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SoccerGrlProbs asked pro soccer player, Yael Averbuch, to help us get motivated and deal with stress while playing the game we love! She provides us 4 TIPS ON HOW TO CHANGE YOUR GAME for the better in just ONE month! Join us and Yael as she takes us through each week in her own words. Each week will focus on a different task to better ourselves on and off the field, so let's get started.


WEEK 1- Dealing with Stress

I always knew that I lived a naturally stressful life, as a type-A person and professional soccer player. But a couple of years ago it started to really add up and take a toll on me in a way that I couldn’t ignore. Through a terrible flare-up with an illness called Ulcerative Colitis (which I’ve had for a while but is triggered, in part, by stress), I was finally forced to face my stress levels head-on.

Stress is a normal part of life and the game we all love. Trying to avoid it all together is definitely a battle you won’t win. But being aware of stress, coping with it properly, and not letting it run rampant in your life are vital to success on and off the field.

Through a lot of personal reflection and the help of a therapist (I’m not shy, we all need help sometimes!), I started to peel back the layers of stress in my life and decide if they’re worth continuing with or things I can discard.

Some stress is good - the tension of caring deeply about something, the pressure to perform well, nerves before fitness - and can serve us well. But some stress - worrying about things outside of our control or seeking perfection in a sport that simply doesn’t allow for it - is harmful and can even lead to mental and physical health issues.

Here are some steps you can take each day this week to make sure the stresses you’re enduring are the ones you’re aware of and choosing to endure. All the others you can say goodbye to!

Day 1: Make a list of your stressors. Through my own experience, I’ve realized just how many things I brushed aside or pushed through that were extremely stressful. We teach ourselves to ignore and persevere regardless, but it’s helpful to take a step back and look deeply into anything and everything causing stress in your life, no matter how small it may seem. Just make your list and sit with it for a day.
Day 2: Sort your list. Through color coding or some other type of indication, sort your list of stressors into 3 categories: stresses I’m choosing to continue with, stresses I’d like to discard, and stresses over which I don’t have a choice. Here are some examples from my life. I choose to take on the stress of owning my own business. I could quit that at any time and start a more stable job, but that is a stress that I actively choose to continue each day. A stress I’ve decided that I’d like to discard is worrying so much about the future. I’m not able to always to avoid this thought process, but it’s something that I’d actively like to stop. One stress over which I do not have a choice is my current health situation. When I leave home, I’m always worried if I’ll need to urgently use the bathroom, and that’s something I have no choice about. You don’t need to act on these yet, but it’s valuable to identify that you are choosing to continue with some stressors in your life, some you will part ways with, and others are with you by default.
Day 3: Empty your trash. Look at the list of stressors you would like to discard and consider some strategies to do so. Now, every time I start to worry about the future now, I instead think about how short life is and how important it is to enjoy it in the moment. What will I look back on in 10 or 20 years and wish I was doing and focusing on today? What will no longer matter that right now feels so important? This step is not easy, but it’s good to come up with a basic strategy to “empty your stress trash can.
Day 4: Accept what you cannot change. We all have certain life situations that are out of our control and cause us stress. It’s freeing to understand that sometimes that’s ok. Do the best you can with them and embrace the fact that all you can do is that. There’s no use in stressing about the fact you’re stressing!
Day 5: Be grateful for the stressors you’ve chosen. We all, in various ways, choose to endure certain stresses. Look at your list of the one’s you’ve chosen and consider all the wonderful benefits you get in exchange for the stress the may cause. For example, playing on a high-level team can be stressful. But how worth it is it to challenge yourself and face those challenges with your teammates?!
Day 6: Start on your new path. As you move forward, awareness is key. When you feel stressed, think about if it’s a stress you’re choosing. What is the benefit you get? Think about if it’s something you can discard. Is it possible to not feel that way? And consider the things you cannot change. Why stress about being stressed if you can’t help it?
Day 7: Vow to do your best. My therapist actually shared something very interesting with me when I asked if she felt she’d reached a good, happy life with minimal stress. She said, “I think I do a very good job, except for when I can’t.” We all have those “when I can’t” moments. All you can do is your best.


