For Ronaldo, Excellence and Professionalism Extend Beyond the Field

This week, TIME Magazine released its illustrious annual list of the ‘Most Influential People in the World,’ and for the fourth time in five years, a soccer player was included among the prominent names. Real Madrid striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, the 2013 Balon d’Or winner as the world’s greatest footballer, was one of 100 individuals selected by TIME and one of five athletes on the list. Ronaldo’s rise in prominence on the field has been nothing short of spectacular, as he continues to break records and assert his place among the world’s elite players. The Portuguese international has scored 49 goals for Madrid this season, including two breathtaking long distance strikes over the weekend against Osasuna and two more goals in the Champions League semifinal second leg against Bayern Munich. Above all, it is the consistency in Ronaldo’s excellence that has earned him the right to be grouped with the greatest players of all time at the age of 29. Commenting on TIME’s list, three-time World Cup winner Pelé noted that, “Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most influential athletes in sports today…I greatly respect his competitive mindset on the field, and it’s no surprise that he is currently considered the best football player in the world…I would like to encourage him to keep up the hard work and to continue to fuel the passion for the sport among today’s youth.”

While Ronaldo continues to cement his status among the all-time soccer greats, his latest achievement is a testament to the excellence and professionalism he shows consistently both on and off the field of play. This is largely a result of two of the qualities mentioned in the quote above: his competitive mindset and hard work. As a professional athlete, Ronaldo has become a role model for young soccer players all over the world by choice. He consistently focuses on the parts of his game he can control in order to make himself a better player.

As a young player, displaying excellence and professionalism on the field means that you hold yourself to high standards in training and games. It also involves focusing on what you can control, by bringing a consistently high work ethic, level of concentration, and commitment to your physical and mental preparation for competition. However, it is important to recognize that these habits can translate to other areas of your life as well, in terms of how you demonstrate commitment to your development as a person off the field, by working hard in the classroom and fulfilling your responsibilities at home. For players who aspire to compete at the collegiate level, it is especially important to develop a strong balance between your athletic and academic responsibilities in order to be able to handle the demands and rigors of the life of a student-athlete. Displaying professionalism and excellence off the field also means that you are respectful to the people with whom you interact on a regular basis. As a player, you should strive to be an ambassador and positive representative, not only of your club or high school team, but also of the game of soccer in general, through your high character and behavior in all contexts of your life. As Ronaldo aims to expand his soccer resume this season with a second Champions League title with as many clubs, his status as an “influential person” and role model for young players around the world will be determined by the excellence and professionalism he continues to display on a regular basis.

“Boston Strong”

On Monday, thousands of runners crossed the finish line as they completed the 2014 Boston Marathon. Athletes were applauded and encouraged as they made their way through the “scream tunnel” of cheering spectators toward the end of the race. Each one had overcome obstacles to get to that point, as months of physical and mental training and preparation go into a single 26.2-mile run.

While those obstacles are common to any marathon, this year’s runners faced particularly painful and trying challenges, in having to overcome the memories and trauma of the events that occurred on that very route just a year before. Many runners, perhaps especially those who competed last year, participated this year with tears in their eyes, realizing the significance of being able to run the course one more time. There were 2013 marathoners who watched from the VIP section, cheering on others participating in their place. Whether participating in the Boston Marathon for the first time or returning after running last year, certainly each participant had to have courage to race that course after the frightening tragedy last year. They all had to make the decision to run the race and keep moving forward with resilience and strength.

Resilience is the capacity to recover from difficulties or bounce back from adversity. While athletes often face challenges and adversity, the Boston Marathon is an extreme example of adversity, one that requires courage and strength to recover from and move forward. One way to be resilient in the face of this kind of hardship is to rely on social support to help you recover. In most cases, athletes can rely on family, friends, or coaches and mentors for support; these people could help provide comfort as you grieve and then the support you need to find motivation to face the challenge. For the marathoners and for the residents of Boston, this support extended to the community as a whole. “Boston Strong” became the mantra of those who believed in the Boston Marathon as an event that showcased excellent athleticism and extreme strength and commitment and not as an event wrought with tragedy. This mantra helped unite the community, the runners, and others affected by last year’s tragedy. Rather than focusing on the past, runners, organizers, and community members alike found within each other a strength and resilience that helped them come together and prepare for another marathon with courage and pride. Thousands more runners participated this year than they did last year, demonstrating the resilience of the marathon community.

