Jonathan Viscosi is a (Canadian!) professional football player (Goalkeeper!) playing in England. He's looking to share his insights with the public to hopefully inspire and help others like himself pursue their dreams and reach their full potential. (Learn more about Jon here)
I'm really excited to share this post in particular because of the extreme value I feel this topic has and how little exposure it gets in mainstream athletics. Meditation and Mindfulness are HUGE, so please check it out.
Meditation is my #1 non-negotiable habit, you couldn’t pay me not to do it.
It’s one of my most suggested practices as there are so many benefits in athletics + in life.
Plus, studies show it literally improves your brain in a few weeks! Nuts, eh?!!
If you're looking to cultivate your mindfulness + other areas that will help you be successful check out my post on Morning Routines + this nifty tool to keep you on track.
Now, on to the post!!
p.s. if you're diggin' it, check out these apps to help your mindfulness:
We have all heard the saying, “football is 10% physical and 90% mental”. Yet we do not spend nearly as much time training our minds as we do our bodies. I have always been an advocate for training the mental side of the game. It started early in my youth career when my under 14 coach called me ‘mentally weak’ for making a mistake. As much as that comment enraged me, I took it on board and bought my first book on sports psychology and started practicing the techniques to become ‘mentally tough’. Since then I’ve read every book I can find on the subject, and a lot of the techniques and methods I have learned have become second nature, and I apply them before, during, and after matches and training sessions.
However, I began noticing that when things would go wrong in a match, I had a hard time forgetting about it and moving on to the next moment. I found it hard to let go of the events that I didn’t foresee in my preparation, and it would affect the rest of my performance. I feel like this is a common occurrence for many players. You can always notice when a player makes a mistake, the following contributions are usually bellow their normal standards. I associate this problem with the mental preparation we’ve been taught through sports psychology. Every book I’ve read talks about visualization and imagery. While these mental exercises are very powerful and beneficial, they have an equivalent down side to them. Matches are full of unexpected events, and it is impossible to prepare mentally for every situation we will experience in a match. So it is very likely to experience an event that you did not visualize before hand. The best way to prepare and deal with these unexpected events is to maintain a present mind-set throughout the match; being completely tuned in and focused on the ‘here and now’. When you are fully present, your mind switches off and your body takes over. This allows you to deal with whatever situation you will encounter, as your actions are based on the intuition you have developed through your experience in the game. This is what happens when you’re at your best and ‘in the zone’ as some like to call it.
Presence is the key to optimal performance, but none of the books have really taught me how to build and develop a present mindset. How do you train presence??
I found the answer I was looking for through practicing yoga where I have been introduced to this brilliant concept called Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your awareness on the present moment; while acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and sensations during that present moment. The mind is only capable of experiencing one thought at a time, but due to our hectic metaphysical world, the mind only holds the one thought for a short amount of time before moving onto the next. So our thoughts race through a fast moving mind stream called our ‘stream of consciousness’. By neglecting awareness to these thoughts, like most of us do through our fast paced lifestyles, the range of thoughts we experience becomes very broad and forms a cluttered mind. Just like an office worker, if your desk is very cluttered it is extremely difficult to accomplish anything, and the same goes for our minds. If our mind is cluttered we will fail to do anything at our best and will be functioning below our full potential. Through practice we can bring awareness to our stream of consciousness, and can begin to narrow the range of thoughts that flow through our stream creating space and clarity in the mind, to allow us to function at our fullest capability and produce our best work.
Mindfulness is the link that connects mind, body, and spirit. This harmonious connection is needed to enter your ‘flow state’, which leads to optimal performance. (Click here to read Jon's post on Flow)
When I look back on my best performances, I acknowledge that I was in a flow state, but I achieved it subconsciously. I didn’t consciously enter it, it just happened. So just as I discussed in my post on Consistency in Approach, if we can consciously manage our mind stream when performing we will give ourselves the best chance to achieve flow and perform optimally.
Mediation has many benefits, one of them being a form of deep relaxation. So not only will it develop mindfulness for you to take onto the pitch with you, but it will also aid recovery and rejuvenate your energy, which is vital for high performance athletes.
