This is a common challenge for soccer players. Whether its a midfielder dropping into a defensive role, a winger being asked to fill in at full-back, or a striker being told to play in a deeper or wider position…the reality of life as a soccer player is you have to deal with playing in a different position…
….and it feels uncomfortable. It lacks that comfortable feeling you get when you line up in your usual spot. It requires adjustment – visually, technically, sometimes physically and always mentally.
It feels strange because your brain has very limited mental maps of this new position. And with a brain unused to the position you have to think harder. Your plays become less reactive, less instinctive. Awareness reduces and anticipation slows. Mistakes are easy to come by.
A change of position can also lead to tactical problems. A client of mine this season was asked to play on the left wing when playing as a striker or on the right wing were his natural and learnt positions. He struggled! The coach wanted him to stay out wide but he would naturally work back in towards the centre of the pitch making the game too narrow. He was continually confused about his positioning defensively, and as a striker with a propensity to score, he mentally felt isolated out on the wing and frustrated that he couldn`t do what he most enjoyed doing.
Playing in a new position can hurt. And whilst I can’t sprinkle magic dust on a player and make everything alright and ok straight away, there are some mental techniques that can help.
1. Expand your identity – too many players are tunnel visioned in their appraisal of who they are as a soccer player. “I’m a striker, I`m a centre-back”. Stop limiting yourself. Be open-minded about defining yourself differently. “I’m a striker and I can play centre midfield”. “I’m a centre-back and I’m able to play as a full-back”. Playing in a different position effectively starts by believing that you can. It starts by identifying yourself as capable of playing in this new role.
2. Picture the detail – Now you’ve expanded your identity, take time every day (and I mean every day) to picture the responsibilities within your new role. If you’re a striker who is asked to play out on the wing what does this look like? What do you have to do defensively? What positions do you have to adopt ‘with’ and ‘without’ the ball? Remember, you MUST do this every day.
3. Practice it – simple…go and practice your new expanded identity. Go practice playing in your position! Enact the pictures you’ve created every day.
4. Be prepared to get it wrong – there`s nothing worse in soccer than the player who lacks decisiveness. If you’re playing in a new position you’ll likely make some mistakes and that HAS to be ok with you. When you run onto the pitch tell yourself this “It’s ok to make a mistake. I don’t know this position that well so I may make a couple of incorrect decisions. But being decisive is the most important thing. Just be decisive”
Be decisive! Be decisive! Be decisive!
Above all, see a change of position as a challenge as opposed to a chore. By reappraising the situation like this you’ll give yourself a chance to play in a more relaxed, confident manner rather than as a tense, tight and terrified soccer player.