Zidane supporting Bale’s discomfort

Real Madrid’s lack of success at Santiago Bernabéu resulted in the dismissal of Rafael Benitez. Player Gareth Bale has publically showed his displeasure at the termination of Benitez and the appointment of new manager Zinedine Zidane. In response to Bale, Zidane “acknowledged that Bale was ‘annoyed’ at the decision and added that he would ‘give him all my affection and support’ to reassure him of his importance.” Turnover of coaches is not uncommon in the world of elite sports. It is understandable that players may have emotional responses to changes in coaching, especially as they develop relationships and trust for those with whom they play. However, it is the job of the athlete to manage his or her emotion and remain dedicated to playing the sport well. It is especially crucial for highly accomplished players, such as Bale, to refocus on the things that are in their control. It can be easy to feel and show frustration when playing out of position or for a new coach, but remaining competitive and dedicated to playing your sport well is the ultimate job of an athlete. In terms of coaching, it is also important to recognize that the coach-athlete relationship is a two-way relationship. Just as it is important for the coach to remain dedicated and supportive towards his or her team, it is also important for the athlete to show equal respect and willingness to learn. Acknowledging the positive aspects that a new coach provides can help ease the transition and begin an effective and trusting relationship between coach and player.

You will face changes and challenges as a player; they are inevitable. The two things that you need to do are focus on what you can control and recognize the positives. A player can still control his or her response to a change or challenge, and this response can make or break a future performance. When a stressful situation arises, a player should make an effort to step back and try to objectively evaluate the situation, their role, and how to best move forward. Ultimately, it is the player’s job to perform, and the player can only do so successfully when he or she adapts to change and remains focused on the task at hand. A player can continue to perform at his or her best by channeling energy towards remaining dedicated, giving strong effort in practice and games, and upholding respect for teammates and coaches. For the things that are out of a player’s control, a player should focus on what is positive about the situation. A new coaching staff may provide new opportunities with different drills or styles of coaching and new lessons to be learned. The experiences that a coach like Zidane can provide could give Bale new opportunities if he is open to listening. Focusing on what is good and can be gained in a new situation can keep a team from obsessing over what is uncomfortable.


Soccer Stars Remember to Stay Focused on the Team

This weekend’s soccer matches demonstrated a great display of team-oriented attitudes. On Saturday, Philadelphia Union tied New England Revolution, earning one point on the road. During the game, Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, starting only his third game of the season, played an exceptional game, making ten memorable and decisive saves. In an interview after the game, his first response to how well he played was not about him, but rather about trusting and relying on his strong backline and the work the team did together. He went on to give further credit to his coach and fellow goalkeepers, saying, “I have a great goalkeeper coach I believe in, and I have two goalkeepers… that we push each other every day. For me, we can only get better.”

Further, on Sunday, LA Galaxy beat FC Dallas 3-2. Going into the half up 2-1, Galaxy’s Steven Gerrard pushed the lead to 3-1 early in the second half with a goal. That was Gerrard’s first goal since his MLS debut in July, but he didn’t focus on himself after the game. “I think the goal was good for the team,” he said. “…it’s all about three points and not about individuals, tallies and who gets what, but it’s about the team getting three points. It’s a big result for us.”

Both of these examples demonstrate the importance of valuing the accomplishments of the team over the accomplishments of any one individual. Certainly, athletes and players in team sports should work on developing their own skills, but that development should be focused on how it can be applied to benefit the team as a whole. To do this, understand your position on the team and the role that you play. Commit to deliberately training the skills that will help you execute that role. Also, put effort into building relationships with teammates. In team sports, you win together and you lose together; this process is easier when you trust those around you, and you understand and value how they contribute to the team. Just like you should know your role, try to understand the responsibilities your teammates’ have and the struggles they face when trying to accomplish their job on the field. This will give you a stronger appreciation for the work that each player does day in and day out. Make sure that you talk to teammates and ask them questions. Pay attention to what’s expected of them and the work that they put in on and off the field in order to prepare themselves physically and mentally to compete. Next time you finish a competition – whether or not you played your best – don’t forget to acknowledge the contribution each teammate made the game as well.



High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Cristiano Ronaldo: Adapting His Game to Stay on Top in Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo will go down in soccer history as one of the game’s greatest players. Over his long career, he’s certainly earned himself that recognition, winning more than one Ballon D’Or, the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, the World’s Top Goal Scorer recognition, and Globe Soccer Award for Best Player of the Year – all within the last couple of seasons. Besides his tremendous work rate, attention to detail, and competitive drive, lately he has showcased a skill that seems to be helping him keep his spot at the top of soccer: adaptability.

