Game six of the 2013 World Series was played at Fenway Park on Wednesday, October 30. The Boston Red Sox, leading the series 3-2 against the St. Louis Cardinals, played at home for a chance to win the World Series. After a terrible season last year, with 93 losses, the Red Sox battled from worst in the American League East to first in the league, beating the Cardinals 6-1 in game six.
Recovering after a disappointing season to earn the World Series title this year is an impressive feat. The Red Sox worked hard to earn their way to the top this season. The team’s general manager, Ben Cherington, stated, “We knew we let a lot of people down [last season]… We weren’t near what we wanted to be, on the field, off the field. But we were committed to get back to what we wanted to be as quickly as we could.” Despite the disappointing past season, the Red Sox worked to improve their team’s performance. David Ortiz, a designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox, admitted, “We probably don’t have as much talent as we did in ’07 and ’04 (previous World Series wins), but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things.” The team put the 2012 season in the past and focused on the present season, committing themselves to “get back to what [they] wanted to be.”
In any sport, you win and lose competitions. You will have both fantastic and disappointing games and seasons. It can be difficult to recover from tough losses or losing seasons, and dwelling on mistakes and disappointments could lead to further poor performances. In order to recover from poor performances, take time to reflect on what went well and what needs improvement, and then move on; focus on the present, one training session and one game at a time, like the Red Sox did this year. When you prepare for a training session or game, make it part of your routine to be mindful of what is going on around you in that present moment. Stay focused on what your role is that day and what you are expected to do to perform. As Ortiz said, focus on the “little things” that you need to accomplish each day to be successful. When you learn from the past and focus on the present, you can improve your performance as the Boston Red Sox did this season.
Edes, G. (2013, October 31). Boston strong to the finish. Retrieved
Composure is a vital component of a strong mental game in elite athletes. Often in difficult, pressure situations, maintaining a consistent level of composure distinguishes the players who overcome adversity from those who don’t. Late in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFL game against the Washington Redskins, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were trailing, 21-7, for one of the few times this season. Uncharacteristically, Manning struggled early in the game. The Broncos’ star quarterback committed four turnovers, throwing three interceptions and giving up a fumble. Under similar circumstances, some players might become frantic and distressed under the pressure of a late game deficit and back-to-back individual errors. However, Manning relied on his experience and maintained his poise throughout the game, gradually chipping away at the Redskins’ lead. Ultimately, he led his team to a 45-21 win, rattling off 38 unanswered points throughout the third and fourth quarters. Despite increasing urgency, Manning and the Broncos performed their best at the end of the game, executing under pressure and earning themselves a victory.
Maintaining composure during intense, pressure situations can help you perform successfully. Staying composed allows you to handle the highs and lows of competition; it helps you not only rebound after a mistake, but also refocus after a positive play. But how is this accomplished? How, in moments of high intensity and stress, do you stay calm under pressure and maintain confidence in your ability to overcome adversity? Using refocusing cues is a good place to start. Refocusing cues, such as “I can handle this,” and “our team has come back before”, are self-statements that can help you focus on the present moment and on the game itself, rather than on the feelings of uncertainty, stress, or frustration you may be feeling. For example, refocusing cues could help you break down your task and focus on each play, one at a time, rather than focus on the pressure to recover from a deep deficit. Just like any physical skills you use during competition, mental skills, like your ability to refocus and maintain composure, should be practiced during training. When you train, pay attention to when you start to lose composure. When this happens, practice using one or two refocusing cues to bring your focus back to the present moment and take the task step-by-step. The more comfortable and confident you become using your cues in training, the more effective they should be during competition. Like Manning, learn to maintain your composure under pressure to perform your best when it counts the most.
Have you ever been so used to doing certain warm-ups and drills in practice that you find yourself just going through the motions? In order to develop skills and improve, you have to repeat skills, practicing them over and over during training sessions. Still, this repetition should not be a signal for you to disengage with your training. In order to benefit from your training sessions and learn from drills, be mindful of your training and make an effort to engage in the tasks.