One runner who was injured last year ran with the message, “You can scare me but you can’t stop me” on her body. Being tough isn’t always easy, but the resilient are tough because they choose to be as tough as the situations they are facing. They are remarkable because they focus on the process of bouncing back stronger. They have a cause, a passion that they are not willing to give up for anyone. They are “Boston Strong.” – #BostonStrong

Iniesta on Smart, Small Players

FC Barcelona central midfielder, Andres Iniesta, once stated, “Small players learn to be intuitive, to anticipate, to protect the ball. A guy who weighs 90 kilos doesn’t move like one who weighs 60. In the playground I always played against much bigger kids and I always wanted the ball. Without it, I feel lost.” Standing at 5’7”, Iniesta understands what it is like to be one of the smaller players on the field. Although there are many professional soccer players who are as small as Iniesta, there are others who are much taller, like Stoke City’s Peter Crouch, who stands at a towering 6’8”. To be a successful player, understand the type of game you should play based on your size. For smaller players, like Iniesta, intuition and anticipation are vital. Learning how to be intuitive, and having the ability to anticipate the next play allows you to be successful on the field, despite being one of the smaller players.

As you gain more experience and knowledge of a sport, your intuition should develop as you begin to recognize patterns. To recognize patterns and cultivate your intuition, you have to be focused and committed in training. During training, be mindful of what is going on around you and get comfortable making quick decisions based on the information you gather. The more time you dedicate to intense training sessions focused on game-like scenarios, the more prepared you should be in games to recognize patterns, trust your intuition, and make quick decisions. And, trust yourself! Intuition refers to your instinct, so be aware of your initial response and go with it. Remind yourself of the time you dedicated to intense training sessions, reassuring yourself that you are prepared.

Paired with intuition, anticipation allows you to think ahead, and be aware of and prepared for what will happen next. Players who anticipate the ball, run, or pass early have quickly decided to take the next step and move the game in a certain direction. A player can only follow through with such a rapid response if they trust their instinct to anticipate a certain play. Developing the skill of anticipation allows you to be one step ahead of your opponent, regardless of your size. Although you can’t control the size of your opponents, as a small player, you can pay attention to your surroundings, allowing you to recognize patterns and improve your decision making on the field. Iniesta’s mastery of these skills has helped distinguish the Spanish midfielder as one of the most effective and creative players in today’s game.

76ers Move Forward With Resilience and Team Cohesion

The Philadelphia 76ers wrapped up a tough 2014-15 season with the second worst record in the NBA. However, on Wednesday night, the team made a statement of collective resilience to their fans and the rest of the league, by topping the Miami Heat 100-87 in their final regular season game. For Philadelphia’s players, it was the first step in putting a season of 63 losses and only 19 wins behind them. While the Sixers beat the two-time defending NBA champions for the second time this campaign, the Heat took the opportunity to rest LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and other starters, having already earned the number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and a first round playoff matchup with Charlotte this weekend. However, all of that was peripheral for Philadelphia, who ended an agonizing season on a very high note, to set a strong tone moving forward into next year. “We did a very good job of staying together, playing as a cohesive unit,” said Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, following the game. “Sometimes the odds were stacked against us but we didn’t let that get us down.” Young’s first-year teammate and frontrunner for the league’s Rookie of the Year award, Michael Carter-Williams, echoed these sentiments: “Our record doesn’t show we had a good season but the main thing is we stayed together.”

Resilience typically refers to the ability of an individual to bounce back or respond after encountering adversity or obstacles. However, how might this quality be manifested in a team as a whole? If your team is struggling to achieve success, team cohesion often plays a huge role in determining how quickly you and your teammates can rise above the adversity in front of you. A resilient, cohesive team is made up of players who are continually willing to put their individual interests aside, in favor of doing what it takes to get the team back on track. As a player, you can contribute to your team’s collective resilience by taking time to reflect on what you can do individually to contribute to the group effort to turn things around. Talk openly with teammates and your coach about changes in game preparation you and the other players can make to increase your team’s chances of success. This may mean that, as a group, you and other players agree to arrive at training early a few days a week to work on individual areas of improvement, or take on 15 minutes of extra conditioning work to boost the team’s fitness level for late in the game.

