Barcelona & Real Madrid – Road to the Champions League

What happens when two of the best teams face each other with the goal of winning La Liga? Clearly one team would leave the game less than thrilled about the outcome, however, with the level of competition as high as it was both teams were likely to work as hard as possible to win the game. This is to be expected, but can prove to be detrimental when both teams, regardless of winning or losing, were to play again in a few days in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Luckily for Real Madrid, they came out as a strong contender to win La Liga by beating Barcelona 2 to 1 on Saturday. However, this left them exhausted when it came time to play Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday. One may think that being close to winning La Liga could act as ignition and motivation to continue on and do well against Bayern Munich. One small factor may affect this though: exhaustion. After playing a tough game against Barcelona, followed by 120 minutes against Bayern Munich, the exhaustion was clearly beginning to set in. This could be seen at the very end of the game during the penalty kicks. Ronaldo, who had gone 25 for 25 in penalty kicks prior to this game, missed his penalty kick. We know Ronaldo can make penalty kicks, as the record clearly indicates. He even did so earlier in the match. However, there is only so much physical exertion that players can handle. Throughout the game you could see the players exhaustion set in, and eventually it got the best of them.

For Barcelona, the difficulties began after losing to Real Madrid. However, they went into the Chelsea game on Tuesday highly favored as the one to beat. Based off prior games and the way the season had gone for both teams, this should have been the case. Throughout the game Barcelona played their typical style: constant passing, making runs towards goal, and consistently putting Chelsea under pressure. The one thing they were lacking was the ability to score goals. For Chelsea to be playing a man down, they did a great job holding off the Barcelona offense. Messi had a moment very similar to Ronaldo, one nearly unheard of: missing a penalty kick. Two of what are considered to be the best players in the world missing penalty kicks? Clearly it’s not skill that’s lacking.

So what can players do to continue and persevere even when exhausted? The Boston Globe titled an article “Messi makes a mess of things for Barcelona.” Sure, it’s true that Messi missed a penalty kick, but the other question to ask is what about the other ten players on the field? When players begin to get exhausted they should be able to lean on their teammates for support and encouragement. The players who have played less time in the games should be able to back up and support those who have been playing longer, and therefore are likely to be more tired. When a team loses or wins, it’s not one player who made this happen, it’s the entire team. It’s important to remember that you’re less likely to accomplish your goal, or win a game, if the entire team isn’t working together towards the same purpose. This also means accepting the fate, even if a loss, together.

Being comfortable with the uncomfortable: Recognizing and improving mistakes

“A lot of people, once they feel uncomfortable, will simply stop whatever they’re doing. But I believe in order to succeed at anything, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”Jon Jones

Jon Jones, current UFC light heavyweight champion, knows a little something about being uncomfortable. He showed this again this past Saturday in a fight for the belt against “Suga” Rashad Evans. Jones and Evans went a grueling five rounds before Jones was unanimously announced the winner and still light heavyweight champion in Evans’ second career loss. Being uncomfortable doesn’t mean just being able to take punches, kicks, and elbows all over your body in the case of mixed martial arts; it also means stepping out of your comfort zone and trying things that you are less familiar with. Jones was the youngest champion in history when he won his UFC title, and certainly had to face numerous uncomfortable situations on his rise to the top.

Many athletes, regardless of their sport, focus on training what they are already good at. Nobody likes to be bad or even less than great at something, right? Well let’s ask this: How can you get better at something if you don’t work at it? By remaining in their comfort zone, athletes are neglecting their opportunity to improve. For example, if a UFC fighter was primarily good at fighting on the ground and focused on this the majority of the time at training, what happens when he or she is forced to fight standing up? Part of being comfortable with the uncomfortable can be recognizing what you are good at and what you need to improve at, and focusing on the improvements. This isn’t to say that a fighter will be great at fighting on the ground and standing up (though this is certainly possible with enough practice), but rather he or she can continue to work hard and decrease the chances of an opponent taking advantage of this weakness.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, believes that deep practice is one of the three elements required to produce skill, along with ignition and master coaching. The idea behind deep practice is making and recognizing mistakes. By making mistakes you struggle, but are able to ultimately build your knowledge because you have to learn how to correct the mistakes. This involves working on technique, seeking and being open to constant constructive feedback, and continuously working on improving weaknesses.

