Winning the Mental Game in Soccer

Written by VersusFri Dec 02 2022
Winning the Mental Game in Soccer

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While the obstacles and adversity faced by each athlete are different—developing a winning mindset is a common trait among everyone. Learn how to develop a winning mindset from Ali Krieger.

U.S. women's soccer legend, Ali Krieger, explains how to develop the mindset for long-term success in sports, and life

Whether it’s making the high school team, getting into a D1 college program, or competing on the world stage—reaching the next level of competition is just one piece of the puzzle in a successful sporting career.

The athletes we commonly look up to. Those with careers many of us would like to emulate. All had substantial challenges to overcome after they reached their highest level of performance.

These challenges are different for every athlete. Injuries, inconsistent performance, and personal issues are common examples.

Some athletes never fully recover from these issues. Yet others seem to find a way to dig in deep and overcome what initially seem like impossible barriers to ongoing success.

At Versus, we love unpacking what makes the best sporting minds in the world tick.

We’ve conducted exclusive video interviews with some of the top performing athletes and coaches in baseball, soccer, and softball

And one theme that consistently repeats itself—is that while the obstacles and adversity faced by each athlete are different—developing a winning mindset is a common trait among everyone.

If you want to take in-depth skills and mindset courses with anyone from our roster of elite athletes and world-class coaches, all you need to do is choose a plan, download the Versus app, and start learning.

Any subscription includes access to the library of exclusive video training sessions. Plus, you will also be able to utilize our conversational AI-based technology. Through the Versus app, you can ask questions from our whole team of superstars on any aspect of training, mindset, and skill development.

To give you an idea of what’s available in the app, keep reading for an overview of our video interview with U.S. women’s soccer legend, Ali Krieger, on winning the mental game in soccer.

The Biggest Challenge of Ali’s Career

Ali Krieger has had a long and successful career in professional soccer.

She excelled throughout high school. Had an impressive college career at Penn State University. Then in 2008, not long after moving to Germany to play with FFC Frankfurt, Krieger achieved her dream of making the U.S. Women’s National Team.

This marked the beginning of an incredible run of international appearances—including starting in all seven matches of the championship winning team in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

But then, in 2017, Ali experienced what she calls, “One of the most difficult years of my career.”

“I got cut from the national team,” she explains. “Fired, dropped, whatever you want to say.” 

After nine years of living her dream, Ali had to re-evaluate her entire professional and personal identity. “And I had some difficult realizations,” she states.

Kriger spent time asking herself,

“Is that it? Am I still good enough? What am I going to do next?” 

“I had a lot of attachment to the national team in relation to how good I was,” she recalls. 

Ali had faced her fair share of challenges before this, including several potentially career ending injuries. But nothing has rocked her world like this.

After some soul searching, Ali made two mindset shifts that she credits with her subsequent success. 

“I figured out that being cut had very little to do with me and a lot to do with the decision of the coaching staff, and I gained an understanding that to get back to where I want to be—I have to put myself first and focus on what I can do individually in order to be successful.”

Krieger reported that once she adjusted her mentality,

“I was able to control my thoughts, my attitude, and my work ethic.”

Ali accepted that she couldn’t control the decisions of the coaching staff on the national team. And decided,

“I’m actually going to take that experience and use that energy and drive to put into my next job, which was playing club soccer.”

The Payoff from Ali’s Mindset Shift   

In the video, Ali points out that she didn’t just shift her mindset around soccer. She used the change in circumstances to lean into other areas of her life that had perhaps taken a back seat while her focus was on international competition.

“I started to focus on being a good partner. I was able to get a dog. And started hanging out with friends and family. It was just a really good, healthy change for me.”

And this new direction paid big dividends.

That year, Ali’s NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, finished third in the standings and qualified for the playoffs for the first time. Krieger was the only Pride player to appear in every minute of the regular and postseason games. 

A news report from the time following her selection to the NWSL Best XI, stated, 

“The U.S. Women's National Team defender brought her veteran leadership and outstanding defensive skills to the Orlando Pride back line. Krieger’s addition played a major role in the transformation of the Pride defense, while her versatility contributed to much of Orlando’s success.”   

After maintaining this level of performance over the following two years, Ali got an unexpected call from the national team coach just two months before the 2019 World Cup.  

She was invited to the next camp. The last one before they chose the squad.

“All I needed was a little crack in the door—and I just busted it wide open,” said Ali.