As a player, work together with your teammates and coaches to develop a specific set of short-term process goals for preparing for the next game on your schedule. You may determine that, as a team, players have been too nervous and hesitant in games, worrying about making mistakes. This may require an adjustment in attitude and team culture, to focus more on the enjoyment of competition, working hard for each other and the team’s goals, and focusing on the process, rather than the outcome or result. Oftentimes, the teams who are able to stay in the present moment, and maintain a high level of cohesion or chemistry, find ways of overcoming the obstacles in front of them in the long run. The Sixers’ resilience and cohesiveness on display Wednesday night offered reassurance to Head Coach Brett Brown, moving forward: “The relief that the season has ended truly does not creep into my mind because it’s trumped by the excitement that I see going forward.” The last 82 games have served as a rebuilding year for the 76ers – a young team with a promising future. The focus, now, is on that future, and taking the lessons from this season forward to build success.

The Leadership of Steven Gerrard

Sunday’s dramatic win over Manchester City brought Liverpool a massive step closer to their first Premier League trophy since 1990. To put this in perspective, the club’s 33-year old captain, Steven Gerrard, who has played his entire professional career of nearly 500 games in a Liverpool shirt, has never won a league title. After the match, much attention was directed toward the leadership qualities Gerrard has embodied throughout his career, this season, and this particular game. Immediately after the final whistle on Sunday, amidst the celebrations, Gerrard brought his Liverpool teammates together on the field, and issued a simple message: We’re not done yet. He urged the players standing around him to bring the same focus and intensity to next week’s game against Norwich City, a team sitting in a relegation battle near the bottom of the table. “Every game is getting bigger because we are getting closer to the last game of the season,” Gerrard noted in a later interview. “Man City was always going to be huge because they are in the race with us but Norwich now become Man City…We have got to treat them like the best team in the world…We have got to treat it like it is the last game of all our careers. That is the mentality.” Gerrard’s leadership on Sunday extended beyond the motivational talk he gave after the game. He contributed an assist on Martin Skrtel’s goal, and provided a dominant, experienced presence in the midfield over 90 minutes.

Many players and coaches believe that leadership is a quality that individuals are born with – either they have it or they don’t. Contrary to this belief, leadership can be learned and developed, and players can take on leadership roles in many different forms. As a player, you can enhance your leadership by providing a strong vocal presence on and off the field. Being a vocal leader involves having effective communication skills. This means that you provide encouragement and positive feedback to teammates who are performing well (“You played well today, keep it up” or “Your hard work lifts all of us to another level”), and you rally players around you to maintain a high level of focus and intensity during play. Being a vocal leader also means that you are able to provide instructional feedback to players who need it, by suggesting ways to help them improve their game, without criticizing them (i.e., “Try taking a look over your shoulder before you receive the ball – so you know if a defender is closing you down”). Beyond communication, players can also become leaders through their actions. As a player, you can lead by example through the consistently high level of effort, focus, and intensity you bring to every training and game. You can also lead by example by developing the ability to stay composed and managing your emotions during a game. Like most other mental skills, this composure involves focusing on what you can control as a player – and not letting distractions such as the weather, players on the opposing team, or the referee’s decisions pull your attention away from what you have to do on the field. As Liverpool prepare for the first of four remaining games in their quest for a league title this season, all eyes will be on their captain, who continues to show why he earned the armband years ago.

