Self-reflection’s a powerful practice that’s a foundational part of growth. Being able to objectively look back, analyze and reflect is a core skill for developing and progressing as a soccer player, something that should not be underestimated or swept aside to try later.
What are reflective practices and why are they important?
A reflective practice is the act of self-reflection – it’s anytime you examine, observe or analyze yourself and your actions. It is all about insight, introspection and being self-aware. A reflective practice is similar to ‘learning from experience’, but different in that it happens afterwards and not during the experience. It’s immensely powerful because it’s YOU reflecting on your own game, and coaching yourself. It’s not someone else giving you feedback and telling you what you need to be working on.
Self-reflection in soccer is the practice of thinking about, assessing and analyzing what you did or didn’t do, and then using that information to better prepare yourself for next time: either by learning from your mistakes and deciding to do something differently, or by formulating & carrying out a training plan to help you gain the skills you need. Self-reflection is growth-mindedness in a nutshell.
How to get the most out of self-reflection practices
In order to get the most out of self-reflection practices in soccer, you need to be in the right mindset. You need the self-awareness to identify how you’re feeling at the moment, because in order for reflective practices to work FOR YOU and not AGAINST YOU players need to be in their optimal headspace – which is a growth-minded mentality. If you AREN’T there, then reflection practices can easily turn self-defeating instead of helpful.
Athletic mindfulness plays a huge role here. Players need to be level-headed, composed and present in order to be able to objectively and neutrally reflect (meaning no negatives or positives attached to anything you’re reflecting on, you’re simply focused on the truth of the moment). And you need to be able to be objectively and neutrally reflect if you want to get the most out of your reflection practice.
If you are ever feeling down on yourself or any negativity is popping up, now is not the time for self-reflection. Now’s the time to put soccer out of your mind, go for a walk, do something to connect with yourself and focus on the present moment. If you try to self-reflect in these moments, it can easily turn into getting hung up on things and dwelling on past regrettable actions or mistakes. Waiting until emotions have dissipated will allow you to get more good, useful and constructive insight out of the self-reflection. If you aren’t mindful of your current mental state and have a negative mentality when you self-reflect, unhealthy perfectionism can kick in big time and your inner critic can have a heyday.
So before you start a reflection practice, ask yourself…
“How’s my mentality going into this?”
“Am I in the right headspace for this activity?”
The optimal state to be in to get the most out of your self-reflection practice is one of calm, focused, and nonjudgement so that you can neutrally investigate whatever you are choosing to reflect on.
Types of self-reflection practices for soccer players
Self-reflection practices can focus on any part of the game: technical, tactical, physical and mental. Regardless of what part of the game you choose to work on, all reflection practices expand your mental skills because the act of reflecting itself requires self-awareness, growth-mindedness and a certain level of mental toughness in order to be able to look back at things and deconstruct what happened.
Here are a few different types of self-reflection practices that are useful for soccer players:
Game reflections: Thinking back through a game and identifying what you executed well, what you could have improved at, what your team executed well and what the team could do better next game is a good habit to get into. This is an effective exercise to do the day following a game, and can also include other elements of reflection such as examining pre, post and mid-game mentality or noticeable changes in composure or focus.
Self-assessments: Self-assessments are guided reflective practices done via a questioning approach, typically with a formal framework or guideline that is specifically designed to get you thinking about things that will help you improve your game. Worksheets are common forms of self-assessments. When doing an assessment, you’ll go through a predetermined criteria to analyze your actions. You establish strengths, room for improvements and insights based on an evaluation of your own performance.
Game film analysis: Video is a very important tool for self-reflecting, analyzing and improving. It’s important to have video, especially for technical and tactical aspects of our game, because humans simply do not have the capacity to remember the fine details of each and every game. When you watch game film, it’s important to go through it with the mindset of STUDYING it and not just watching it. Analyze your technique and tactical decisions with an objective perspective and figure out what needs to be done differently.
Weekly reflections: The benefits of a weekly reflection practice are big. Looking back through your week, over your accomplishments and your growth, is really important to keep you motivated and moving forward. Sometimes weeks can be long and we can forget all of the little wins that happen along the way. Reminding ourselves of what we did allows us the opportunity to be grateful and also helps us figure out where there is room for improvement moving into the next week. End-of-week reflection exercises help players create an intentional mindset moving from one week into the next.
Why self-reflection practices should be a priority
“Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.”
Jennifer Porter, Harvard Business Review, ‘Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection’
When you do a reflective practice, you’re doing it with the purpose of gaining insight into your game and then taking those new pieces of information and using them to make your game better. When players get serious about self-reflection and add it into their weekly routine, they are taking ownership of their development. And taking ownership of your development and getting invested in yourself is the #1 way to become a better soccer player, hands down.
Self-reflection in soccer is an experience of exploring and learning more about yourself and the game. At a bare minimum, self-reflection in soccer helps you learn about both the tactical and technical elements of the game. And at its maximum – well, the skies the limit.
To get you started with your self-reflection practice, here’s a free self-reflection worksheet bundle from Expand Your Game (includes a Game Assessment, Game Film Analysis, Individual Training Analysis and End-of-Week Reflection)
Mental Skills Coach & Founder at Expand Your Game
USSF National C Licensed Soccer Coach
Northern Arizona University Grad