WEEK 2- Conquering Fear and Doubt

The single factor that holds us back more than lack of talent, more than any mistakes, or missed opportunities, or obstacles set in our path is our own fear and doubt. We fear failure or embarrassment and we doubt our ability to accomplish our dreams. After all, it’s easy to play it safe and continually meet and surpass low-set expectations.

This week, I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone. Face your deepest fears head on and conquer your self-doubt.

My biggest fear throughout my career has been that even if I maximize my potential, that won’t be good enough to make me the best. Probably the single thing I am most proud of about myself as a player is that I’ve not let that fear hold me back from finding out. Some of my goals -- like becoming a pro player -- I’ve reached and even surpassed what I could have imagined for myself. Other goals -- like playing in a World Cup and Olympics -- I fell short of. And what did I realize through it all? That I’d much rather fall short than not have tried.

To try your absolute hardest is scary. And anyone extraordinary who says they’ve never doubted their own ability is lying. So let’s take this week to examine your own personal fears and doubts and creating a path to start to face them, head on.

  • Day 1: What are you most afraid of? Instead of making a list, this time I’d like to you to boil it down to just one thing. What is the one core thing that you fear more than anything else when it comes to soccer? The more honest you can be with yourself, the better.
  • Day 2: Digging up the seeds of doubt. All doubt stems from a small fear or idea that entered your consciousness at some point, took root, and grew. Try to consider when you doubt yourself and why. I ask myself: Do you not feel that you deserve to be special? Did someone tell you you couldn’t or shouldn’t do something and you believed them? Consider any areas of doubt and where they may stem from.
  • Day 3: Building yourself up. Yesterday wasn’t called “digging up the seeds of doubt” for no reason. If you’ve literally dug down deep to remove some doubt from your life, you may actually feel a hole or void where those thoughts were. If you aren’t doubting yourself what are you thinking about yourself? Build up your positive thoughts and personal affirmations. For example, for a while I doubted that I would have the athleticism to achieve my dreams. Once I removed that seed of doubt, I built myself up with beliefs about the fact that I was skillful enough and read the game well enough to be a “fast” player, even if I couldn’t run as fast as someone else.

  • Day 4: Time to conquer your fear. There’s really only one way to get over a fear - to understand it and then take actions to move forward in spite of it. Whatever it is you’re most afraid of, start to challenge it in small ways on a daily basis. And start today. Your fear is only as big and powerful as you make it. Stop feeding your fear and instead face it head on through taking actions that allow you to break it down. For example, if you’re scared of making mistakes, go out of your way to take risks on the field, knowing that you’ll make mistakes. This is one of the toughest things to do in life, but it’s the only way to desensitize yourself and take back the power that your fears have over you. Take one action today and consider continuing on a regular basis.
  • Day 5: Leaving your comfort zone. Today, and every day moving forward, think about doing one thing that makes you nervous. Go introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Ask to guest play for a team you haven’t played with before. Speak up if you have a question or want to make a point in a situation when you would usually stay quiet. It’s vital to push yourself to leave your comfort zone and do things that are important for your development that may be scary and easy to avoid doing. This will empower you more than you know!

  • Day 6: Getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Today I want you to consider the habits you can form when it comes to leaving your comfort zone. What are some things that are currently uncomfortable for you to do -- maybe you identified them yesterday -- that you’d like to become comfortable with? Once you know these areas, you can slowly continue to chip away at making them your new norm.

  • Day 7: Preparing for future fear and doubt. Even if/when you successfully conquer your current fear and doubt, which will certainly not be an easy process, new ones will crop up throughout your life. And if we’re being totally honest, usually we never fully conquer these things. It’s always a work in progress. So today consider some of the habits that are important to form in order to empower yourself over your own fear and doubt moving forward. If you can conquer your own mind, you can conquer the world!
  • _____________

    WEEK 3- Improving Your Confidence

    Confidence is one of the toughest mental attributes to develop. I find that no matter how confident I think I am, and how much I believe in myself, I’m still personally affected (way more than I’d like to be) by others’ opinions and things that actually have nothing to do with me.