“I made it so difficult for them to ignore me, I ended up making the team only two months before the World Cup started.” 

Krieger earned her 100th cap for the U.S. during the 2019 FIFA World Cup. But that wasn’t the only important milestone that year.

On the 28th of December 2019, Ali Krieger married her long-time partner Ashlyn Harrris. Demonstrating that with the right mindset—it is possible to succeed on and off the field simultaneously.

After that inspiring story, Krieger spends the rest of the video explaining exactly how she made such a monumental mindset shift in the face of adversity. Plus, gives practical tips for how you can emulate her success.

Confidence, Consistency & Mental Toughness

“What you need to do at the highest level, is to have a mental toughness to go into every single day,” states Ali. 

“Tell yourself that you are great at what you do. Maintain a ‘they need you more than you need them’ attitude. Then, you will show up being confident and consistent,” she explains.

Krieger believes that these two qualities—confidence and consistency—are the keys to winning the mental game in soccer. 

“Those are two things that I tried to nail down every single day of my career,” she states. “Everyone knew that Ali Krieger was going to show up. And she was going to be confidently and consistently herself.”

Now. It’s one thing to do that when everything is going well. But only a mentally tough athlete can stay confident and consistent through adversity  

In the video, Ali warns that, “Not everyone is always going to like you. So having that understanding that you are good at what you do, no matter what other people think, is extremely important.”

“You don’t have to be best friends with everyone in the professional environment,” she explains. “But you have to respect each other. And understand that even if you don’t agree with something, you can still work on things and have a growth mindset.” 

That’s how Ali overcame potentially career ending injuries. It’s how she regained her spot on the national team just in time to make (and win) the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. And it’s also how she continues to expand as a professional soccer player and a Mom—after she and Ashlyn Harris welcomed their second baby in as many years in August 2022. 

Ask Yourself the Magic Question

As athletes, it’s only natural to want to know the minute details of every training strategy that can enhance performance. 

We all know that victory often goes to the player or team that is willing to put in the extra effort in training and preparation. This is why at Versus, we focus so much on sharing expert advice on technical skill development. 

But when it comes to the mental game of soccer (or any other sport), sometimes a simpler approach is needed.

The biggest challenge with mindset advice—is that right when you need it most—is the exact time you will be least capable of applying a complex theory or process.

When you’ve just made a big error. Are down in an important game. Or didn’t make the starting lineup. It’s very unlikely that you will be able to recall or focus on all the principles of a growth mindset and mental toughness.

And even if you can, those theories aren’t going to help you with a plan for what to do right there and then.

In moments like these, you need a simple way to get your head back in the game. 

In the video, Ali states that she does this by asking herself one simple question: “What can I control?”

“You can’t control other people’s actions,” she explains.

But no matter the circumstances, you are always in control of your:

  • Preparation and training
  • Thoughts and emotions
  • Work ethic
  • Words, and behaviors

“You have to hold yourself accountable,” urges Krieger. “It’s all about what you’re able to control—which is you.”

Asking yourself the magic question,

“What can I control?” at least once a day, is one of the simplest and most effective ways to level-up your mental game. 

It doesn’t mean the bigger picture mindset work isn’t important. It absolutely is. But to put it all into practice when it counts, it’s essential to have an effective strategy to quickly focus your attention in real time.  

The Truth About Mental Toughness

A common misconception is that mental toughness in sports is only about the big heroic feats where an athlete does something extraordinary. 

There’s no denying that such actions include a component of mental toughness. 

It takes grit and determination to push the boundaries of physical performance. To keep going when others would give up. Or to refine your technical skills to a level above the competition.

But the mentality that makes this all possible has its origins in the small, seemingly insignificant daily actions of an athlete. 

Ali sums this up masterfully at the end of the video, when she states,

“In order for you to be consistent. To be confident and have that mental strength to show up every day to do your job, and do it well. You have to believe in yourself and trust in your ability.”

It’s that consistent self belief, self responsibility, and self reliance—even in the face of adversity and challenge—that is the true mark of a mentally tough athlete.

To watch Ali Krieger’s exclusive video on winning the mental game in soccer—simply select a plan, download the Versus app, and start learning.

If you want to learn more about mindset, and drills to improve speed and technical ability, head over to Versus and check out our Game Plans. Any of our packages will get you access to our videos, plus tons of other training sessions, interactive content, and more.

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Kelley O'Hara

Kelley O'Hara


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