As I tell all my players (and my recruits), the first semester as a freshman is usually your hardest. You are adjusting to a new soccer team, a new coach, new living arrangements, new classes, a new climate (if you are far from home), new friends, and in general a new way of life. Also, you lose that daily contact with most of that support network that you may have had all through high school in terms of family, friends and teachers- they don’t abandon you, but they are not there for you to see everyday. You also went from being at the top of the heap as a senior to being the low rung on the ladder as a freshman. All of this has an impact on players psychologically. Not to worry, it is normal.
All good coaches know that you cannot separate the physical, technical or tactical parts of the game from the psychological part of the game. While they are distinctly different pieces of the puzzle, they are interconnected and influence each other. In this case, we are saying that how you perform physically, technically and tactically will be influenced by your mental state of mind. For those freshmen that adjust well, they usually perform better than those that do not. While most, if not all, coaches will help you through this process, it is still incumbent upon the player to prove themselves.
Let’s look at two hypothetical freshmen players attending D3 State University. Sally was an All-County player in high school, Team MVP her senior year, team captain, and played every minute of every game for four years. She struggled with her fitness through high school and is a tall and slender player. On the other hand, Mary got no awards in high school for soccer and only made varsity her senior year after working extremely hard for three years to make it on her extremely competitive high school team. She is short, a bit stocky, but very fit, fast and strong. Both play the same position in the field.
Day 1 of practice is fitness testing and Mary does very well with the timed run and sprints. She also does well with testing in the weight room. Sally struggles to meet the required timed run, gets a slight hamstring pull in the sprints (which she does not report to the athletic trainers) and prior to college had never been in a weight room. Both call home that evening where Mary gets lots of congratulations from her family for performing well and Sally gets berated that she should have done more running over the summer.
On Day 2, Sally’s and Mary’s roommates arrive. Mary’s roommate is a cross-country runner and she and Mary hit if off very well. Sally’s roommate is not an athlete and she soon finds out that she is a complete night owl staying out until all hours of the evening, waking up Sally when she gets in, and leaving the room a general mess. Sally and Mary both call home to share the news— Mary’s parents are excited that she made a new friend and Sally’s parents are telling her that she should have gone to community college like they suggested.
Day 3 is an intra-squad scrimmage, with Mary and Sally are playing on opposite teams and their performances reflect their respective states of mind. Mary is feeling really good about her situation and doing well; she is meshing with her teammates well and feeling integrated with the group. On the contrary, Sally’s state of mind is not so good, seems to be withdrawing a bit each day, and it is showing in her performance. All of the technical things that she was able to do in high school are not happening and she seems to be out of position all the time. Her hamstring pull is slowing her down on the field and she is getting knocked off the ball all the time. The coaches are wondering if she can compete at this level. Mary, while not technically as solid as Sally, seems to be all over the field, giving a 100% effort, fighting for every 50-50 ball and making a good impression on the coaches.
Granted, this example is somewhat exaggerated, but you can see the picture that I am trying to paint. You may have one player who is “good enough” on paper (Sally), but when all of the other factors come into play, the player that is “good enough” (Mary) is the one that has more success in overcoming the obstacles that are put before them and adapting to change.
The bottom line is this— there are a lot of challenges for players to overcome during their first semester as a freshman, some of which we mentioned here. The players that are “good enough” psychologically often have the mental strength to overcome the physical grind of the college season and perform “good enough” on the field. The more you are prepared both physically and mentally, the more success you will have once you get to college. Be sure to pay attention to both. Good luck!
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