In his first post coach John Kirby talked about the importance of body language and other mental factors that can impact the game. In this article he highlights the importance of a quick start as well as the necessary key words players must house in their mind to keep them mentally alert.

When I was playing, the majority of what the coach said stuck in my mind, but as soon as I crossed that white line onto the pitch, I knew it was just me and my teammates battling together to try to win 3 points.

The things that went through my mind whilst the Captains tossed the coin were: –

  1. To win my first tackle – I thought this was highly important. It would put me in a positive frame of mind and make me feel superior to my opponent.
  1. To win my first header – again I thought this was crucial to putting my mind-set on the right course and to help me go and attack everything positively. It was important to make my opponent feel inferior and so he would be less likely to want to challenge me again through the game.
  1. To be loud and vocal – From an early age this seemed to be a very important thing for me. As a lad growing up, I saw first-hand how a side that were loud during the warm up and games would make my teammates feel intimidated and would make them lose focus. As I progressed in the game, I was determined to be as vocal as I could be to encourage my teammates and to intimidate our opponents.

I believe it is crucial that a player who starts a game well does not get complacent. Even when things went my way with my first challenge, header, or being loud and vocal, I knew I had to stay switched on for the full 90 minutes. I have seen players ‘switch off’ too easily and where they had previously been so dominant, they let their opponents back into the game. Their mental strength is an integral part of doing this and mental strength is even more important when a game begins badly.

I have been involved in games where I lost the first challenge to players who probably took that to mean they were onto a winner. However, I knew my own capabilities and how mentally strong I was and I knew that the majority of the time I would get back on top of my opponent and end up as the dominant player.

There were many ex-professional players in our league during my playing days and I always remember some of my teammates saying to me “this player is playing” or “that player is playing” and noting the professional club they had previously played for. My response was always the same. I said to them “they’re playing in the same league as us. If they are that much better, they would still be at those professional clubs but they’re not”. I told them they should not fear them but instead should impose themselves on them.

I told them they should not fear them but instead should impose themselves on them.

I pass these things onto our players today, but I know only too well that once they cross that white line, our influence is very limited. They need the mental strength to get themselves through the game.

I am fully aware that the players will have their own thoughts once on the pitch, but I do try to get some key words into their heads whilst in the changing room to give them the autonomy to play a mentally strong game. These are: –


D = Decisions – Try to make the right decisions to make your game easier. Generally the first one is the right one.

I = Intensity – Intensity doesn’t mean 100mph but to always be on the move, with or without the ball.

S = Spirit – To have a team spirit that can bring a side together to battle through the good and the bad.

C = Communication – Always be loud and give your teammates clear and correct information.

O = Off the Ball – Even off the ball you can impact the game with just your movements.

Dan Says

I LOVE hearing from different coaches with varying experiences from soccer. John has played football to a good level and, from reading the above, clearly was a mentally strong player.

I find it fascinating that John chose to pick factors that could be deemed as uncontrollable to help him settle into a match. “I must win my first challenge” to me is a dangerous game to play.

I have so many of the world’s best players say this kind of thing to me – and I strive to help them shift this towards a first five minutes goal related to somehting they can completely control.

John’s example of being vocal covers this nicely. “Being on my toes” might be another one. I think any in-match goal must be something a player can control. I think that’s great football psychology.

John Kirby coaches at Uckfield Town and can be found on twitter @johnny070576