    How many of you have been in this situation?

    You’re feeling great, laughing with your teammates, ready for a good training session. All of a sudden, your coach sets up a drill and you get the sense you aren’t with the starting or “good” group. Your day, maybe even life, feels immediately ruined and your mood completely changed. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times that’s happened to me.

    I’ve found that, like a lot of skills or qualities, confidence is something that you always need to be working on. It’s almost like a muscle that gets weak without exercise. This week we’re going to exercise our confidence muscles. Follow this plan to become more confident in just 7 days:

    Day 1: Realization time - it’s not always about YOU! As much as things may seem personal, let’s face it: everyone’s words and actually reflect their own life view. Just like the rest of us, even parents and coaches say and do things based on their own insecurities. I’ve realized that my own confidence is shaken much more often by someone else’s actions or words, rather than anything I even did. Start to separate your view of yourself from any outside factors that may be affecting it (and become aware of what those factors are). Let’s just focus on YOU for the week.

    Day 2: What makes you special off the field? List time again. Write down everything you can think of that you feel is valuable about who you are. Think character traits, rather than your awesome hair. What makes you proud to be you? It can be anything, big or small.

    Day 3: What makes you special on the field? Make a list of every quality that you bring to the team as a player. Don’t be bashful! This list is just for you. Unless you want to share with us all, in which case, for sure tag me :)

    Day 4: Consider things that have affected your confidence negatively. Think about a few situations in which your confidence was low and why it got that way. One example for me is the one I put in this intro. I’ve been feeling on top of the world and then through a training drill somehow got it in my head that I wasn’t in the starting lineup for the weekend, and started a very steep downhill spiral. It causes me to over-try, play poorly, and then my confidence gets even lower. It’s important to be able to identify these situations in your own life. When are times that your confidence has been very low and why?

    Day 5: Do you want to live that way? This is a very important exercise today. You need to decide if your self-worth should be determined by some of the factors you’ve identified that can determine it. In my case, a coach’s decision (or even a coach’s drill setup that sometimes didn’t even reflect their eventual lineup decision). I certainly don’t want a sometimes arbitrary throw of a pinney to be able to ruin my entire day. Make a conscious decision that YOU, and only you, will decide your self worth, as hard as that may be to do.

    Day 6: Take control. Confidence is about YOU. Take responsibility for dictating how you feel about yourself, rather than giving that control over to others. I’ve certainly allowed many things other than myself to dictate my self-image. Now I realize that it’s a conscious decision. If someone or something makes me feel less confident, that’s because I’ve empowered it to do that to me. My focus is on taking back that power. I know who I am and what my value is and it’s my decision who else I let give me input on those things. Consider some ways to actively build your confidence. My personal list includes: working hard and working extra on my own to feel prepared; asking for help from experts when it comes to my weaknesses; being able to have a sense of humor about my weaknesses; and thinking often about my strengths and the value I bring, rather than my shortcomings.

    Day 7: Vow to accept that confidence is and will always be a work in progress. I am certainly no master at this! Especially when it comes to soccer, I take everything very personally - even things that have literally nothing to do with me! A simple social media post about another player’s success can make me feel inferior and hurt my confidence. But I’m working to realize that it doesn’t have to be that way and I take daily steps to combat it. Continue to fight for your confidence and fortify it so that it becomes harder and harder for outside factors to get to the core of your self-belief.


    WEEK 4- Owning Your Development

    You may (or may not) have heard this buzzword flying around the soccer training world, but what does it actually mean? Like everything in life, there are always many things that are out of our control. One thing we can control is our work to constantly improve. Or as my college coach Anson Dorrance always says, “Live on a never-ending path of ascension.”

