Developing a killer instinct

Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) is currently one of Manchester United’s forwards. Recently, he has been on a goal-scoring streak; he has scored 7 goals in his last 5 games. Two of these goals came from the latest shocking win over Aston Villa. He came in as a substitute in the second half of the game when Manchester United was down 2 to 0. He managed to score two goals, and caused an own goal by opponent Ron Vlaar. Even though he did not have much time to create these three goals, he had the killer instinct required to trump Aston Villa and make one of the biggest comebacks of the season.

The benefits of having a killer instinct apply to other settings besides sports, such as school or work. No matter the setting, having a killer instinct means you’re not afraid to fail; you set challenging goals and confront them head on. You continue working hard to achieve your goals even when faced with obstacles. To develop your killer instinct, envision where you want to go. For example, with soccer, what’s your ultimate goal? Picture yourself achieving success and get hungry to work as hard as it takes to reach that goal. Mentally prepare yourself for training and games by reminding yourself of your goals and committing yourself to putting in the effort it takes to reach them. Like Chicharito, stay focused and work hard every chance you get. Although he came in off the bench and did not get to play the full match, he worked hard with the time he had and illustrated his killer instinct.

Gaining confidence from knowledge and patience

Once upon a time there was a farmer. He lived in a farming community and had farmed, like his neighbors… for all of his life. As time passed by he became bored with farming traditional crops, he still loved farming but felt unchallenged. So he set about the business of researching alternative crops. Making a living and supporting his family was critical, so he wanted to make sure he made a wise choice. Therefore, he began reading, researching and speaking with experts with more knowledge, before making his final decision.

After studying a variety of options, he decided on Bamboo. The climate, soil conditions, and equipment at his disposal could make growing and harvesting bamboo a profitable business. He was convinced he was making the wisest choice and began making the changes needed to become a Bamboo Farmer.

Now remember, our farmer lived in a farming community. For generations his neighbors had all grown traditional crops like corn and wheat. You can only imagine how the idea of growing bamboo was received. Upon telling his fellow farmers his idea, they mocked him, calling him foolish, all the time warning him of his impending peril. They were unwilling to accept change or progress. However, the farmer was unshaken; he had done extensive research and was confident of his knowledge. Despite the ridicule of others, he remained firm in his belief that he could not only grow bamboo, but acquire great wealth, through this endeavor.

Well, if you know anything about bamboo, you know that the first year it’s been planted…nothing happens. You don’t get so much as a twig or a leaf! His neighbors were ruthless. They had all harvested their crops while he had nothing at all to show for his efforts. He was undaunted and confident in his knowledge. But wait, there’s more bad news. The second year nothing happens either, not a sign of a bamboo tree anywhere. Again he was forced to endure a second year of ridicule by his heartless neighbors. Still, he was unshaken in his confidence.

The third year came…and guess what? Bamboo. Everywhere bamboo. His crop grew a foot a day! By the end of the summer he had a virtual bamboo forest. He harvested his crop and sold it for a huge profit. His neighbors were astonished. In fact, several who had once ridiculed him began to show interest in becoming bamboo farmers as well.

The farmer went on for many years enjoying the benefits of his new crop, bamboo. He and his family enjoyed a very happy and successful life, unafraid of growth, progress or change, confident and determined when facing challenges.

What can you, as a player, learn from the bamboo farmer?

One of the main lessons that you can take away from the story is that having extensive knowledge about your work is necessary for success. You cannot expect to play your best if you only know how to kick the ball. Good players understand that knowing how to kick the ball is simply one skill among many that a player must master in order to achieve optimum performance; they understand that they need to study all positions on the field and practice all aspects of their skills to succeed. The more you train and study plays, match films, and each position’s responsibilities, the more likely it is that your confidence in your ability to transfer that knowledge into game situations will grow. Knowledge is power, and when you take the time to focus on learning the fundamentals, such as what the plays are and awareness of where other players are, you improve your ability to make good decisions on the field.

The second lesson is that failing to see immediate progress, or facing obstacles or ridicule from others, doesn’t mean that you should give up. Not every performance is going to be your best, and sometimes progress can seem slow. As a player, it is important to realize that success takes time. Stay confident, patient, and focused on obtaining your goals. Think about the bamboo farmer: he kept his confidence and nurtured his crops every day, even though they did not grow immediately and even though other farmers criticized him and told him to give up. Because he studied all there was to know about bamboo, he knew that he had to put in two seasons of work without seeing any results because his dedication was helping the bamboo grow deep roots that gave it a good foundation to grow tall. Like the bamboo progressively building its roots through constant nurturing, you too are “growing roots” each session. If you give 100% effort each practice and stay positive and patient, you are nurturing your talent and will grow the “deep roots” that are necessary for a prosperous season. Understanding and believing in the connection between constantly nurturing your talent and attaining performance success will help your confidence stay high.

Prioritizing: Balancing your life

“This has been a huge struggle, but to be the person I want to be, I had to do this.”Chris Seitz

For Chris Seitz, former Philadelphia Union and current FC Dallas goalie, some things are more important than soccer. Seitz recently paused his professional career to help a complete stranger on the other side of the country fight for life against leukemia by donating bone marrow. He knew he was taking a big risk with his career, as he has no guaranteed contract for next season and he could, potentially, endure additional injuries because of the grueling procedure. Working with his training staff, coaches, and the doctors doing the procedure, Seitz decided it was something he had to do.