Like any skill, mindfulness can be developed through practice. The best form of practice is meditation. There are many ways to meditate and I highly suggest looking into various methods, trying them out and seeing which ones work best for you. Essentially, meditating is about completely focusing on the rhythm of your breath, and feeling the sensations of being completely present and immersed in the moment. I used to confuse meditation and visualization. They are two separate activities and should be done separately. When you visualize your mind is imagining the things you want to happen. When meditating your not thinking of anything else but the present moment. Naturally there will be thoughts that enter your mind; acknowledge them, but always go back to the rhythm of your breath. At first you will find it very difficult to sit still and meditate, but like everything the more you practice the better you become. If you sit down and meditate for twenty minutes, you might only be completely focused on your breath for one minute out of the twenty, and that would be a success. You would then try to stretch that minute further every time you practice. Mediation has many benefits, one of them being a form of deep relaxation. So not only will it develop mindfulness for you to take onto the pitch with you, but it will also aid recovery and rejuvenate your energy, which is vital for high performance athletes.
I started practicing mediation just over a year ago when I was injured. I still find it a very difficult task but I have been improving and feel the benefits of it. I recommend turning it into a daily ritual. I try and practice twice a day, morning and night. In the morning it’s a quick one. I roll out of bed, lay on my back and try and get ten consecutive deep breaths through my nose where I am completely focused on the rhythm of my breath and my conscious stream. I find by doing this just as I wake up, I am entering the day in a present and mindful state, and I try to mountain that state throughout all I do during the day. At night after my day is finished and I am ready for bed, I lie down again on the floor and try and enter a deeper meditation for about twenty minutes; again completely focusing on the rhythm of my breath and the sensations that arise. This helps me clear my mind from the day’s events and stops me from thinking about tomorrows events, and completely relax and rejuvenate my mind, body, and spirit before I go to sleep. Through practicing this daily ritual I have found it easier to control my thoughts and increase my presence and focus in training and games, which in turn has helped me consciously achieve my flow state more often.
Aside from improving my performances, it has also increased my day-to-day life experience. Being mindful of your thoughts throughout the day and being present will allow you to experience your daily activities in a higher conscious state of being, which means you experience these things with full awareness rather then when your mind stream wonders and your physically there but mentally somewhere else.
To summarize, without going to off topic, mindfulness will not only help you achieve your optimal performance level, but it will also help you live a fuller, clearer, and happier life. Like everything, give it time, and you will begin to feel the magical powers of mindfulness through meditation.
p.s. Here are some links that will help you understand meditation and teach you some techniques on how to practice.
Matt Danaher is a Soccer player + Coach (And founder of SoccerSpotlight.org) who is filled with wisdom and incredible soccer sense. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattdanaher.
I'm excited to be sharing his awesome posts!
In America, we have a fascination (obsession) with celebrity figures. There is a reason why they have so many social media followers; people want to see what they are doing on a daily basis and see how it compares to their own life. For a lot of young boys and girls, the celebrities they care about the most are their sports idols, especially if they play the same sport. They want to follow in their footsteps and take the same path that they took to stardom.
The superstar athletes who have this power are given a tremendous opportunity to impact millions of young, impressionable athletes simply by sharing a video, or making a statement about how they train. Sometimes, players give brilliant little insights into things that they do which got them to where they are, but many times, (more often than you think) top athletes share how they train and, if followed verbatim, can hinder a younger player’s development or worse, injure them.
Many training programs market themselves with the simple “Train like ______!! (Insert superstar athlete name here).” Using an athlete’s name is a common marketing tool to validate something quickly to a consumer base. It provokes thoughts like “Well if _____ does it, then it must work!”
This type of thinking is particularly dangerous, because subconsciously, we have approved of a product or a training method that we do not know the finer details of. In fact, you might be shocked that there are many pro athletes who train in a way that is actually contradictory to their goals.
A friend of mine shared with me an article for Women’s Running magazine, which talked about a USWNT player and her training program. The article detailed the type of running that she does and her reason for following it.
“For sprint endurance during periods: 100 yards in 15 seconds, and then rest 15 seconds. Repeat 12 to 16 times, completing two sets. For longer endurance over an entire match: Half-mile repeats. Run hard for a half of a mile—which (she) aims to do in under 3 minutes—and then rest for 2 minutes. Repeat as many times as you feel appropriate for your body.”
Whenever I see a workout or a new training method, the first question I always ask is “why?”. I always try and look beyond the fireworks and get down to what fitness principles are being applied, what the specific goal is, and how/if this method is effective at helping to achieve that goal. In this professional player’s case, the goal is to be more fit, or to maintain fitness. “The more fit you are, the better you can perform on the field”, she writes in the article, which is not wrong.
