Dealing With Self-Doubt In Your Football Career

Throughout your career, you are going to have setbacks and disappointments. Self-doubt can start to creep in when you experience tough times with even the best players experiencing a lack of confidence at some point.

You will experience self-doubt

Self-doubt in football often comes from negative things happening previously that affect your confidence. This leads to a feeling of uncertainty and lack of confidence which will make you question your ability.

As you journey through your career you are going to have moments where your confidence may suffer and self-doubt might start to creep in. Although it happens to everyone, it doesn’t mean that when it happens that you should just let it run its course. The longer that you allow yourself be overcome with self-doubt, the more difficult it is to get out of that mindset. The best players don’t allow those negative thoughts to stew for long, they are able to overcome them with their mindset and by using the techniques I will touch on later on.

Losing individual battles can leave you doubting yourself. Photo by Richard Blaxall

Reasons why you may have self-doubt

  • Lack of form
  • Out of the team
  • Making a mistake
  • A change of manager
  • Contract coming to an end
  • Injuries

The list could go on and on but the reasons are always centred around negative experiences you have had.

…you will find yourself focusing on what CAN go wrong, instead of what IS going to go right.

What you can’t do when self-doubt creeps in

When that little voice of doubt starts to take over, it is important to try and stop it in its tracks before it consumes your thinking. If you allow it to, it will eat away at you until everything is viewed in a negative light.

Those doubts and thoughts will have a big impact on your performances and outlook on your overall game. Confidence in your ability will start to fade and you will find yourself focusing on what can go wrong, instead of what is going to go right. Football will become unenjoyable and you will be playing within yourself, instead of playing with a smile and expressing yourself.

Don’t feed the negative thoughts you are having by overthinking every little mistake you make, or by questioning your ability because this will only add fuel to the fire that is already burning inside.

Every time that you step out onto the pitch you want to be full of confidence. Photo by Graham Scambler

How you can overcome self-doubt

There is no magic recipe to overcoming self-doubt and we will all deal with it differently. What works for one player might not work for the next. However, below are some techniques that can be used to help clear those negative thoughts from your mind:

  • Focus on your strengths
  • Think back to a time you played really well
  • Watch some clips of yourself enjoying playing football
  • Remember the reason you started playing football
  • If you’re on the pitch, self-talk and only tell yourself positive things about yourself
  • Visualise yourself doing something positive on the pitch
  • Speak to someone for support (a teammate, a friend or a family member)
  • Keep working hard and go back to basics

Self-talking is incredibly effective, both positively and negatively!

The impact of positive self-talking

These are a few examples of positive self-talking that you can do at any time, even in the middle of a game:

“I am on this pitch by merit, not by luck.”

“I am going to win my next header.”

“I have prepared correctly so I know that I am ready to compete.”

“I will return from injury stronger and better than before.”

It can be helpful to write your own down and then to keep on reading them and repeating them back to yourself. Every time you start doubting yourself look at those statements and remember your strengths. I guarantee you that after a while you will start thinking more positively and those doubts will have disappeared.

Just like getting to this stage in your career, it isn’t going to just happen overnight. It will take time, some will take longer than others, but you will start noticing a difference when you think positively, focus on your strengths and keep re-enforcing them to yourself. Over time you will feel more positive and confidence will start to come back.

There is no doubting that we all play our best football when we aren’t overthinking. Photo by Portsmouth FC

It took me a while to conquer self-doubt

When I was out of favour and living away from home, I found myself consumed with self-doubt and a lack of confidence. I was 21/22 years old and I couldn’t see my situation changing so I allowed myself to focus on the negatives. I would sit in my flat alone, overthinking training, then worry about being selected for the game at the weekend and fear letting the manager, fans and my teammates down.

My confidence was on the floor and I couldn’t get out of the rut I was in.

It wasn’t until I had a change of mindset that I managed to drive out the self-doubt that was holding me back. I went from fearing mistakes and worrying about other people’s opinions, to not being concerned by other people’s thoughts on my ability.

I focused on what I was good at and what I enjoyed doing, instead of trying to impress everyone else. The self-doubting was not only having a negative effect on my performances, but it was also affecting my life away from football.

I learnt to control the controllables and focus solely on what I could affect. You can’t change what has happened or is going to happen, but you can focus on being positive right now and by paying attention to the things that you are subconsciously telling yourself!

There is no doubt that you play your best football when you are confident and playing with a smile on your face. However, the journey is far from smooth and you will experience tough periods in your career. In those difficult moments is when you have to remember that you are a good player and your current predicament is only temporary. So when self-doubt begins to take hold of your thinking, give it the boot by focusing your mind on positive thoughts.

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