Getting through tough times

“You will go through tough times, it’s about getting through them.” David Beckham

Bad plays happen, even to the best athletes.  The trouble is to not let these plays effect your overall game.  You have to play with confidence.  So how do you do it, after a bad start?  Remind yourself of your strengths.  Rely on the parts of your game that you know that you do well.  Focus on the little aspects of you play.  Make your passes crisp and on target.  Work on the little things you do well to help build your confidence and get you back on track.

Do not allow one bad game to ruin your next one.  After the game don’t focus on what went wrong; find the things you did right and remind yourself that you were still successful.  Use the mistakes as a learning tool to become a better player.  At the next practice session, work on the parts that you were not as successful in so that the same mistakes do not happen again.  If you train hard and work on the areas that need improvement, you can be confident going into the next game.

Confidence takes constant nurturing

“Confidence takes constant nurturing, like a bed, it must be remade every day.” – Mia Hamm

Even for great soccer players like Mia Hamm, confidence can be difficult to maintain.  The stresses of sports, school, work, and life get in the way and raise the anxiety level of even the most confident person.  Often, in soccer, confidence can be diminished in the blink of an eye due to a sudden change of events such as a quick goal or a red card, and it can also be lowered even before a game or practice begins.  So how can a player regain or improve their confidence?

Let’s first define confidence.  According to www.brianmac.co.uk/psych.htm, “confidence results from the comparison an athlete makes between a goal and their ability.”  In other words, it’s the belief that a person can succeed in their goals.  Hamm said that confidence needs to be remade everyday and that’s exactly what we promote at YSC.  The sport psychology staff encourages the players to set reachable goals that they can complete either at an individual training session or game.  Goals that are reachable yet still challenging can foster feelings of success.  An example of a reachable goal is completing twenty crisp and on target passes in one training session.  If the player sees him or herself achieving these short-term goals their confidence will grow and they will be more able to reach their long-term goals such as winning ten games in a season or going to the playoffs.

Athletic Parenting Styles

What type of sports parent are you? Below are different types of parents and characteristics describing each one.

1) The Parent as a Source of Pressure

a. Gives instructions during competitions or training
b. Criticizes your children’s performance
c. Presses for more effort
d. Shows disappointed
e. Shouts at your child
f. Presses your child to compete even if they are injured
g. Has arguments with your child
h. Insults and comments negatively about your child’s opponents

2) The Under-Involved Parent

a. You show little interest in your child’s athletic career
b. You rarely attend your child’s athletic competitions
c. Children have a limited bond with the family
d. Children look for another environment where they are accepted
e. The sport environment becomes a refuge away from the indifferent family environment

3) The Parent as a Source of Support

a. Has moderate involvement in your child’s athletic life
b. Gives your child independence and space to move
c. Facilitates but doesn’t interfere
d. Has a positive influence by respecting your child’s efforts and not being over-demanding, pressing or overly critical
e. Helps your child get the most out of athletic experiences
a. Supports and encourages without pressing

Research into parenting styles has revealed that supportive parents are most successful in promoting player development and performance. In addition to what is mentioned above, supportive parents understand and support the values and lessons inherent in sport participation. They also communicate with their child about athletic strategy in a nonthreatening manner. As a result, athletes of supportive parents enjoy their participation in sports, suffer from lower levels of anxiety, feel their parents’ respect and love, and are least likely to drop out of sports prematurely. Furthermore, Lee (2003) identified successful parents by their ability to detach emotionally from their child’s athletic experience. Accordingly, it is essential that parents constantly monitor and assess their own behaviors and attitudes related to their child’s athletic experience.

Lee, M. (Ed.). (2003). Coaching Children in Sports (2nd ed.). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

The difference between a successful person and others…

“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of will.” – Vince Lombardi

Though many people believe talent is something you are born with, there has been a growing amount of evidence suggesting otherwise. Instead, it is believed that you can grow talent similar to how you can grow plants: time and effort. It is rarely the lack of knowledge that stops someone from becoming great, because you can learn and improve your skills if need be and you so desire. The difference in those who make it and those who don’t is often the amount of effort and dedication that is put into it.

