How to deal with early season blues
All the pre-season training, all the fitness drills, team meetings, trialists, transfer speculation, conditioning sessions, tactical board analysis – all of them lumped together in six or seven weeks to prepare us for our season. Now we are ready for action. We can’t wait to test ourselves against teams in our league. Pre-season friendlies are good for match conditioning and some tactical work, but there is nothing quite like a competitive league match against teams that are challenging you for honours.
But it doesn’t start well. You get hammered in your first match, not so much on the scoreboard, but physically and tactically smashed by a better-prepared opponent. As much as you try and downplay it, the signs are all there already that it is going to be a long, hard season. Your supporters are on your back already. One game, one loss and they have given up on you! The new signings haven’t got off to a good start either and some of them have come for good money. Big signings always have pressure because they are expected to lift the team from the start, but this is not a good way to get the season underway.
Some of the media start to take aim, enjoying the opportunity to put a high-profile team under the spotlight and attract more likes and follows on their social media pages. Suddenly everyone is an expert too. TV analysts all give their opinions on what we should have done, and what we didn’t do, and who should play and what formation we should use. If they are all so clever, why are they not coaching a team? Some of the pressure starts to affect a few of the players and there are some hard tackles in training the next week. A couple of players who didn’t play the first game are trying to impress the coach at training and I’m on the end of a bruising late tackle from a young defender. I get up from the challenge and grab his jersey before giving him a shove. A few players come to his rescue and there are some words said among the group. Everyone is feeling the tension. The coach asks a few of us to stay after the session and we have a quick chat about the incident. We all shake hands and move on, agreeing with the coach that we will put the team first, but there are still one or two players who are there for themselves. As an experienced player I know I must play a role in sorting their heads out and getting them to play for the team first, but because of the pressure we are under after our first defeat I must also concentrate on my own game.
The coach looks down the
whole week. He’s taken the defeat and the media criticism personally. But we are reminded that the beautiful thing about soccer is that you get another chance to prove everyone wrong very quickly. We are preparing for our next match and when the game finally arrives, we go out and put on a display that will give the rest of the league some concern. Everyone is buzzing again, there is a spring in our step and the media have quickly moved on to another victim. Even the two players who have been sniping behind the backs of the other players are back in the family. There are smiles on the faces at training and the coach even joins in for a kick around.
This is the
reality of professional soccer. You live and die by your results – no matter how much preparation you put in, no matter how organised, disciplined or passionate you are as players or as a team, if the ball doesn’t bounce for you or lady luck forgets about you, you end up in a bad situation that you have to work really hard to get out of. The start of the season is not a true reflection of how things will finish because there are so many things that can go wrong during the campaign. Some teams start off like a house on fire and fly to the top of the table early on, but a few injuries or suspensions after a couple of months and it all collapses around them and they can’t stop the downward spiral. Trust me, I’ve been there, I know what it’s like. Be patient with your team and take some pressure off them, they are trying their best. If they have prepared for a whole season, then who can judge them after only a few games?
“IF THEY ARE ALL SO CLEVER, WHY ARE THEY NOT COACHING A TEAM?”