Irish Grassroots Football

Stop Making Excuses and Get To Work!

Mental toughness is one of the most important characteristics you can coach but in order to able to do it you must be prepared to allow your players play with freedom and play with knowing that even mistakes are ok. If a player is able to make a mistake and get over it in the next second that is a characteristic of mental toughness.

I here so many coaches complaining about opposition teams, “we didn’t beat them because they have all the best players, they train 3 times a week and they have a bigger catchment area and they shout the loudest on match day which intimidates the referees to give them all the decisions”. For a time I fell into this idea; but then I started (when I moved clubs) to look at other ways of getting the best out of a team. The things that were in my control and in the players control. I started to focus on three key areas of the game, ball mastery, possession games (Attack, transition and Defence) and mindset. I focused on repetition and doing things over and over again and faster and faster each time we trained. I focused on giving my players as much self belief as possible. I started to focus on the positives and never speak about the negatives. They don’t need to hear negatives, what they need is me believing in them, no matter what. (Read Soccer Brain by Dan Abrahams)

“You can never build enough self-belief”


I soon realised that teams aren’t beating the best teams because of those things, they are beating them because they were more disciplined in their execution – the best coaches are better at getting their kids to play the way they want – some are better teachers/coaches, some are better managers and some just have a lot of great players. What I did learn from this was discipline is in my control and in order to get better, the teams discipline needed to change, we need to start to think and train like the best players. They might beat us because of talent but it should never be because of the things we can control – attitude, discipline, selflessness, team culture, mental toughness, preparation, commitment, respect etc. In time you will start to beat the so called best teams, you just need to work hard and then work harder. A Lesson… stop making excuses and get to work!

“A great coach see failure as an education tool. A great player see failure as a stepping stone to greatness” – Dan Abrahams

You must prepare and train in the same way you plan to play the game. This is the best way to prepare and learn. When players train how they play the game becomes easy. If you don’t work hard in training then you won’t work hard in the game. It’s an attitude, it’s a habit, it’s about creating and developing winners.  Mental toughness is not just a “game day” concept, nor is it a “have it or not” mentality. The mind is a muscle; you can enhance your mental toughness the more you work on it. At training is where it starts.

Sport Psychologist Dan Abrahams wrote in one of his recents posts:

Never Give Up

Commit yourself to the process of learning, developing and improving. Never stop. Never ever stop. The soccer player who gets over-emotional because she’s been left out of the team tends to give up by default. She stops focusing as effectively in training because she is overly concerned with her starting position in the team. She loses confidence because her self-belief is built on quicksand – on being in the team! A player with great football psychology is one who loves to learn, develop and improve above playing the game. Mastery takes care of outcomes. Mastery of skills takes care of performance in the mid to long term. Mastery takes care of your place in the team, the winning of trophies and your career trajectory.

The player who focuses on mastery – on learning, developing and improving – will, by and large, win no matter what!

Here are a few questions players can ask themselves to assess their own level of mental toughness. As Coaches we can ask ourselves these questions also. Questions are suggested by Dr. Rob Bell who is a certified sport psychology consultant with The Association of Applied Sport Psychology. 

*TCD comments

1. How strong is my passion for the game? 

If you are mentally tough, you are totally passionate about the game. It is difficult at times to really enjoy the tough practices and workouts, but passion for the sport always drives your commitment toward improving and strengthening your resolve.

2. Do I believe in myself? 

When you believe in your coaches, your teammates and yourself, you develop a level of trust. At some point, when you encounter adversity, doubt may enter your mind, but having confidence in yourself will help you overcome it. Also, during pressure moments, you will be confident enough to want the game on the line. *(As a coach, even if i make a change and it doesn’t work out or the player error causes a goal. I say to myself “it just didn’t work out” that was the decision I made based on the game or based on the rule that every kid plays. Things it life don’t always work out. Move on)

3. Can I let go of mistakes easily? 

Mental toughness means not letting mistakes bother you. Sure, you will get upset when you mess up, but re-focusing and re-grouping before the next play is an essential element of mental toughness. *(When someone makes a mistake, we learn from it and move on immediately. You will need mental toughness to forget about it.)

4. Do I make my teammates better? 

If you are mentally tough, you will make your teammates better. This requires you to be a good teammate, even when you are not playing your best. Your attitude and behavior rub off on your teammates. You need to assess how to make others better. * (You won’t always play well and things won’t always go your way. In fact very seldom does the same player consistently perform but that’s why it’s so important to have team players. One thing is for sure you can always control your effort. Working hard, doing your best and being positive it something you can always control. You are the one who knows if you gave it your best.) 

5. Do I make good decisions off the field? 

Mental toughness means staying disciplined in your off-the-field decisions. John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA, said that mental toughness is about our “character as a person,” not just our ability to make plays.


The most important thing in sport is the journey. The coach has control over the journey. What I love most about coaching is the coaching, the preparation for the game. The final outcome is the players opportunity to show you what they have learnt. When that game is over we are back on the path, back on the journey. I’m not eager to reach the goal so soon because I know journey will take a long time. Hard work is what counts in everything we do, just like in life.

Mental toughness can be developed in all areas of our lives. However, it means rigorously addressing the above questions and committing to improve. Perfection may never be obtained, but we can work and then work hard towards trying to get there. With this attitude you can never lose.


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

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