Although at the age of 30, Ronaldo is still very young, he’s not necessarily considered young for a professional soccer player. As each season progresses, he needs to continue to find ways to play to his strengths and remain a dominating force on the field. He’s done that by adapting his tactics on the field. Data show that Ronaldo’s touches on the ball and his number of shots have decreased over the past few years, and that he is covering fewer yards per game with the ball. However, he is still at the top of the charts in scoring. That’s because he’s adept at adapting his game. He’s continuing to develop his finishing technique and his positioning and rather than running here and there on the field, he’s smarter and more deliberate about getting into dangerous positions that provide him the highest opportunity to score.

Adaptability is an important skill for any athlete. Whether you join a team as a much younger or older player, or you’re asked to play in a position you’re not used to for the good of the team, being able to adapt your game in order to keep your performance up is essential. The best way to do this is to first understand and then accept your role, whatever that may be. Do this by recognizing how you can benefit the team. Next, learn what is specifically expected of you. For Ronaldo, that’s scoring goals. Once you know what you’re expected to do, make a plan for how you can do that most effectively and efficiently (like Ronaldo covering fewer yards, but improving his positioning). Continue to make adjustments like this until you are comfortable that you know what you want to do and how you plan to do it in order to do you job on the field or court. Being adaptable will help you continue to contribute to the team and develop your own individual game.


High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Andy Murray and Consistency in Play

On Monday, famed Scottish tennis player Andy Murray faced Kevin Anderson, a South African player with nine years of professional experience, for a spot in the US Open quarterfinals. After an incredibly long match (over four hours), Murray lost to Anderson, ending his streak of making it through to the quarterfinals in all of the 18 Grand Slam tournaments in which he’s competed. After the match, Murray explained how disappointing it was to lose, particularly breaking his streak of making it to the quarterfinals, stating that, “Obviously that’s many years’ work that’s gone into building that sort of consistency.” He was questioned about whether or not his grueling competitive schedule throughout the year might have contributed to his loss that night, and Murray responded, “It was more playing against Kevin on the court of that speed, and with him serving as well as he does, it’s a tricky match. It comes down to a few points in each set. He managed to get them today.”

Murray’s comments touch on an important factor that influences performance: consistency. This includes consistency in training and in competition. Consistency is part of what separates good athletes from great athletes, and it starts with preparation. As he stated, Murray’s overwhelming success is a product of “many years’ work” and dedication to developing his game. Use this as a lesson. Take advantage of the time you have to train. Before you practice, set one or two goals to try to achieve during the session. This will help you stay focused and driven. After the session, take a minute to reflect on what you did well, what you want to work on, and how you plan to improve it next time. Make an effort to repeat the things that work for you while also continuing to improve your weakness. Consistency in training transfers to competition.

You have to be able to consistently manage emotions and recover from mistakes and setbacks in order to be successful. Murray explained that the match came “down to a few points in each set,” so, there is often little room for error. Training is the time to develop effective habits and reactions to both the highs and lows during competition. In training, deliberately practice your composure by using cues like “here and now” or “next point” to help you refocus on the present moment after a mistake or a good play. Get used to using centered breathing or self-talk, for example, to help you stay clam if you feel overly excited or nervous. Find what works for you and use it over and over in training until it becomes automatic. That will help you be able to rely on those habits to consistently come into play during every point. Of course, Murray’s loss demonstrates that even if you prepare well, you still have to compete with an opponent. He recognizes that it was Anderson’s serve that made the difference. By recognizing the strong points and how well his opponent played, he is better able to manage the loss. He can continue to train consistently and with purpose in order to be as prepared as possible to compete.


High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Serena Williams Takes It “One Match At a Time” As She Competes for a Calendar Year Grand Slam

In tennis history, only five players have earned their place in the upper echelon of tennis greats who have won the calendar year Grand Slam (winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open in one year). As Serena Williams embarks on yet another US Open, she is fighting to earn a place among those greats, as winning this major tournament would earn her a calendar year Grand Slam. Such a history-making tournament outcome could certainly put pressure on Williams. As a seasoned player at the professional level, however, she seems to understand the need to focus on the process of her performances, rather than the overall outcome. In an interview after her first match (in which Williams won after her opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko, forfeited in the second set due to an ankle injury), Williams explained that this tournament is an opportunity for her to reach a major milestone and that she’s, “trying to take one match at a time.” When asked what she needs to do to be successful, she stated that she needs to, “Stay relaxed, stay in the points, and stay calm.”

Staying in the present moment and focusing on the process is an important step in being able to perform at your best. To do this, let go of past plays or points (whether good or bad) and try to avoid thinking about the future. Keep your mind in the present moment by using focusing cues like, “here and now.” You can also add a deep, centering breath and combine breathing and self-talk to help you stay in the moment. Keep in mind that you will find yourself losing focus and getting distracted from time to time. Just recognize that (non-judgmentally), let the distraction pass, and use your refocusing strategy to bring you back to the moment. As Williams stated, it’s important to “stay in the points” and take things “one match at a time.”