Liverpool Players Call on Composure and Focus to Finish Out the Season

Sitting atop the English Premier League table with 74 points and five games left in the season, Liverpool face a tough test at home on Sunday against Manchester City, who linger only four points back, with two games in hand. The Reds have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround this season, after finishing seventh in 2013, and are on the brink of winning their first Premier League title in 24 years. City, who have also had considerable success, are in control of their final standing this season, and would earn the title by winning each of the seven remaining fixtures in their schedule. Despite the gravity of Sunday’s match, and the likelihood that a win would go a long way in locking up a title for either team, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard noted the importance of staying composed as a team in this final stretch of the season: “I’m not convinced just yet – I think the message is to stay calm. We will give everything we can now…leave every ounce of energy and determination out there.” Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel added to Gerrard’s thoughts: “We will look forward to the challenge…there are still five games to play and we all want to keep going in this way and extend this winning run. We just need to stay focused and keep working.

Composed players are able to stay calm and collected when they perform despite potential adversity or challenges. In between games, they remain focused on their roles and responsibilities on the field and on what they need to do to prepare and perform well in the next game. During play, they are also able to make quick, effective decisions (even when under pressure from a defender, in difficult weather conditions, or despite being taunted by fans) because they focus on what they can control, such as their work rate, awareness, and attitude.

Composure also refers to a player’s ability to remain engaged in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in possible future outcomes or past performances. For example, if you are playing in a weekend tournament, and your team wins its first game, it does you and your teammates no good to become caught up in the possibility of winning the championship if you have other games to play before even reaching the final. Instead, focus your attention on the next game, and the necessary physical and mental preparation you will need to put in another strong performance. Use the most recent game to acknowledge strengths in your individual and team performance, as well as areas for improvement. Above all, it is important to stay focused in the present moment. Enjoy your success and the pride that comes with winning, but, remain composed and deliberate in taking the necessary steps to continue having success. The most composed players treat each game and training session as an opportunity to build on the last one, and put in the physical and mental preparation needed for optimum performance and development. With such a small window left to bring some long-awaited silverware back to Liverpool, Gerard, Skrtel, and their teammates are tasked with maintaining their focus and their composure in order to achieve results one game at a time.

Yedlin Takes Satisfaction and Valuable Lessons From Latest Performance

In Saturday’s rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, defending on both sides was not at its best, as three goals were scored in the first 14 minutes of a game that ended in a 4-4 tie. For second year Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin, who is in consideration for a World Cup roster spot with the U.S. National Team this summer, the first half was especially frustrating, as the Timbers enjoyed considerable success attacking down his side of the field. Throughout most of the game, Yedlin was tasked with defending a former college teammate at Akron, Darlington Nagbe – one of Portland’s most skillful and dangerous attacking players. After the game, Yedlin reflected on his individual performance: “There [were] times when I was a little over-aggressive with him…He’s a guy that you can’t do that with because he can slip you pretty easily. Sometimes I thought I did OK, sometimes I was in a 2v1 situation and there’s not a lot you can do about that.” Along with an improved second half performance, Yedlin was able to partially atone for his early struggles by drawing an 87th minute penalty kick that ultimately tied the game at four.

In his self-evaluation after the game, Yedlin demonstrated an important mental skill that players can use after any game to help them reflect on their latest performance and prepare for the next one: an objective evaluation. Players who objectively evaluate their performance following a game demonstrate a process-focused approach by considering what they did well, and reflecting on what could be improved. After a game has ended, players often get caught up in dwelling on a bad result, or failing to adequately reflect on a good one. Players who feel that they played well might focus only on all of their strengths throughout the game, while those who played poorly often only think about all of the mistakes they made and the ways in which their performance fell short. However, despite the score or your opinion of your performance, acknowledging what went well in a game is an important part of building and maintaining your confidence and learning the physical and mental habits that help you perform well.

Acknowledging your strengths may be as simple as noting that you connected simple passes or worked hard for a full 90 minutes. Likewise, recognizing areas for improvement or growth is an essential part of constantly developing your game and finding new ways to make the next performance stronger than the last one. If you are a striker, this may mean that you recognize your effective movement off the ball, while also noting that you need to work on your first touch when receiving a pass with your back to goal. As a goalkeeper, you may feel that your communication was consistently strong across the whole game, while your distribution needs to be more accurate. Above all, whether your win or lose, or play well or poorly, it is important to view each game as a learning opportunity that helps you identify what you want to work on in training. With the 2014 World Cup just over the horizon, Yedlin’s habit of objectively evaluating each game could enhance his confidence, consistency, and growth as a player.