not too invasive (for a parent). It helps a young player develop their football and I think it can help young players deal with fear and anxiety and a lack of focus. So, using the Match Script or Squashing ANT’s or getting them to think about their best game or their dream games – those are things you can do as a parent.”


Dan Abrahams

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist who works alongside some of the leading players, teams, coaches and organizations in the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating easy to understand and simple to use techniques and performance philosophies.

A former professional golfer and PGA golf coach Dan has a First Class Honors degree in psychology and Masters degree in sport psychology. Academically he is visiting lecturer at several universities and he holds registration with the HCPC (meaning he is legally allowed to practice as a psychologist).

Dan works in all sport but specializes in football/soccer and golf. He is Lead Psychologist for England Golf and he works with players from leading amateur through to Tour players. In football/soccer psychology he is regarded as a leader in the field. He has some of the leading turnaround case studies in Premier League history and he has written two international bestselling books. One of these books, Soccer Tough, has been heralded one of the most important books in football. He currently works with players, teams and organizations across 'Planet Football.'

Dan also works in the Corporate Sector delivering his sport psychology techniques and philosophies to individuals and groups.