Coaching from the Sidelines

By Dan Abrahams

To be the most effective soccer coach you can be it’s important to become accomplished at managing emotions. Here’s my really quick guide to staying calm during a match.

Understanding your Front Brain

What are the key skills of a football coach or manager? People skills? Tactical understanding and implementation? Whatever you put at the top of the list you can guarantee that the skill you pick is governed by the front part your brain – the ‘intelligent’ brain. The front part of the brain regulates our emotions. It’s the goal-oriented part that is responsible for recognising patterns and executing decisions. What we know in science is that your front brain will tend to switch off in times of extreme stress and emotion. The great basketball coach Phil Jackson said that he never allowed his pulse rate to get over a hundred during a game – he didn’t want his decision making being affected by emotion. Passion is a useful source of motivation for any coach – but passion without intelligence limits your thinking ability under pressure. You need techniques to cope with the pressure of matchday.

Remember what your Goal is

Your goal as a soccer coach usually depends on the age group you coach. In adult football you’re probably focused on helping your team win. In youth football you are most likely looking to provide players with development experiences. For both sets of scenarios remaining calm is imperative. How do teams win? Primarily through the intelligent execution of responsibilities. How can you help players do that? By a commitment to remaining calm. You can’t advise if you suffer from the tunnel vision that excessive emotion tends to deliver. Equally, how do you best help young players enjoy their game and learn? By remaining calm and thoughtful and by communicating effectively. Remember what you are striving to achieve on Saturday and focus on the how.

Take Breaths and STOP

I talk a lot about the phenomenon of ANTs in my books. Not the insects, but Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). ANTs have to be squashed on matchday if you are to function as a coach effectively. They have to be crushed with immediate effect. Unsquashed ANTs build and build until the front part of the brain shuts down and emotion takes over. In order to squash ANTs it’s helpful to have a plan of action to attack them – I call this the SPOT, STOP, SHIFT method. So if a player makes a mistake or your team falls behind and you start to experience ANTs, you firstly need to SPOT the ANTs by identifying these negative thoughts you are having. Then you need to STOP them. To do this, you can imagine a STOP sign in your mind, or you can say STOP to yourself. You then need to SHIFT the ANTs by moving your focus of attention onto tangible things such as your next instruction. Take some deep breaths, keep great body language or talk to another member of your coaching staff. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is a great maxim to coach by on the sidelines.

Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist, working alongside leading players, teams, coaches and organisations across the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating simple to use techniques and performance philosophies, and he is the author of several sport psychology books as well as the founder of the Dan Abrahams Soccer Academy. You can order his books and contact him at 


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