By: Tim Bennett, MGCP
The Division I dead period will finally be ending on June 1. After 14 long months, this is great news for college coaches and players alike. Lots of college athletic dreams will be realized in the next coming months and many left unfulfilled.
These dreams begin with the aspiration to play at the highest level of play in college; it is a Division I bust mentality or with many prospective student-athletes, it is a Power 5 school or bust! A lot of family resources are put into a player achieving this dream. Lots of money, time, and travel are just the tip of the iceberg. Although these sacrifices and commitments are done with love and support, they often become much more than that for the aspiring player. They become a guilty ridden burden in some ways. “I have to get my college education paid for to pay back my parents for sacrificing all they did for me play.”
What started as a player’s dream has now become an expectation. Ironically, what was meant to only help a player has now become a mental barrier that players are not trained to deal with.
Yes, it is important to have lofty goals to strive for. But the more resources invested, the more these goals become weighted expectations on a player. This extra stress only amplifies the pressure to perform well at all times. The costs, both financial and otherwise, of these expectations play out throughout a player’s development journey and into their college career. Sometimes they are immediately visible while others become visible over time. What are the effects of college soccer expectations on a youth soccer player? How does the recruiting process contribute? Do they help or hinder the chances of playing college soccer?
Players fully realize how many resources have been invested in their development. They want to pay back their parents and coaches for their investment. This places the player in an either-or situation. Either they continue to strive for the highest level or they fail and let everyone down. There is no gray. This creates a lot of pressure and this pressure grows and grows as the recruiting process accelerates. A player often thinks, “Mom and Dad have poured thousands and thousands of dollars to me succeed in soccer, I can’t let them down.” This mentality will continue into a player’s college career where they will persist in playing the sport long past the time when they enjoy it. And when they finally quit, they feel like failures for disappointing their parents and/or teammates which can contribute to self-destructive behavior later on.
But this is not the only source of pressure for a potential collegiate student-athlete. Club coaches make a living on promoting players to the next level. And they reinforce this by reminding the player that is why they are playing on that particular team or in that particular league or that club. You can walk around any complex at a college showcase event and listen to halftime talks. “If you continue to play like you did in the first half, no college will recruit you. And I won’t help you.”
Another source is the fact of playing in front of college coaches who are watching a player’s every move and falsely thinking that one mistake is a fatal blow to their college soccer ambitions. Peer pressure also adds more stress and anxiety. When a player hears or sees via social media another verbally committing to a school or signing a NLI and they have yet to arrive at a decision or are not getting as much attention, the pressure builds.
So what started as a goal quickly turned into a pressure-filled expectation with a win or lose only result. But athletes should be used to and enjoy playing with pressure. Yes, but this type of pressure without proper mental skills coaching and training hurts performance. All of these external and internal pressures cause an athlete to go into a comfort zone, a place where an athlete plays to survive or not to make any mistakes and possibly further damage their future athletic career. This may allow a player to get recruited but does not necessarily equate to success on the college level where they will be asked to take risks to strive for more to live up to their projected potential. They will retreat to this safe comfort zone for fear of failure. This stalls development; the game quickly loses its enjoyment for the athlete. Burnout or quitting is inevitable. Look at the large number of athletes who go to college and you never hear of again, players with an unlimited amount of potential who end up quitting or transferring. Look at the large recruiting classes that college coaches bring in and by the time senior year rolls around only fractions remain. What got them to that level could not get them past that level. All of the physical talents were there and are there, but the mental performance piece is missing.
With proper mental coaching, an athlete can learn to play freely without expectations, without stressing about “payback.” The younger the athlete learns these essentially mental skills, the better their performance and more importantly the more enjoyment that get from playing the game!
Interesting in learning more, contact Focus Therapy Omaha.