Soccer, Anxiety, and Jedi Training: How to Become Fearless on the Field

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Recently I was training a 13-year-old girl on the field and we were working on “driving” at a defender. The concept was simple: I play the ball to her at one end of a 10x18 yard box and she drives at me and beats me over the line at the other end of the box.

Except that wasn’t what she was doing. Ever. She kept trying to go around me. And of course, I would just close the angle on her and take the ball. And then I would repeat the coaching point and we’d try again. And she’d repeat the mistake like it was a scratched record. Well… use a more applicable analogy: it was the spinning rainbow on your desktop computer. And she knew it. She had gone into a completely unconscious state of survival.

It was obvious that some part of her sensed a massive threat if she were to run directly at me. And that’s what a defense can represent for many players: a threat – an actual threat to something more than the possession of the ball.

But why? Surely the defender isn’t going to pull out a sword or a shotgun or anything like that as I approach. The worst thing that can happen is that the defender sticks me and I lose the ball.

Why does losing the ball feel dangerous? It’s more than our coach getting on us. I coached for 20 years and I will tell you that most coaches LOVE seeing an attacking player go for broke and get aggressive, no matter if they fail once and a while or not. But what caused the player I was working with to leave her body behind and go into a zombie-like state of survival?

This girl’s name is Carter and she’s become very aware of herself as we’ve done good work together. I walked up to her and spoke, “You’re completely unconscious. What are we dealing with here?”

“There’s a younger part of me here. I can feel her. She’s scared,” she replied.

“Yeah… I can feel her too,” I said. “Let’s bring her home.”

Now, before you think we’re doing witchcraft or something, please understand that both Carter and I could actually feel the presence of a part of her that was young and scared and seemingly fractured from her. And that’s actually true. It’s the nature of trauma that we lose parts of ourselves when we encounter scary situations as children. Those parts of us can literally energetically break off and they get stuck “back there by the side of the road”.

And those parts of us stay in that fear until we learn to bring them home. They stay connected to us in certain ways and express their needs for love and safety as we grow older.

This is where fear comes from. It’s not you. It’s a part of you.

This is where insecurity comes from. It’s not you. It’s a part of you.

This is why you judge yourself so much. It’s not you. It’s your ego trying to protect you from feeling the pain you carry.

And this is why Carter couldn’t run at me. A younger part of her that had been earning love with soccer sensed a threat to that love. And Carter’s ego had kicked in and created a system shut down so that she wouldn’t take that risk. And because of that, Carter wasn’t able to train. She just kept performing; doing what she had always done. Not bad, but certainly not great. And like so many players, she would be destined to be mediocre and have an anxiety-filled relationship with the game. Unless….

Carter has become a Jedi. Well, that’s what I call her.

She sat down on the field, closed her eyes and went deep inside of herself in an instant. Soon, she was holding that part of herself. And I watched her as that part of herself was welcomed home, back into her body where it belonged. Pretty soon, she opened her slightly watery eyes and had a big smile on her face. Because it feels great to heal. And then I said, “Let’s see how we did.” She popped back up and pretty soon was driving right at me. It was a bit like watching your dad slip on the ice, but she was finally training.

“Again,” I said.

And a new courage to take risk showed up. And she felt joy in the experience of trying to train her body how to move this way.

Do you train at training or do you perform at training? Raise your hand if you kinda, sorta, do the same thing you’ve always done when you do ALL. THAT. TRAINING.

Next time you see that pattern, ask yourself, “What part of me is scared to take that risk?” You might be surprised what you feel in your body.

And it be might time for you to close your eyes and bring that part of you home.

Stay tuned in with Soccer Girl Probs as we teach you more and more about that process. Blessings on the journey.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Seth Taylor – Director of Content, Ianni Training

Seth is a Writer, Life Coach, and Soccer Coach from Seattle, WA. His work has primarily focused on helping people deal with anxiety, depression, and other experiential struggles as they play out in work, sports, and family life. He is a keynote speaker for Major League Soccer on issues of identity and life/work balance in their athletes and is the author of On Frame: Exploring the Depths of Parenting in the World of Youth Soccer as well as The Coaching Revolution: An Interactive Guide to Finding Joy and Excellence in Coaching. 

Instagram: @iannitraining
Facebook: Ianni Training
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