But the big problem with this goal, and with a lot of coaching feedback to so many players, is it is not specific! Being “fit” is not a specific goal!!! Marathon runners can be “fit”. Sprinters can be “fit”. Basketball players can be “fit”. Does the word “fit” mean the same for each athlete? Of course not! We must examine the demands of the sport and how our training method applies.
"When young, impressionable players or parents read articles like these, they think that they have found the road to success, without asking why they should be doing it, or if it might cause damage to a young athlete."
According to a study done over two UEFA Europa League seasons in 2008-09 and 2010-11, it was shown that “about 90% of sprints performed by professional soccer players were shorter than 5 seconds, whereas only 10% were longer than 5 seconds”. Therefore, we can determine that very, very rarely will a player sprint for 40 yards or more. This should cause us to question why we are training in a way that is not replicated in our sport.
Sprint endurance, or being able to sprint repeatedly with minimal recovery time, is a very important attribute to have as a player, but it is best trained with short sprints less than 25 meters and with minimal recovery time (Around 10 seconds), not 100 meter sprints. These sprints should also be related to what we do in the match. i.e. sprinting to close down an attacker, sprinting to receive a pass, sprinting to have a shot at goal.
Second, I want to focus on what is described as, “longer endurance over an entire match” or, in other language, being able to maintain volume for two 45 minute halves. To improve this, she focuses on running a HALF MILE (800 meters) as fast as she can. Can anyone tell me if they have seen a player run for 800 meters at a single pace continuously in a game? If you have, I would love to see video of it.
Running at one pace for a long period of time trains the wrong energy system. You are not forced to catch your breath and sprint. You are not forced to think and react. When you run for a long distance, you are training to be a long distance runner, and not a footballer. However, even the wrong type training can help some professional players, because their bodies are capable of handling it, but that doesn’t mean it will help a youth player who wants to reach the same level.
To train for endurance in a match, you need to work on doing what your position demands, consistently, for a longer period of time. For example, if I am an outside back, I might work on sprinting, receiving a pass, making a cross, recovering for 20-30 seconds, and then trying to maintain that for 10-12 minutes. Not only are you achieving your goal of “improving endurance” but most importantly, you are also working on actions that you would perform in a game that are important to becoming a BETTER PLAYER, not just a better runner or a better athlete.
What really scares me is this. When young, impressionable players or parents read articles like these, they think that they have found the road to success, without asking why they should be doing it, or if it might cause damage to a young athlete. I pity the young female athlete that is told by her coach that she needs to “score more goals” and sees a tweet that a USWNT player takes 1000 shots every week, so she should do the same.
We need to be less impressed by the name of the athlete, and more willing to examine the why. Players on the US Women’s National Team have accomplished tremendous things in their sport, and deserve a lot of credit for winning a Gold Medal and World Cup. At the same time, we cannot be so awed by their accomplishments that we tell the younger generation that they have to train like them to become a champion. Is hard work necessary to become great? Absolutely. But that hard work mentality needs to be paired with the smart, specific work that helps us to achieve real, relevant goals.
Once you’ve got the technique down, you can move on to the portion of the game that involves where you are and what you’re doing on the pitch in relation to everyone else, anticipating what is going to happen, where the ball is going to go, what runs people are going to make, and finally deciding which decisions to make. You're ready to develop your Tactical Intelligence.
Let me be your guide as I walk you through the main factors of Tactical Intelligence that I’ve learned throughout my career. Now you don’t need to depend on learning and gaining experience as you age, you can learn it all here, and just go out and implement it! How’s that for awesome? All it will take is for you to make sure you’re studying this stuff, and apply it. If you actively experiment with it, you’ll be on your way to mastery.
Here are my top four factors of Tactical Intelligence
Let's build from the very basics:
What is positioning in soccer? Soccer has many different places designated for a person on your team to be during the game. This depends on a players specific tasks or roles within the team. Knowing your role on the field will let you play your part within your teams tactics. When you play your part well, you'll make smarter decisions, utilize your energy reserves properly, and support the run of play in order for your team to complete it's objective (which would ultimately be scoring goals + winning the game!). So what are the roles?
Depending on your role, you'd be put into one of these broad categories: Goalkeeper, Defender, Midfielder, or Forward. And once you've got that covered, you'll be placed into your more specific position, whether it be in the center, on the outside, more offensive or holding. It will all depend on your coaches formation (4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, etc.)
The traditional formation would have been a 4-4-2 and now most pro teams are sitting at a 4-2-3-1.
Which looks something like this!