Here at YSC we believe there are four things that a player needs to get to the top: ability, desire, luck, and nerve. While it is possible to be successful without having all four, you are more likely to achieve your goals when you exhibit all of these qualities, including desire or will. Without this love of the game, you’re less likely to be dedicated and committed to becoming the best you can be.

Catch phrases that stick

What company runs the “Where’s the Beef” campaign? Who says “Just do it?” What makes these slogans and others similar to them so memorable? The book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath explores how companies are able to get consumers to remember their catchphrases and products. The Heath brothers give 6 tips to make ideas stickier: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.

Simplicity— Finding the core of the message by stripping it down to its most essential idea allows you to guide a players’ decision making and help make the idea stick.
Unexpectedness—Begins to get the person thinking about related events and get the idea to stick. It forces a search for understanding and developing a plan for not allowing this shock to occur in the future.
Concreteness— In order to build an abstract idea, start with a concrete base. Once the basics are learned, adaption to the same principles to other areas can occur.
Credibility— Getting what is said believed. If the person relaying the message can be trusted then the message has a better chance to stick.
Emotions—Making the message worthy of caring about. Make it about the audience and the benefits gained from the idea.
Stories— Makes the situation more concrete and credible because it actually happened. Gives a sense of reality to your core message

The trick now becomes using these tips that make successful ad ideas work and transforming them to function for sport. A great example comes from Danny Califf, a defender for the Philadelphia Union. Danny uses catch-phrases, such as “Understand your strengths,” that fit several of the tips from Made to Stick to keep focused on the field and increase performance. Danny’s catch-phrases are simple, concrete ideas that help prepare him for the unexpected. Saying “Be a pessimist” allows him to think of the worst case scenario to stay ahead of the competition. The catch-phrases are: simple (basic, core messages), concrete (easy to understand), credible (if you don’t believe yourself, we have a different problem), and emotional (knows how it benefits him). These catch-phrases may also remind Danny of stories that he can draw from to succeed.

Using a catch-phrase is the same as finding the core of your message. If the message is simple and can satisfy other categories then it is more likely to stick. The catch-phrase can be the perfect vessel for coaches, parents, or players to keep an idea around. It is important to start with the simple message. Finding the core first will make the idea concrete and allow for an easier path to getting it to stick.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. New York: Random House.

Failure happens all the time

“Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.” – Mia Hamm.

The perfect soccer player does not exist; even the best players make mistakes sometimes. Mistakes provide us with an opportunity to improve and become a better player, but when we make them it is often hard for us to see that at the time. Common thoughts experienced after making a mistake are shame, disappointment, sadness, and anger. While we are experiencing these thoughts, we rarely think about how they may affect the way we play. It is hard to believe that having these thoughts would make us play better, right?

Though we can’t change our thoughts when mistakes happen, we can change how we react to them. One method of doing so involves the use of refocusing cues: short phrases that help us refocus our attention on the task at hand. Having a refocusing cue helps to deal with the situation with a positive outlook in order to get our mind back to playing soccer. An example of a refocusing cue that could be used after making a mistake would be: “here and now.” This helps us not focus on the past and allows us to keep our head in the present along with our body.

Another way of coping with a mistake is through a breathing technique known as centering. This is a very simple technique that involves taking a deep breath through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth, similar to many yoga breathing styles. This allows your body to release the tension that commonly builds up when stressed, then relax and focus on what your next play or action will be.

These are just a few examples of how you can change your reactions to positively influence your performance. The main thing to remember is that mistakes don’t define you as a player, your reaction to them and your ability to bounce back and persevere does.

Welcome to the YSC Sports Mental Edge Blog!

We are members of the YSC Sport Psychology Department that have studied, are currently studying, or plan to study Sport Psychology in the future. If you would like to learn more about each member of our team, please click the individual biography links on the right under YSC Sports Mental Edge Team.

We are going to be posting blog entries related to sport psychology topics as well as current events in sport. Feel free to comment on any posts as we welcome feedback and questions.

Stay tuned for ideas of how to improve your performance in your respective sport!