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Opinion

The Tracker: It's a mental thing in Round 6

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Roar Rookie
28th June, 2020
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Can you train for the mental aspect of football?

Physical conditioning is a prerequisite for top performance, especially in the sometimes inhospitably hot temperatures of Australia.

Teams practise their passing moves in the pre-match build-up. It could be argued that this is a form of both physical and mental preparation, imprinting the pattern of the desired sequence into the brain. However, what other mental preparation has occurred in the week prior to the match?

Maybe individual coaching can be considered as help for players with the mental side of the game. This probably varies from coach to coach.

For example, in his book, Fully Committed. The Ben Sigmund Story, Sigmund said that Ricki Herbert rarely coached him individually and that he learnt more in five weeks under Ernie Merrick than in five years with Ricki Herbert.

Tracking players in the right place at the right time is a mental skill that can be improved with practice, just as physical training improves physical performance. One way to improve is to learn from past mistakes.

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Unfortunately, the words “we’ll learn from that and move on” have become a cliché in many sports. Looking at past mistakes regarding ball watching in football could pay rich dividends.

I recommend not glossing over them lightly for only a short time in the days following a match. These mistakes need to viewed over and over. The patterns missed on those errors need to be understood to be recognised for quick future reference in times of danger in front of goal.

As described in Round 2, the fast tracking work of Storm Roux and Andrew Nabbout on a defensive corner for Melbourne Victory was admirable. The lack of tracking by Leigh Broxham at that moment was also noted, although no goal resulted. However, in Round 6, failure to track by Broxham produced a different outcome.

The whammo of the double cross struck again. Initially on the first cross (a left-wing corner), Broxham was marking Sydney’s Adam Le Fondre very closely indeed.

Adam le Fondre celebrates a goal

(Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

As the ball travelled over both Broxham and Le Fondre’s head, Broxham gave Le Fondre a nudge away from him so that there was a greater distance between them.

It is an error to push your man away from you at the very moment that you are supposed to be marking him tightly. This may happen subconsciously – hence my call for greater mental preparation.

But Broxham is not alone. Defenders at the highest level have made this mistake much to their chagrin. Pushing an attacker away might work well when you are running neck and neck in a challenge for the ball.

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Unfortunately, a shove may not produce the desired result when you are on a marking assignment in front of goal.

Forcing a player away from you at that point may feel like you are exerting power and control, but in this situation you are handing the initiative to the attacker. The outcome in this match was that the now unmarked Le Fondre was able to head into goal when the second cross arrived.

Reflecting on past mistakes is excellent mental training for future matches.

Goals conceded Defending team Goal scorer
Ball watching (9)
Tommy Oar Central Coast Mariners Ben Halloran
Ruon Tongyik Central Coast Mariners Nikola Mileusnic
Tom Aldred Brisbane Roar Jamie Maclaren
Daniel Bowles Brisbane Roar Jamie Maclaren
Scott Neville Brisbane Roar Jamie Maclaren
Curtis Good Melbourne City Roy O’Donovan
Ryan McGowan Sydney FC Ola Toivonen
Leigh Broxham Melbourne Victory Adam Le Fondre
Leigh Broxham Melbourne Victory Kosta Barbarouses
Focused Defence (3)
Central Coast Mariners
Western United
Melbourne City
Penalty (3)
Adelaide United
Melbourne City (2)
Total (15)