6 Ways to Keep Kids Calm Before a Big Game

Cup final season in the junior football calendar is upon us. A big came can be a nerve wracking thing for an adult player, so imagine that pressure for the first time amongst the youngest players in the game! We talk tips for keeping kids calm before cup finals and other big games.

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Cup finals, league deciders or games against local teams where your players have friends can all be big games in the junior football calendar.

In the East Manchester Junior Football League (where the team I coach and for which my son plays compete), the end of every season brings a “Cup Final” for the youngest players. Ultimately, it’s a one round cup competition but the teams play in a stadium, walk out to the Champions League theme music and there’s a winner and a runner up.

For my son and the U8s team I coach, it was a really positive experience at the weekend… and look at that happy face!

junior football cup winner

But for every cup final winner, there’s a runner up. And the runners up in the EMJFL events all get runners up trophies too. But it’s clear all the children want to be coming away with the winning trophies.

So how do you keep them calm before a big game?

I think the coaches and parents can often be more nervous than the children when it comes to a big game. The things that make big occasions different to their week in week out games include:

  • Playing at a different venue
  • Knowing there’s something at stake (like a trophy)
  • Feeling the nerves of the people around them
  • Having extra friends and family members turn up to watch

You can’t kid them into believing the game is truly no more important than any other, I don’t think. Because the time they’re in their second or third season of football, I think a desire to win is there with more children.

So instead, you just have to stop them from getting so emotional and overwhelmed that it becomes unenjoyable. Here are a few tips to try!

1. Make sure they know what to expect

In my experience with my own son, he can become more overwhelmed when the unexpected occurs.

Consider telling your team well in advance of any big game what’s likely to happen in terms of practical arrangements, what the venue is like and so forth.

2. Take the pressure off

They want to win. And you want them to win. But they’re probably putting enough pressure on themselves already without the added pressure of a team talk that goes something along the lines of “let’s make sure we win!”

 

With the youngest players (under 7s, 8s and 9s in particular I think), making sure they know that nobody is going to be upset with them or mad at them if they don’t win is important. There’s a balance here to be had I think with also ensuring you instil confidence and send them in believing they can win it.

3. Tell them what’s the same as in any other game

The venue may be different. There may be more people there watching. And there might be a cup at stake. 

But focus on what’s consistent.

Remind them:

  • It’s the same game you’ve been playing all season long
  • We’re going to focus on the same key things we’ve been working on in training all season
  • The game is the same length as usual
  • The pitch is the same size as normal
  • We’ve playing against 5 (or however many as it is at your age group) as we usually do
  • It’s just another game of football

All of these things, I found, helped.

4. Engage Parents

Consider sending a message around to your parents asking them to get involved with helping keep the calm.

It’s all good and well you telling them not to worry about the result (for the youngest players certainly) but if they’re feeling pressure at home it might not make much difference.

It’s always worth engaging parents and having a consistent message coming from coaches and parents.

5. Get everyone there early

Get everyone to the game well in advance of kick off so there’s time to warm up and talk, for sure. But also time to just absorb the venue and start to feel comfortable there.

Most of all, have fun!

Honestly, the most important thing to me and my son is that football’s fun. If he stops enjoying it, he’ll stop playing. 

So enjoy the big occasion!

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