The psychological component of football underpins everything that a player does. But mindset and other mental skills can be the hardest attributes for children (and professional athletes) to develop. In this article, A-League winner Stefan Mauk discusses his path to building a positive and constructive mentality, and how a focus on processes, not outcomes, helps him to perform at his best in the professional game.
In This Article
- Coping with Pressure
- The Importance of Self-Reflection
- Focussing on the Process
- Advice for Young Players
- The Key Points
Coping with Pressure
Within the context of professional football, pressure comes from many sources; crowds, coaches, teammates, social media, and personal expectations can all weigh on a player psychologically. So how does Mauk cope? “I think it’s a case of reflecting on it, dealing with it, and understanding that it’s part of the game,” he says. “As an individual, you should try to play your best and improve every day, and that inevitably invites pressure.”
Consequently, Mauk doesn’t advise players to pretend pressure doesn’t exist, but to acknowledge it and learn how to respond when it arises: “If you can understand yourself as a human being, you can start to control these things. For example, there might be five minutes in a game where you make three mistakes; do you lose your head, or can you get yourself back into the match?
“This comes from working on it. Just like you work on your weaker foot or your short passing, you have to work on your mindset and your resilience. I truly believe that pressure is good — but we must understand how to cope with it.”
The Importance of Self-Reflection
A cornerstone of Mauk’s approach to handling pressure is his ability to self-reflect. To support himself in this process, he journals his experiences and performances as a player. “Recording this information helps you to understand how you performed under pressure,” he explains. “If you don’t reflect on how you performed the first time, you won’t know how to react when you experience that pressure the next time.
“I use myself as an experiment; if I handled the pressure well, I ask myself why. Was it something I told myself? Was I feeling a certain way? Then, once I’ve identified what I did well, I can aim for that next time. If it works again, I know it helps me. And if it doesn’t, I need to keep experimenting.
“But if you don’t reflect on how you handled pressure, you won’t have any evidence of what works. You won’t know how to respond when you feel it again.”
Focussing on the Process
Further to this, Mauk advises players to focus on processes, not outcomes. “Take an example from one of my recent games,” he says. “I had two chances and the opposing goalkeeper made two great saves. From an outcome perspective, I didn’t score — but I believe that I performed well; two processes that I aim for are to get into the box for every header and to shoot when I get the chance, both of which I achieved. On another day, I would have scored.
“But if I focus on the outcomes, I could lose confidence and start to perform badly in other areas of my game. That’s why we should concentrate on the things we can control — like our own intensity and intent. Our confidence shouldn’t be impacted by the performance of another player.
“It’s really important to focus on the process. If you believe in it and keep playing a certain way, the outcomes will follow.”
Advice for Young Players
Mauk advocates journaling for all athletes, from grassroots up to professional environments. And for coaches or players wanting to start, he offers some simple advice. “Approach it with an open mind,” he says. “The aim is to have more things in your control — and that comes through understanding yourself, what you’re trying to achieve, and how you can better yourself on that pathway.
“Next, have structure and be consistent. Using yourself as an experiment, in order to become more self-aware, is key. And the more you do this, the more you’ll realise what works for you.
“I’ve noticed massive changes in my outlook and behaviours since doing this,” Mauk concludes. “We should all be on a constant journey to improve. Ultimately, this is what enables us to perform at our best.”
The Key Points
- Players should not ignore pressure, but learn to appreciate it and respond positively.
- Constant self-reflection, and understanding what works for us as individuals, is essential to coping with pressure.
- A focus on processes, not outcomes, will help players to build and maintain confidence.
- Journaling is an effective way for players to record their progress and facilitate self-reflection.
- Like any other skills, players should strive to develop their mindset and resilience.
Image Source: NidSantana from Getty Images