Engagement is the choice to commit to and connect with a task. Being engaged in the tasks you have to do as you train can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you are going through a shooting drill, make a conscious choice to engage in the drill and be mindful of your actions. Pay attention to your technique, your awareness of what’s going on around you, and how well you execute. Over time, continuing to be mindful and engaged throughout training can help you identify what you are doing well and what you need to work on. You can then set goals to keep up with what you’re doing well and make plans to train the skills you need to work on.
Being mindful and engaged could also help you enjoy training more because it could help you recognize and understand the purpose of drills. So, instead of going through the motions during a shooting drill, think about why your coach planned the drill. How can you use those skills in competition? Besides your shooting skills, which other skills is the drill helping you develop (e.g., communication skills with teammates, dribbling, composure under pressure)? Being engaged and finding the purpose of drills could help you feel more motivated and focused as you train.
Manchester United midfielder, Ryan Giggs, was once asked “What advice would you give to all those kids out there who want to be like you?” In response, he said, “They need to work hard. If you want to be successful in football it doesn’t matter how much talent you’ve got, you’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to have that hunger to want to succeed.” A month away from his 40th birthday, and currently in his 24th season for Manchester United, Giggs is arguably one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He made his first appearance for Manchester United in 1990. To put that in perspective, United’s newest star, Adnan Januzaj was born five years after Giggs’ first team debut. Yet, nearly two and a half decades later, the legendary midfielder continues his professional career in a new dual role as “player-coach” for one of the greatest clubs in the world. He has amassed 13 Premier League titles, holds the record for most assists in Premier League history, has scored at least a goal in every season, and was recently voted, by fans around the world, as the greatest player to ever wear the legendary United jersey.
Yet, despite his many highlights and accolades, Ryan Giggs remains a model for fellow professionals and young soccer players around the world in another, less measurable, way. His durability and longevity is attributed as much to his work off the field as on it. His professionalism and discipline are rigorous and unmatched, and as a result, he continues to remain fit enough to play at the highest level, well beyond the years when most players retire. Giggs is well known for practicing yoga on a daily basis; he is smart about his nutrition, diet, and training habits, and he has never been red carded in over 650 appearances for his club. Young players wishing to climb the soccer ranks would benefit from emulating Giggs’ behavior and attitude on and off the field. Raw talent and hard work during occasional training sessions are rarely enough to carry a player to the professional ranks. Consider your physical, mental, and nutritional needs and make them part of a daily routine. You need to take control of all aspects of your game and your habits on and off the field to ensure that your body and mind are in the best possible shape to perform. As Giggs further notes, “Make sure you manage yourself well so you get the best out of yourself.” These habits continue to make him a source of inspiration and a target of aspiration for athletes around the world.
In the 2013 Major League Baseball playoffs, the Detroit Tigers are competing against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series for a spot in the World Series. Although the Tigers are currently tied in this series, pitcher Justin Verlander has performed historically well throughout the playoffs. With only three starts thus far in the 2013 postseason, Verlander has registered 31 strikeouts, 3 walks, and has an ERA of .39.
In game three against the Red Sox, Verlander pitched a near perfect game, but the Tigers lost 0-1. While these circumstances would frustrate and upset many players, Verlander continues to perform well game in and game out independent of the outcome. Verlander commented at the end of game three, “the results speak more than what I can say. As far as execution and my mechanics and everything that I worked so hard to get to, I feel like I was right where I need to be. Hopefully I just maintain that.” Verlander’s positive attitude and ability to focus on what he can control and contribute to the team seem to be playing a role in his continued success this playoff season.
In team sports, there are times when you play well, but your team still loses. This can be frustrating, but you can choose how you respond to those games. Instead of letting frustration get to you, focus on what you can control as an individual player. You control your attitude, effort, and focus. You cannot control how your teammates perform. So, focus on your own tasks, trying to play consistently well in order to contribute to the team’s overall performance. To do this, pay attention to the skills you need to execute to help the team. In Verlander’s case, he seems focused on the mechanics of his pitching – working hard to successfully do his job as a pitcher. For you, think about what your team needs you to do. When competing, stay focused on your individual responsibilities by using focus cues. Focus cues are short words or phrases that cue you to stay focused on the present in order to perform at your best. Examples include, “Here and now”, “Head in the game”, or “Zone in.” If you find yourself getting distracted by the team’s performance or the scoreboard, use your refocusing cues to bring your focus back to the present moment and to what you need to do individually to help the team; this should help you consistently execute your tasks successfully. If you do these things and your team still plays poorly or loses, you can keep your motivation by reflecting on the process of your performance (how well you performed) instead of the outcome of the game, much like Justin Verlander has done this playoff season, allowing him to continue to perform at his highest level.
