Unlocking Mental Toughness in Youth Soccer

01 May 2024
5 min read
Authors – Vedika Jogani

A recent graduate from Ithaca College with a Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science, specializing in Mental Performance, Vedika Jogani is OMP’s Product and Content Manager.

Have you ever wondered about the psychological stressor’s young athletes face?  

How do they navigate a myriad of psychosocial challenges?  

From early experiences to their journey into adulthood, every interaction molds their path to success.  

Successful athletes are often hailed for their ‘mental toughness,’ but what exactly does this entail?  

Mental toughness encompasses behaviors like adaptability, positive body language, discipline, composure, and purposeful competition.  

  1. Adaptability and positive body language: staying focused, rebounding from mistakes, and demonstrating courage.  
  1. Discipline and composure: remaining calm under pressure and avoiding distractions.  
  1. Competing and training with purpose: clarity, precision, effective movement, intentional execution, practice new behaviors beyond your comfort zone and communication. 
  1.  Training with purpose: engaging in meaningful discussions, intentional execution, practicing new behaviors, and pushing beyond comfort zones. 

Gucciardi et al (2015) characterized mental toughness as an individual’s capacity to endure and adapt to a range of psychological demands in pursuit of both personal and performance-based goals across situations and time.  

A study conducted within the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) examined mentally tough behaviors among youth soccer players, focusing on specific contexts such as training and competition.  

It delved into how key stakeholders like coaches, support staff, parents, and teammates could nurture the development of mentally tough behaviors in players.  

The study found that a player’s mental capacity is developed through three key relationships:  

  1. Player-coach relationship: Coaches should use strategies like layering expectations and rationalizing mistakes to develop mental toughness in their athletes. Coaches should create a psychologically safe environment where players are comfortable making mistakes. 
  1. Player-parent relationship: A player’s home environment and their relationship with parents is a key factor to develop mental toughness. Parents implement strategies such as providing ownership, emotional support, and tangible assistance to aid their child’s mental toughness development.  
  1. Player-Player relationship: Developing strong relationships with teammates, both on and off the field, is crucial for players to build the mental toughness needed to perform under pressure. Strategies include healthy conflict resolution, teamwork, trust-building, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.  

The study goes on to highlight the mental skills required by both coaches and athletes to maintain mental toughness:  

  1. Reflective Practice: Coaches guide players to analyze performances, fostering critical thinking and autonomy for identifying areas of improvement under pressure. 
  1. Autonomy Supportive Behaviors: Coaches encourage players to express themselves, fostering ownership and stress coping abilities. 
  1. Unit-Based Reflection: Players review sessions or game clips in small groups, promoting participation and open communication. 
  1. Team-Based Meetings: Coaches stress teamwork and effort in collective reflection sessions, reinforcing trust and support within the team. 

In youth soccer, mental toughness is fostered through reflection, supportive coaching, and teamwork, shaping players to develop adaptability, discipline, and competitive spirit. 

These practices cultivate resilience and trust, empowering players to overcome challenges and grow, both on and off the field. 



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