Soccer Coaching - Practice Players vs. Game Players


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Ever notice that there are some players whose performance in practice is fantastic, but they are not contributors at game time? There are also players who do not seem motivated at practice, but are extremely effective during the game. Why is this?
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I think it has to do with psychology. Some players are very comfortable with the practice environment, because they know the players around them. There is an element of security and familiarity that is not present on game day. Some players also suffer from performance anxiety, so they think too much about the outcome and not enough about the task at hand.
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It is also common for players to have mental blocks, so they associate failure with certain scenarios. These players typically stress after a mistake and it takes them very long to recover. Some never do and their performance deteriorates as the game progresses.

Then we have the player that coasts through practice and is your best player on Saturday. This is also a psychological issue. This player loves a challenge and rises to the occasion on game day. He/she is confident and wants to prove to himself/herself as well as to the opponents that they can play. This player is not motivated at training because they have the incorrect interpretation of its purpose. To them it is just practice and they do not see the need to go all out against their teammates.

There are pitfall with both players. The player that works at practice, but can't translate this to game time has to overcome their personal fears. This takes time and experience. Some coaches do not have the patience and these players are left out. Especially at the higher levels. I know you are thinking how does a player with the ability, not translate it to the game? Well here is a possible reason. This player may have played for a coach when he was very young that stressed results...a screamer. This coach probably took players off every time they made a mistake and never offered a solution.

The game player is really no better off in the long run because they never get to full fitness. The training habits begin to catch up with them as their talent alone will not see them through at the next level. Training habits and discipline are key to success, so unless this player gains an appreciation for the intangibles, then they too will be left out eventually.

How is this type of player created? Here is another possibility. He/she was always physically gifted and the team relied heavily upon them for success when they were younger. He/she never had to push themselves at training because they were way ahead of the rest, so it was acceptable to the coach. This player played the entire game and was the focus of the team. They got the ball to him/her at all times regardless of outcome.

Obviously this player gained tremendous confidence, because of the treatment received from the coaching staff. The sad thing is that when these players become part of team where everyone is treated the same and is expected to work at all times, they sometimes fail. They now have to perform a function clarified at practice (an environment they have never taken seriously) and the game no longer revolves around them.

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