Let's break it down a bit by the numbers that represent the positions, shall we? I'd suggest checking out what your top 2-3 positions would be, and then read the roles of the immediate players around you. That way, you can get a feel for their responsibilities and how they're likely to act on and off the ball.
Okay so you might have a preference of where you like to play, and you might not be given the opportunity in that position. If your coach isn't giving you that chance, you need to understand that playing different positions is one of the best things for your growth. If you want to be a striker, there might only be 1 in the formation (like the one above!). You may get put in a fullback or center back, it's not the end of the world, it's a positive thing if you really think about it! It's an opportunity to grow in a different way, its an opportunity for you to get your chance, because these positions are all really important. So maybe you can't make it as the best striker on your team, you can still strive to be the best fullback of the league. It's great for your development. #ownit
If you're stuck asking yourself which position should you play, the best way to answer is by first looking at your skills, and then asking which position you *want* to play. Then, look at what skills are required of that position and start developing those skills. Communicate with your coach and let them know you're working on _____ (insert important skill) and if there's ever an opportunity, you'd love it.
Ways to improve:
2. Team Strategy
The tactics of a team will determine the strength of a team. It's the bedrock of the playing style and philosophy of play that your team will put into action on the pitch. You definitely need to understand your role on the field (Read or re-read Factor #1 on Positioning if you have to!) and in addition to that, you've got to figure out where your teammates are, what their roles are, and then how you can best serve your team while keeping in mind the positioning of yourself + teammates. You might want to go back to that blog and read ALL of the positions, so you get a feel for what each player is doing on your team.
Work as a unit + trust one another
Whether you're a part of the defensive or offensive unit (More details on these to come!), you're going to have to work together and work for each other and work off one another. Metaphorically, in a functional relationship, you have to be able to depend on your partner when you need them, and you can lean on him/her when times are hard for you and you're struggling. On the pitch you've got to have faith in your teammate. You need to be able to trust your unit to be there for you, whether that's giving you an outlet pass when you have the ball, or telling you about an opponent behind you.
More importantly, YOU need to be that support for your teammates. You need to help lift them up while pushing them to peak performance. This involves being aware of your teammates strengths and weaknesses, and assisting them in these areas when needed.
You think Navy SEALs or Marines don't know their squads positioning + attributes? They have that stuff memorized, so that when they're in combat, they almost look like they're one body, moving fluidly, to efficiently + effectively achieve their mission. #SempriFi
If you don't know your team's tactics, it's a good time to sit down with your unit + coach to clarify your objectives, so that everyone is on the same page. You don't want to wait until you're out on the pitch wondering why your teammate isn't doing the same thing as you or watching your team bombing up long balls when you thought you were supposed to be keeping it on the deck.
Once you have individual strength + awareness, then you can build that up with your unit, and then combine with your entire team to have a totally synched up squad who not only KNOWS what it's teammates are doing, but also TRUST one another to do it. Those are the fundamentals of team strategy + understanding.
3. Sight vs. Vision
There's a difference between seeing something, and looking at something. When you see things, there is an air of passivity in the action, however when you're looking at something, it's more deliberate, your eyes get into focus, and your brain is activated on the conscious level. This is the difference I'm talking about when I differentiate between Sight and Vision. Sight involves a reaction to the surroundings, while Vision involves awareness, perception, and knowledge. Vision involves anticipation.
In football, it's really important to constantly be looking around the field, scanning for information that you can use to your advantage in the current or next play. This ability to read the game is called anticipation. Anticipation is a mix of prediction and expectation. Developing this handy tool will help you in all areas of your game. You'll be able to make smarter choices while attacking or defending, you'll be a step ahead of opponents (or with a hyper-developed level of anticipation, you'll be 5-steps ahead of your opponents *cough* Messi *cough). Whoever you are, and whichever position you're in, you've got to start building your anticipation muscle and understand that the game of football is a thinking game, and though it's great to get wrapped up in the joy of the game, or play in the moment, to be truly great, you've got to start playing ahead of the game.
A simple example of this (out of soccer context) is the world of chess. You'd never see a chess master just move pieces around a board for fun, without thinking or strategizing. Every move is deliberate, thought out, meticulous.
Trusting your skill and instinct is huge, yet you don't want to solely rely on that. You've got to be involved mentally, stay sharp, and make the right moves on the pitch.
You can do this by figuring out where you want the ball to go (where you want to pass it) before you've even received it. This means getting your head up, on a swivel, and periscoping your available outlets prior to getting the ball.