Most people, including athletes, don’t like being uncomfortable. One way to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable is to understand that you are working on improving a weakness and becoming better as a player. By understanding the purpose behind being uncomfortable this will allow you to be more comfortable overall. It’s not enough to simply settle for what you currently have as a player. If you are constantly ignoring mistakes or pretending they didn’t happen then you will not learn to recognize or correct them. You have to continuously work on improving and getting better, and this will continuously put you in the uncomfortable zone because you will feel less skilled in the beginning. However, if you face it head on and use it as an opportunity to grow and improve it will be more comfortable and fun to do.

Coyle, D. (2009). The Talent Code. New York, NY: Bantam Dell.

Goal Setting: Outcome, Performance, and Process Goals

“The danger is not to set your goal too high and fail to reach it. It’s to set your goal too low and reach it.”UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre

Goals are a very important part of any sport. Attributes like motivation, focus, and confidence are essential when trying to reach any type of goal you set. It’s important that you don’t set goals that are too easy to obtain. At the same time, you shouldn’t set goals that are out of your control without first setting short-term goals that are reachable.

There are three types of goals: Outcome goals, performance goals, and process goals. Separating goals helps organize your thought process and allows you to focus on what you want to accomplish. An outcome goal is a goal that isn’t under your control. It’s the big picture. For example: Being the most dominant defensive player on the field. Performance goals are what you are trying to achieve. They are the building blocks that help you reach your outcome goal. To be the most dominant defensive player you can, for example, try to win 100% of your 50-50 balls or be on your opponent within two seconds of them having the ball. With the help of process goals, the performance goals can be reached. Process goals are completely under your control. They are the small steps you take to get to the performance and outcome goals during each training session or game. For example, in order to win 100% of your 50-50 balls, you can work out 3 or 4 days a week and improve your strength. In order to pick up your man more quickly, you can use focus, concentration, and communication to read the ball and your opponents.

Starting at the process goals and working your way up can help provide guidance and give you a clearer picture to what your overall goal might be. Georges St-Pierre says it’s okay to set high, out of reach goals. This is correct, as long as you set performance and process goals to achieve your outcome goal.

Qualities of a team player

“Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.”Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson, one of the most famous NBA players of all time, knows what it takes to be part of a successful team. During his time with the Los Angeles Lakers he achieved three MVP awards and appeared in nine NBA Finals and twelve All-Star games. He led the league in regular-season assists four times and is the all-time leader in average assists per game at 11.2. This shows that he not only cared about the success of his own career but knew how to share the ball and be a true team player.

Having strong relationships with teammates is essential for a team’s success. In order to build these relationships teammates need to take the time to get to know each other on and off the field. These bonds are formed through communication, encouragement, and the common goal to win. A team player is someone who not only focuses on enhancing his or her performance but is also concerned about his or her teammates. If a team player sees other players struggling with a certain play or skill he or she is willing to take that extra step and help them. The player realizes that if he or she takes the time out to help another player he or she will not only be helping the individual player but also the team as a whole. A player who is aware of the importance of these relationships grows to become a true leader and a person who other players feel comfortable coming to when they are struggling.

A leader is someone who has responsibility, commitment and accountability for his or her team. Leaders are able to look outside the box and are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. They have effective communication skills and are able to give constructive feedback to teammates as well as take constructive feedback from coaches. After building this relationship between players the team will grow stronger as a whole and be able to work together on and off the field.

Anthony Davis: Self-awareness in the NCAA championship game

At the conclusion of the men’s NCAA national championship basketball game, freshman superstar Anthony Davis was named the Most Outstanding Player after scoring only six points on 1-of-10 shooting. Although Davis struggled from the field, he had one of the most dominating defensive nights in the history of college basketball, breaking a championship game record with six blocked shots. After the game, Davis made the following statement, “They led us this whole tournament. This whole game, I was struggling offensively, and I told my team, every time down, you all score the ball; I’m just gonna defend and rebound.”