The Seattle Sounders suffered a blow to their MLS playoff aspirations on Sunday in a viciously contested game against their northwest rivals, the Portland Timbers. A late first-half goal separated the two teams across an even, fiercely battled, 90 minutes. The Sounders have struggled recently, going winless in the last five games, and giving up 10 goals while scoring only two in three consecutive losses. This is following a summer streak winning 8 out of 9 games, earning them a spot near the top of the division. With Osvaldo Alonso’s red card in the 74th minute of Sunday’s game and Clint Dempsey’s shoulder injury, Seattle’s lineup concerns worsen with two games remaining.
When dealing with obstacles or frustrations, it can benefit a team to come together and focus on the goals of the team as a whole. Despite their many setbacks and recent frustrations, Sounders players continue to prioritize their collective hard work and unity as a team. Following the Portland game, Sounder Steve Zakuani stated, “As a team we’re united, we’re together…The only way out of this is to stay together.”
In order to stay focused on team goals during challenging times, players need to understand their individual roles on the team. Soccer is a team sport – it takes the effort of all members of the team, whether on the field or on the bench, to help the team perform well and reach its goals. To stay focused on the collective needs of the team, it is important to discuss team goals before training sessions and games. With a team goal in mind, decide what each individual player needs to do to make it happen. What skills do defenders, midfielders, and forwards have to execute to contribute to the team’s goals? What do goalkeepers need to do? How about players coming off the bench? In doing this, you, as an individual player and member of a team, keep your focus on what you can control (your effort) rather than what you cannot (the outcome of the competition). With two games remaining in the Seattle Sounders regular season and one win away from securing a playoff spot, the team’s postseason hopes may rest on the extent to which they can stay united and focused on collective team goals.
Unfortunately, at all levels, it is common for an athlete or team to put forth a near-perfect performance, and still come up short of victory. On Sunday, NFL quarterback Tony Romo and his Dallas Cowboys matched up against legendary quarterback Peyton Manning and the undefeated Denver Broncos. After a high scoring, back and forth game, the Broncos beat the Cowboys 51-48 after a field goal late in the game. Both quarterbacks were nearly flawless, with Manning throwing for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Romo completed 25 out of 36 pass attempts for 506 yards and 5 touchdowns. Yet, despite playing what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called the best game of his life, Romo threw a 4th quarter interception that led to the game-winning Broncos’ field goal. Despite the disappointment, Romo, his teammates, and the Cowboys staff have expressed satisfaction with his performance, and the intention to learn from mistakes and move forward: “We have an immense amount of confidence in Tony Romo,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We think he’s an outstanding player. I think he showed that [Sunday]. Unfortunately it didn’t end up the way we wanted it to for our football team, but you’ve just got to keep throwing fastballs and keep going, and Tony will certainly do that and our team will certainly do that.”
Losses like these are often the most difficult to endure; making a costly mistake in an otherwise stellar performance can lead to a player fixating on the mistake alone. But, for players to learn from past performances and develop their skills, it is important to be able to objectively evaluate your performance – independent of the outcome of the game. It is impossible to be a perfect player and never make a mistake (even the greats – Messi, Michael Jordan, and others – make mistakes). The value in making mistakes or facing setbacks comes from taking the time to reflect upon and objectively evaluate your performances in order to improve in the future. Objective evaluations focus on the process of your performance: how did you perform physically and mentally throughout the competition, no matter the outcome. Focusing on the process helps you recognize what you did well and what you need to work on. This allows you to set goals for what you should keep doing and what you should continue to work on in training. Just like Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett, focus on the process of performance, not just wins and losses, in order to learn and improve as a player.