One of the most valuable habits any soccer player can cultivate is the habit of self-reflection.
Self-reflection is a powerful process that empowers players to take ownership of their soccer development. A little time and intentionality can help players learn and internalize important skills that will equip them for future success on and off the field. Being able to take a step back, away from the heat of the game and the emotions that come with it, helps players adopt a growth mindset, build self-awareness and engage in healthy striving, which helps players fight perfectionism and instead strive for improvement week after week.
Unfortunately, self-reflection is also a skill that many young players — and even adults — don’t work to develop. As a result, they are unable to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, and are even less able to articulate them. That leads to a lack of resiliency and self-compassion, and is a major obstacle in their long-term ability to set goals and improve.
But it’s never too late (or too early!) to start building this skill. If players are intentional about taking 5 minutes after every game to reflect on their performance, and their team’s performance, they will begin to understand themselves and their strengths, and gain actionable insight about where they can still improve.
By using the questions below, players will put themselves at the center of the learning process and play an active part in becoming the best soccer player they can be.
Self-reflection on game day
The most important thing to keep in mind right after a game — especially a loss — is to keep things positive. Start with affirmative questions, and give detailed examples and explanations:
- What did I do well?
- What did my team do well?
- What did I contribute to the team?
- What was my favorite moment of the game?
- Who else on the team played particularly well?
Then, players can start to dive into more goal-oriented questions. These should be based on specific goals that the player or team set for themselves before the game ever started, based on what they have been working towards in practice:
- Did I accomplish my goals for this game? Why or why not?
- Did my team accomplish our goals for this game? Why or why not?
- How engaged and active was I in the game? How often did I get the ball?
- Was I at my best today? When did I feel like I was, and when did I feel like I wasn’t? Why?
- How did I feel during the game, physically and mentally? Did I have all the energy I needed? Was I focused and confident? Why did I feel good (or bad)?
- How did I prepare for the game? How did I feel as I warmed up?
- How did I communicate during the game, and with who?
- What did my self-talk during the game sound like?
Then, players should be encouraged to engage with some self-critical questions as well. These are geared towards looking for where every player still has room to grow and improve:
- What did I struggle with today? Why?
- What did my team struggle with today? Why?
- Do I feel like I gave everything I had today? Or do I have more left in the tank?
- How do I feel right now?
Using video as a tool for self-reflection
The process of self-reflection can’t just happen on gameday, however. No matter how objective a player (or a parent, or a coach) tries to be, our memories are imperfect. They’re biased.
That’s why it’s so important to use video as a tool for analysis and reflection. Video allows us to see things as they happened, not as we think they happened. Video can be used to reflect not just on the game itself, but on the way you reflect and interpret what happened during the game. What were you right about? What were you wrong about?
Another recent Trace Academy article on Trace iD gives some powerful suggestions to help guide players as they use video to enhance their reflective practice. Again, players should look to be as detailed as possible in their answers to these questions.
A few bonus tips for self-reflection
- Answers could be verbal, as part of a conversation with a parent or coach, or they could be written (or recorded!). I personally prefer writing my reflections down, as they give me something to return to later in the season and assess my growth.
- The process of self-reflection is more important than the answers themselves. Taking the time to learn about yourself is always worth it.
- Consistency is key. Win or lose, there is always something to take away from a game.
- Every player is different. Some players can engage in self-reflection immediately after the game, when everything is fresh. Some players need to take some time to let their emotions fade before they can reflect more objectively.