Davis’ performance and statements after the game illustrate why some coaches and sports writers are comparing him to some of the greatest players of all time. Davis could have kept taking shots during the game, possibly jeopardizing his team’s chances of winning a national championship. Instead, Davis had the self-awareness and courage to acknowledge a poor offensive performance and, as a result, limit the number of shots he took. Additionally, Davis made a conscious decision to alter his approach midway through the game to emphasize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Davis focused his cognitive resources on the defensive end of the floor, putting himself in a position to be successful and putting the team in a position to win.

Being successful in sport means understanding personal strengths and weaknesses and knowing how to utilize your talent. Davis knew exactly what role he needed to play during the championship game, recognized how to use his abilities to benefit the team, and demonstrated maturity and leadership by communicating to his teammates. In order to maximize potential, athletes of all ages, competing at any level, need to spend time identifying areas of strength and areas of needed growth and recognize how to accentuate athletic attributes while concealing/improving upon personal limitations. However, this is not as easy as it may sound and parents, teammates, and coaches can be great resources to assist you in this process of self-exploration!

US Men’s National Team Path to the Olympics

“It was hard, but I talked to coach [Caleb] Porter and he gave me good advice. It was a learning experience.”Jack McInerney after learning of the US’s tie to El Salvador

This summer, 16 of the world’s best soccer teams will descend on Great Britain to fight for Olympic gold. For just the second time since 1976, the United States will not be one of them. The US Men’s National Team failed to make the semifinals of the CONCACAF tournament following a tie with El Salvador which will leave them at home come August. This was a devastating blow to US soccer and the players alike, but not the end of the road. All of the players have careers outside of US soccer and goals, both personally and professionally, that they wish to accomplish. For some, it may have been the one chance they had to compete in the Olympics or others merely a wait of 4 more years. In either case, the players need to move on from the situation and focus on the present and not the past.

You may have experienced this, while not on as grand a scale, and felt dejected after a loss. Sitting and focusing on the loss will not help you get better as a soccer player. As hard as it may be, you need to use it as a learning experience. Find what worked and what didn’t so the next time you are in the big game you know what to do. Learn more about how you respond to adversity. Did you get down after giving up a goal or see it as a challenge that needed to be met? Losing hurts and it doesn’t feel good, but make the most of the situation. Think about those US players going back to their clubs around the world. If they let that one loss affect their performance then they could drag their club team down as well. You may play for a club and your school: it’s a similar situation. You have to control your emotions and not let a loss with one team affect another. Losing is going to hurt for awhile, especially when it is for something so important, but you have to move on. Put it in the past and focus on the present so you are able to play at your best.

What does it mean to win?

On Saturday, March 31st, the Philadelphia Union took on the Vancouver Whitecaps in a game that was awaited by many.  For the first time this season Sebastien Le Toux returned to PPL Park in a different jersey, as a member of the Whitecaps.  The Union went into this game eager to prove themselves, after beginning the season with a 0-3 record.

After the game, Philadelphia Union defender Carlos Valdes said, “If you can’t win, it’s better not to lose.”  BUT, this can mean more than the score reflected at the end of the game.  For the Union this can represent the drive and determination to continue improving.  This mentality and dedication from the players shows you can win in ways other than score.

During the game the Union played as a cohesive team, all aiming for the same goal.  With players returning from the Olympic qualifying matches, the team had its veterans back, including team captain Danny Califf who many players look to for support and guidance.  This game was a great example of what’s to come this season from the Union:  hard work, determination, and great teamwork.  The game showed a lot of potential from both the veterans and rookies alike, which can be hard for a team that has experienced many changes to the roster..  With these changes to the roster this season there are certainly trials and tribulations to be expected, but the Union proved on Saturday that they are up for the challenge.  The more the team plays together and builds confidence, the better off it will be throughout the remainder of the season.