DEVELOPING RESILIENCE IN SOCCER

Are Your Players Prepared To BounceBack?

ISSPF Article

Soccer players & coaches have to deal with many obstacles and failures throughout their careers irrespective of their level of play, BUT are they prepared for it?

Do we as coaches, fitness trainers, medical practitioners or performance coaches ingrain the capability and capacity with our players or staff to navigate or move through difficult periods? Additionally, do we develop our sessions to recreate difficult situations and pressurised environments in order to be able cope with uncomfortable situations?

Losing games, pressure of performing 1 or 2 times per week, transfers to different countries, exposure to different cultures, different playing systems, being played out of position, being injured (short & long term), family issues away from the game, time management issues, mixing studies with training, peer pressure to succeed, parental & coaching pressure are just a few of the strains coaches & players are faced with…

What is RESILIENCE?

Resilience is a concept that is suggested to be developed over a longer-period of time when individuals or groups face situations encouraging the need to overcome or deal with adversity. Development of specific and relative coping strategies to deal with these obstacles, situations or barriers and become a mentally stronger or more resilient individual is the target.

Ability to use personal qualities to withstand pressure
(Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016)

Resilience or mental toughnesshas recently been described as a key psychological aspect of all sports, and is something that all successful individuals possess as they move the process known as FAIL-LEARN’WIN’.

The ability to continue to drive forward or bounce back from a loss, injury or poor performance is crucial to any athlete or soccer player’s success. As much as individuals hate to admit it, failure is a part of the game – and people learn more from failure than success.

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Another word that is used within the soccer world to discuss this concept is Bouncebackability. This has been defined as the ability to recover from bad circumstances or situations, and bounce back!

Discussing the concept further from a soccer specific perspective, resilient individuals and teams have shown the capability to maintain high levels of performance in the face of change, adversity and stress. An example, would be a team who have lost a number of games in succession, draining of confidence, injury list mounting & then being able to pull through and sustain performance before results return. The capability of the coaching staff, players & support staff to maintain focus, work rate & subsequent ‘bouncebackability’ or resilience.

When faced with emotional, physical or mental challenges, the pressure to succeed will eventually have a negative impact unless people have the tools to prepare for, adapt to and respond to setbacks.

Recent years have really directed research into this topic of interest & ISSPF are diving deeper into this in order to highlight further the need to develop more resilient functioning individuals & teams.

How can soccer players, athletes or coaches become more resilient?

According to the literature and research, soccer players must face, move through the obstacles and conquer adverse situations in order to become successful and prepare them for future situations.

Early research in this area has described how past history of similar experiences boost self-confidence, which leads to great performance via mental mastery as a learned or coping strategy (Bandura, 1997). Another analogy of this process we may have heard is: Developing a thicker skin which furthermore describes how we adapt to difficult scenarios.

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TOP TIPS for Developing Resilience

The key focus of any resilience development program is for individuals to positively engage, understand, evaluate and interpret various pressures & negativities they encounter, in conjunction with their own resources, thoughts and emotions.

“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Shakespeare in Hamlet

According to some of these tips provided by leading practitioners in this area, they should not only allow you to think about developing & progressing your players further, but also help you in your coaching or performance staff role develop resiliency and challenge yourself further:

1. Push yourself outside of the “comfort zone” & focus on moving towards the growth zone as shown in the diagram below.
2. Do not be afraid to make mistakes & become ‘comfortable in uncomfortable’ environments.
3. Never-give-up mentality is something that is used a lot, but always search for a challenge and accept that failure is part of the learning process.
4. FAIL-LEARN-WIN mantra – its how you progress, learn and continue to adapt.
5. Challenge yourself & target setting is a way to move closer to your goals.What is it you need to accomplish? How? When?

LEARN TO BE COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE!

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What the experts in psychology & MENTAL SKILLS DEVELOPMENT ARE saying?

The soccer specific literature in this area has identified resilience as a key psychosocial competency that makes a major contribution to a successful transition of players to the professional level (Holt & Dunn, 2004).

There are three pivotal time points of resilience development in soccer which you as a coach, practitioner or professional can focus on developing, in order to maximise performance and well-being under difficult situations or circumstances:

Preparation (before), Awareness (during) and Learning (afterwards).

There are a number of qualities associated with both building and maintaining resilience through all manners of difficult situations in sport.

Support structure:  friends, to work mentors and family.
Self-belief of your/their abilities: what skills & knowledge, experience do you have that got you to this level in the first place?
Optimistic outlook: What does the future look like? Will it be better?
Coping strategies: What have you learned through experience that works for you? What regular thoughts and techniques are used to enhance the performance? Goal-setting, self-talk, visualisation & specific individual routines used to consistency achieve.


Resilience is a concept that has become popular in both academic research and applied practice over the last 30 years. However, our understanding of resilience has been hampered by the numerous definitions and colloquialisms in applied practice and the confusion of resilience with other terms such as grit and mental toughnessPut simply….mental resilience is the ability to use personal qualities to withstand pressure!

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Take Home MESSAGE

Equip yourself with the knowledge to build resilience within your players & yourself, so they can withstand specific mental obstacles and produce maximum performance on a continuous basis.

Our ISSPF Foundation Certificate in Soccer Psychology & Mental Skills Training is a perfect course to not only learn from world leaders in the area, understand the development & application within team sports, but also to be able to enhance your role & guidance as a coach, practitioner, performance or medical staff member.  

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