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A hot streak is something every coach is hoping and working for. Once your team is on a winning track, there is nothing else left to do, but to enjoy the ride. But is it really that easy? In reality even a winning streak poses a challenge. That is particularly true for teams that win unexpected and will start feeling the pressure towards the most crucial part of the season. And yet there is a lot you, as a coach, can do to prepare your team for those kind of situations.

When winning is unexpected

In 2008 TSG Hoffenheim 1899 surprisingly gained promotion into the first German football league after spending only one year in the second division. As early as 7 months later the team lead by head coach Ralf Ragnick found itself at the top of the league table after the first half of the season in the 1.Bundesliga. Autumn champions and biggest surprise of the season. A lot was said and written in the following winter break. “Is Hoffenheim the real deal?”, “Do they have the ability to go all the way?”. What followed was an example of too many expectations and too much pressure on a team, which targeted a midfield position in the table at the beginning of the season. 12 consecutive games without a win and the 7th place in the standings at the end of 2008/2009 Bundesliga season.

A Hot-Streak might be the one thing every coach hopes for, but it can pose a challenge especially if you are unprepared. An Australian study by Susan A. Jackson et al (2008) about Olympic champions and their life after winning the Gold, tries to answer the question why athletes who have climbed to the top of their sport, find it so hard to stay there. Psychological reasons like increased expectations and responsibilities, a shift in motivational orientation involving a dislike for “being chased” and an accumulative satisfaction with the athletic performance are given as examples for problems that arise through success. Especially the athlete’s environment, including the coaches, plays an important role in dealing with the named issues. You as a coach have the opportunity to prepare your athletes for success.

How to prepare for success

Detailed practice and team documentation should be the basis for your season. That includes practice schedules, in which you assess each exercise and training segment in detail, “did it work well”, “which effect was achieved” or if any “problems occurred”. During the course of the season you’ll possess a decent knowledge of what works for you and your team and what does not. It will help you when choosing the right and most suitable exercises and training segments, especially in phases where good execution is most needed to build your team’s motivation and confidence. At best your documentation is beyond the scope of practice. You should make notes on everything that could influence the results of your games and your success.

  • “What works best for my pre-game routine?”

  • “What is a good game day schedule?”

  • “How well suited is my warm up program?” and so on.

A good structure in your training and game day procedures will not only boost your athlete’s, but also your staff’s confidence, especially in challenging situations.

You should proceed with your goal planning in a similar fashion. Short term as well as long term goal setting is a crucial foundation for success, also differentiating between individual and common goals. Both should be recorded in conversations with your team and individual athletes prior to the beginning of the season. The so called SMART-Formula, which supports the phrasing of clear and measurable goals, can pose a solution for you:

  • S – Specific: State exactly what you want to accomplish.

  • M – Measurable: Establish clear definitions and criteria to help you measure if you are reaching your goal. Example: “% of completed passes”, “distance run in game”

  • A – Achievable: Challenging goals should be within the ability to achieve outcome

  • R – Relevant: Make sure your goals are consistent with your other goals and overall objective.

  • T – Time-bound: Make sure you develop a timeline to keep your goals on track

Among other things it is also important that you focus on what you want and can control, which applies to individual as well as to common goals. Similar to coping with failure, you should reassess and if necessary reset your goals, if they are out of reach or already accomplished before the end of your deadline. This serves to maintain the motivation and confidence levels to a special degree, as neither disappointment nor complete satisfaction will set in, as long as you have new goals that are set and accepted.

Tips for your daily soccer training

Nevertheless success should not only be prepared on paper, but also psychologically. Similar to dealing with failure, coping with success should not pose a surprising situation to you and your players, but should rather trigger a prepared consecutive reaction. The question of “What happens, if…?” can be discussed with the whole team, but in the ideal case would be guided in the form of visualization by a trained sport psychologist. The visualization technique is used, especially in high-performance sports, for different things like specific movement sequences, performance and emotional states and also for upcoming situations. It is a matter of mental imagery which prepares the athlete for different situations through the fact that the athlete has already experienced the situation mentally and is therefore able to deduce a course of action from it. A comparable effect can be drawn from conversations which prepare possible scenarios and situations that the team could face.

"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime"

(Babe Ruth)

Every player of the team should be an equal part of this preparing process. Each backup could be a starter within only a few game days and should be prepared accordingly. It is advisable to give your backups as much playing experience during the games and during practices as possible. In individual conversations you can let them know that they are part of the success, and even more crucial an important part of the team.

Last but not least is the topic of regeneration. As long as your practice and competition cycle allows it, you should pay close attention to giving your players an appropriate amount of physical and psychological rest. Most of the time the more successful teams, that are at the top of the standings, are the ones who pass, run, shoot and get tackled the most. Accordingly you should create space for your players to have soccer specific and physical regeneration periods, to prevent injury, loss of motivation and other negative side effects that can occur. A classic example could be a football tennis tournament, which provides fun and a competitive edge at the same time.

In conclusion the following 5 key points are important, to prepare yourself and your team for success:

  • Detailed practice and team documentation: What works for you and what does not?

  • Individual and common goal setting: Plan S.M.A.R.T.

  • Mental preparation for success and failure: “What happens, if…?”

  • Each player should be part of the team: Success is only possible as a team

  • Give your players physical and psychological rest from soccer.

We hope this article will help you to prepare for future success. If for some reason your hot streak comes to an end, make sure your team is already prepared to deal with failure. We give you some interesting tips from the field of sport psychology, so your team can make its way back to the top. Read the article here.

To keep your team on a winning track, we advise you to use our Premium Exercises. You can find more than 100 soccer exercises, which were created and optimized by certified coaches and sports scientists.

Book recommendations about Sport Psychology:
Lavallee, David – Coping and Emotion in Sport (2004, Nova Science Pub Inc.)
Burton, Damon & Raedeke, Thomas – Sport Psychology for Coaches (2008, Human Kinetics)
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