Another way to flex this muscle, in a defensive situation, is to read your opponent with the ball. Practice looking at their body language and playing style. If you're the first defender approaching a player, and you learn the person is right foot dominant, you can close him down more effectively, or force him to his weaker foot.
If you're not directly closing the player down (let's say you're a defender) you can read if his hips are opening up to strike the ball over the top, so you could gain an extra second in tracking back, or getting a tackle in, or getting your foot in the way, etc. There's a lot you can do with that split second.
Vision takes you to the next level of football. It's what all the pros are doing at nearly every moment of the game. Watch for this as you study your favorite players, and once you pick it up, and start practicing, you'll start to feel like the game slows down for you, and you'll be ready to take on more challenges.
4. Decision Making
Do you really want to put yourself in the spotlight as a player? Do you want to show that you're a great player?
Then, listen up. A SUPER secret to taking your game to the next level is advancing your proficiency in your ability to make optimal decisions.
Woah, what's that really mean?
Simply put ---> Get *really* good at making the best choice.
It's easier said than done, but I'll break down some ideas you can obtain this soccer holy grail.
For growth in this area, here are some of the best tips:
Study professional football
I've said it before and I'll say it again, learn from the pro's! Study the players who are top class. Learn how they tick. When you're watching a game, ask yourself (and try to answer) why do the players make certain passes and other actions on the ball? Why did they make that decision? In answering this, you'll be putting yourself into the role of the player, and in a sort of empathetic way, you're developing your brain to understand the critical thinking it takes to make the best choices.
Mistake your way to success
Trial and error is a great way to learn, since you're training more than you play in games, that would be a awesome time to work on your decision making. If you make a poor decision, like playing a high risk pass, try to figure out which alternatives could have been better. Did you have support behind you to retain possession? Did you forget to scan the other side of the field where a player was open/making a run? Learn from your mistakes, and and you'll quickly become more successful in choosing the best option.
Add restrictions ---> +/-
If you reduce the number of touches you're allowed to have on the ball, it forces you to make decisions quicker (if you don't, you're screwed! hehe). Start thinking about what to do before you have the ball. Being able to anticipate the play (see Sight vs. Vision again!) will help you destroy your opponents. As a bonus, playing quicker will improve your touch too! As a visual cue, you can write +/- on your wrist during training, and if you see it, you'll know to "add less" touches.
These tips aren't going to just help you automatically become better at making decisions. It's not an overnight thing. In the long run, over time, your training to make optimal decisions will add up and improve your tactical awareness and ability as an individual.
What can you commit to today? Will you watch more football + study it? Will you check in with yourself after making mistakes? Can you force yourself to become quicker in your decision making?
If you want to take your game from an amateur level, to top class, decision making is a key factor. Work on it, and you'll get better!
If you want to develop your soccer career, and need help getting to the next level, go to ZakDrakeCoaching.com
The more I meet aspiring soccer players, the more I see the mindsets of amateurs. The thing is, if you want to be a professional, you've got to get your attitude, perspective, priorities, and life in order. To REALLY be successful in this industry, there are going to be a lot of failures, a lot of people saying no, and a lot of frustration and disappointment. How you respond to these, will ultimately reflect in the longevity of your career. Some people just don't know how to take the pressure, but there are some SUPER important hacks to setting up your pathway so that you stay on track.
There's no magic pill to greatness, but here's the closest thing. With just 5-10 minutes each morning, you can set yourself up the best possible way for an amazing day... week, month, year, game, season, LIFE! It's probably the most simple and effective way I've seen to boost your happiness levels. Even lazy people can get in on the action. Let dive in!
So there are basically 5 skills or abilities that distinguish a happy + successful person:
To remember them just think that you'll need to set the "S.T.A.G.E" for your happiness.
So how do you make sure you're stage is set? By rehearsing of course! When you pick a time to practice these things daily or even as little as 3 times per week, you can significantly improve your happiness levels.
Once you create this little ritual, it doesn’t take a whole lot to start seeing measurable differences (I'd say a few weeks - months of consistent daily practice!). By having a template to work from, you can effortlessly rock it.
That's where The Morning Ritual comes in. I created it to help you develop your mindset for positivity in about 5 minutes. It can't get much simpler than that. It's a really cool journal that you fill out each day. It's laced with scientifically proven tricks to boost your happiness!
Save the page, fill it out one time each morning, and you'll be on your way to rocking your happiest life ever!
I love helping players optimize their soccer careers + lives through actualizing their potential.