Understanding and defining what your priorities are can help make what seems like a tough decision easy. Seitz made a commitment to be a donor for anyone in need, a cause that he is passionate about, and stuck to it. While your priorities may not be the same as his, you can still decide what is most important to you. The choice is up to you as to what is prioritized. For example, if soccer is your top priority, then most of your decisions and goals should be based on what is going to make you the best player possible. However, soccer is not the only activity in any one’s life; you have to find a balance between school, sports, other activities, and family and friends. So, setting priorities may mean losing time spent in some activities in order to spend more in others. For example, you may have less time to spend with your friends because you’re training frequently. But, the important thing is to make time for the things you enjoy. Prioritizing may just mean that you have to be creative with your scheduling so that you can do each of them and make sure enough time is dedicated to important responsibilities, like school. Once you do that, you can shape your goals to reflect your priorities. And remember to be consistent; walk the walk if you are going to talk the talk. Make sure your actions are supporting your priorities. If you say you want to be the best at something, then you need to constantly and consistently work towards getting to the top.

Seitz was able to find a balance between his passion for soccer and his commitment to helping those in need by being a bone marrow donor. Working with trainers and doctors, he chose to focus his time on donating marrow and his recovery, prioritizing that over soccer training. Although this example is extreme, it demonstrates the importance of finding that balance. Setting priorities and finding a balance among activities will help you accomplish your goals, as well as help you maintain your happiness because you’re making time for all the things you enjoy.

The unsung hero

John Obi Mikel is currently a holding central midfielder for Chelsea FC in London, England. He is a regular starter for the club, but is one of the least recognized players on the field. Current coach Roberto Di Matteo stated, “You do the dirty work which is not recognized all the time because the goal scorers and more creative players get the recognition. But he is very important for our team.” Obviously in the eyes of Di Matteo, Mikel is very valuable, but sometimes his position is not the most renowned position on the field, even if he is getting the job done.

Even though Mikel is not always recognized publicly for his contribution on the field, he has achieved a lot with Chelsea FC. Just recently, Chelsea FC won the UEFA Champions League Title, making them the European Champions. So he may not be as recognized as an individual player, but he has definitely won as a team. Being able to win as a team is clearly the goal for any club. This is because no single player can receive any trophies on his/her own; you need a united team effort to be victorious in soccer. Therefore, being a team player and playing wherever you can on the field for your team is the main formula for success.

So, to become more of a team player, focus on the team goals, spend a lot of time with your team to build a connection as a group, and help in whatever way you can to motivate your team. Finally, fully commit to your team and always work hard to accomplish team goals on and off the field, even if your efforts are not as publicly praised as the work of goal scorers or creative players. Focus on the internal enjoyment and sense of achievement you get from playing and succeeding rather than the external praise that other players may receive. This internal drive is what pushes you to continue to work hard, regardless of the circumstances, and is what will help you be most successful in the long run.

It’s all about attitude

Messi, though one of the greatest players in the world right now, was not always a starter. In a recent interview he was asked about his experience coming up the ladders in youth soccer in Europe. One question asked him whether or not his status as a non-starter ever made him want to give up. His response was to the effect of, “I have always thought about going on with training and working towards fulfilling my dreams.”

This attitude is one that many players can adopt and learn from. Not everyone is a starter. Some are starters for every game, whereas others routinely come in from the bench. The important thing is to make the most of the time you have, whether that’s 20 minutes or 90 minutes. If you adopt a negative attitude because you’re not starting, you’re less likely to work hard in training. If you stop working hard, you’re less likely to become a starter. It’s a perpetual cycle that will not lead to accomplishing your goals.

In situations like this, it’s important to remember to focus on the things you can control. You may not be able to control whether or not you start the game, because ultimately that’s up to your coach. However, you can control your attitude and effort. You can keep a positive attitude at training sessions and games, and keep your effort at 100% so that you’re continuously improving. The more you’re able to do this, the more you’re taking control of your own development. Positive attitude and effort can go a long way in making you a better, more successful player.

Work smart to improve

I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.”—Sophocles

With the recent news of Lance Armstrong being stripped of his 7 Tour de France titles, cheating again finds its way into the spotlight. Cheating, doping, juicing, or whatever you want to call it, is nothing new in sports or life in general. Daily, individuals are offered quick solutions and are pressured to take the easy way out in order to reach ever-increasing expectations. Whether or not you succumb to the pressure and take the quick solution defines you as an athlete and a person.

Cheating, in a broad sense, can mean many things. It can mean taking performance enhancing drugs or, simply, not running that extra lap because your coach isn’t looking. Deciding which route to take should not be a hard decision, however it can trouble athletes and make them question what is right and wrong. Sometimes the “everyone is doing it” mentality is confusing and puts pressure on athletes; you see other people doing it, so you think it must be okay, or you feel like you have to cheat in order to keep up. This is never the case though. Cheaters are not giving their all and performing at their best. Cutting corners may get the job done quicker, but it does not contribute to a better end product. The same is true for your training; doing the minimum to get by or not doing something because no one is looking does not increase your abilities.

Others might see cheating as a way to make up for some deficiency that they may have. Ultimately, the only way to increase skill or performance is to work smart and give extra attention to the areas that need more improvement. Cheating is only going to give a momentary increase that cannot be sustained. Sophocles, a Greek philosopher, knew almost 2500 years ago that the feelings associated with giving your best effort and working hard cannot be replaced by cheating. Go work hard and perform to the best of your abilities. Win or lose you will be more successful than anyone who takes the easy way.