    Owning your development means taking control over your personal constant improvement, in life and soccer. Successes and failures are so much more meaningful when you are the one responsible for them.

    For me, owning my development has taken shape in a few forms:

    1. I control the things I can control - my technique, physical preparation and stamina, and character. For example: I put in a lot of extra time and effort to make sure I’m getting better outside of my team environment.
    2. I don’t let a coach decide how good I will be. I realize that others will have opinions but what matters most is what I believe about myself and my potential. For example: When I was 16, a coach told me I wasn’t athletic enough to play at the highest level. After a lot of tears, I decided that I didn’t believe him and would work to prove that wrong.
    3. I analyze and make my own decisions, rather than simply taking the path others may lay out for me. For example: I was the only girl on an all boys team as a young teenager and decided not to play for my high school soccer team, which was not being done at the time.

    Here are some things you can do this week to work on owning your development. If you already feel that you own your development, then use these daily exercises to review and re-affirm what you’re doing. If not, this can be your blueprint to start to take that ownership.


  • Day 1: What’s out of your control? Fold a piece of paper in half or draw a line down the center. On the right side, make a list of all the things in the game that are out of your control. Hint: on my list would be things like the weather, the referee, others’ opinions of me, injuries and illness, etc. Just look down your list and recognize how long it can get if you continue to think about it.
  • Day 2: What can you own? In other words, what’s in your control? You’ll quickly see how much shorter this list is. On mine is my technique with the ball (being two-footed, for example); how I respond to situations and how I treat others (am I a good teammate?); how I maximize my physical attributes. Write this list on the left side of your paper.
  • Day 3: Shift your energy. From your list on the left (all the things you can control), consider how much time and energy you’re currently spending on those. Is there energy you spend thinking or worrying about some of the things on the list on the right? Could that energy be re-allocated to focusing on what’s within your control? To own your development, most - if not all of - your energy should be spent on things that you have direct influence over.
  • Day 4: Focus on development and how you can get better. For each item on your “controllables” list, make 3 bullet points of ways you can improve. For example, when it comes to physical preparation, I might list: get more sleep, commit to lifting weights 3x a week, hydrate well throughout the day.
  • Day 5: Know yourself. A big part of owning your development is knowing yourself. How will you best achieve self-improvement in the areas you’ve highlighted? For me, the best step is often to make a training plan to stick to, even if it’s just short-term, like during my offseason months. Your plan may have daily action items, it might be monthly goals to focus on, or maybe you just operate better with a loose awareness of attending to the areas you’ve selected. Know yourself in order to push your development forward! Create a plan that feels reasonable and doable to you.
  • Day 6: Put your plan into action. Words and thoughts are good, but now it’s time to start to execute on your plan. Actively begin to work on all the aspects of your game that you can control. It doesn’t have to be all of them at once, but you’ve now created a road map and it’s time to begin the journey. Controlling your development means taking this proactive role, rather than waiting for a coach or parent to tell you to do something. You are now in the driver’s seat. As soon as you start to take some action, no matter how small, you are owning your development.
  • Day 7: Stick with it by making it easy to stick with. One of the biggest parts of setting and sticking to any goal or ambition is discipline. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to take control over your path and own your development. For that reason, don’t force yourself to do things you hate. I repeat: DO NOT FORCE YOURSELF TO DO THINGS YOU HATE. That’s why most diets don’t last. Instead, find things you enjoy or that you can tolerate that will have a cumulative effect that you feel good about. For example, rather than trying to spend an hour a day improving your fitness, maybe commit to 2 hard workouts a week. Rather than an hour a day working on technique at the field, maybe you spend 10 minutes a day in your driveway at home. Consistency is built through the small things you do daily, which are much easier if you don’t dread doing them!

    Blog Contributor: Yael Averbuch has played professional soccer for 10 years, around the U.S. and internationally. She is currently the Executive Director of the NWSL Players Association and owns and operates Techne Futbol.


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