Also, recognizing how you like to feel before you play – and using a routine to help you feel that way consistently – will benefit your performance greatly. Williams explained that she wants to feel relaxed and calm. You might find that you like to feel the same way, or maybe that you like to be pumped up and a little nervous. Every athlete is different, so find what works for you. Once you know how you like to feel and what you want to focus on, use a pre-competition routine to help you get to that state consistently. This includes making a plan for what you want to think about and focus on the morning of a competition, on the way there, during warm-ups, and as you compete. For example, if you like to be calm and relaxed, then consider listening to music that calms you, taking deep centered breaths, and doing a body scan before you compete to release any muscle tension you feel. All of these strategies should be used consistently for your routine to be effective. Remember, there are many things that you cannot control in competition, but you can control how you prepare and what you choose to focus on.



High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Union GK Andre Blake Recovers from Injury and Manages Nerves in Debut Game

On Saturday, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper, Andre Blake, made his season debut in Saputo Stadium against Montreal Impact. After suffering a torn meniscus twice throughout this season, he finally had his opportunity to take the field. Besides being his first game of this season, it was only his second start as a professional player. Blake stated, “I once learned that if you don’t have nerves going into a game, the game doesn’t mean anything to you. So, I definitely had some nerves, you just have to learn how to control it.” He seemed to be able to manage those nerves because he played a solid game, and with the help of his team, earned a clean sheet. Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin, praised his young goalkeeper, saying, “We gave up four shots on goal and Andre did a great job being clean with them.” He continued. “It’s a huge confidence builder for him… He’s been very patient and I thought he deserved an opportunity and he stepped up and kept a clean sheet.”

Dealing with injuries is never easy, particularly recovering from two difficult injuries back-to-back within one season. Along with the necessary physical training and reconditioning, it is important to continue working on your mental skills while you recover from injury. Staying focused on the process of your recovery, setting small goals, and leaning on teammates, family, and friends for support can be very helpful. Another strategy to help you feel prepared for your first game back is to start practicing how you’ll manage any nerves you might experience well in advance. While you’re going through your recovery process, try using visualization to envision what your experience will be like when you can play again. To do this effectively, try to engage many of your senses. For example, picture what the field will look like and what kit you’ll be wearing, how the grass will smell, what the crowd will sound like, and how you anticipate your body will feel. Then, train yourself to visualize your effective response to this situation. You could visualize yourself using centering breathing and self-talk to manage your nerves, and you could visualize yourself communicating with teammates and staying focused to start the game off strong. Make an effort to make this mental training a consistent part of your recovery plan.

Then, on the day of your first game back, keep that mental practice in mind. That time you spent training yourself mentally can be a big source of confidence. Further, in order to manage your nerves as you step into the game, try using self-talk that helps you feel confident and focused. Saying things like, “I prepared for this” or “I can do this” could help. Think about what might work for you. As Blake mentioned, there is nothing wrong with feeling nervous before a game, particularly before you first game of the season. Your job is to manage those nerves, and you choose how you want to do it.


High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Lack of Emotional Management Was Costly for Pique

Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao matched up on Monday for the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup (a competition between the winning teams of La Liga and the Copa del Rey). Going into the game, Barcelona had to score four goals to catch up to Athletic in aggregate and earn the championship title. Barcelona began the second half up 1-0, but that momentum was short-lived. Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was sent off hardly ten minutes into the second half on a straight red card, earned for foul and abusive language toward a linesman. Pique was reacting to what could be argued as a missed offside call, which could have led to a goal against his team. Although the play led to a corner kick, and not a goal, Pique demonstrated a noticeable lack of emotional composure that ultimately cost him the remaining minutes of the Super Cup game, as well as the opportunity to play in the first La Liga game this upcoming weekend. Barcelona ended the match in a 1-1 draw, which awarded Athletic the championship title.

Many things are out of your control in soccer, or any other sport. However, your recovery from mistakes, your attitude, and your reaction to adversity are within your control. In this instance, Pique could not control the referee’s decision, but he could control his reaction to what he considered a poor call. Managing your emotions during the height of competition is much easier said than done. But, it is a skill you can develop with deliberate training. One strategy is to manage your focus. Keep your attention on what you can control. In order to do this, use refocusing cues like “let it go” or “get organized for the next play” to help you think about what you need to do next, rather than something you cannot change (like the referee’s decision). This will take some getting used to, because your initial emotional reaction might be strong, but if you consistently practice this strategy in training, it will become easier to use and more effective over time. Another strategy you can add to this to help you manage your emotions is to take a centering breath. This is another way to help you shift your focus away from what you can’t control. After using a refocusing cue, try taking a centering breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose, bringing the air down into your stomach. Slowly release the breath out of your mouth and try to release any tension you feel as you exhale. Keep in mind that this will only be effective at certain points in a game, like at a stoppage in play. Work on these skills consistently to enhance your emotional management and be prepared to handle the highs and lows of competition.


High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement