In the weeks leading up to this summer’s World Cup, national teams and players around the world are doing everything to prepare their bodies and minds to perform at the highest level for the month-long tournament in Brazil. Preparing for opportunities like this can be made increasingly difficult for players who are recently in a “slump” and struggling to rediscover their form. 24-year old striker for the US Men’s National team, Jozy Altidore, enjoyed a blistering World Cup Qualifying campaign, scoring 7 goals in 5 games for the USMNT, and leading them through a difficult CONCACAF schedule. However, soon after the US earned a spot in the 2014 World Cup, Altidore encountered a drop in his production, and has failed to score in his last five appearances for the national team, and a further 26 games for his English Premier League club Sunderland. Facing an intimidating 1,771 consecutive minutes without a goal, Altidore has two remaining send-off games to find the net before the US enters a difficult group stage in Brazil. Despite the challenge facing his star striker, head coach Jürgen Klinsmann expressed confidence in his most recent, yet goalless, performance in a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan. “Jozy did what we asked him to do,” Klinsmann told the media following the game. “He did a tremendous amount of work…He looks better every day. So I’m not worried at all. He will come through and he will start to score…obviously, the sooner the better for every striker, but I’m very, very positive.”
Altidore’s commitment and focus on his hard work and on fulfilling his role on the field is an important step in coping with, and overcoming, the adversity in front of him. During these difficult spells, it is important for players to return to the fundamentals of their game. Focus on the simple aspects of your training and preparation that can consistently bring you success and contribute to your team’s performance. For example, as a striker, during training, keep your focus on the present moment, by setting realistic challenges and goals for yourself (i.e., increasing the number of shots you get on-target, or the effectiveness of your decisions and the timing of your movement off the ball). During competition, focus on fulfilling your role and responsibilities on the field, rather than trying to overcome your own struggles by trying to do too much. Despite the temptation to focus all of your energy on overcoming your slump, players who focus more on contributing to the team’s success often rediscover their form more quickly along the way. Therefore, commit fully to your role on the field, and demonstrate leadership through effective communication by encouraging those players around you.
Furthermore, it is important to note the significant support role coaches can fulfill when a player is struggling to find their form. As a coach, it is essential to convey confidence and belief in your players, by continuing to encourage them through the adversity, giving them opportunities to perform on the field, and urging them to focus on what they can control. Altidore’s commitment to fulfilling the role Klinsmann has placed in front of him demonstrates a selfless, team-first approach, and it is a testament to the player’s mental strength and resilience. As he continues to confront his goal-scoring drought with two games left in the USMNT’s World Cup preparation, he will need to rely on further support and belief from Klinsmann and his teammates, and a continued commitment to focusing on what he controls in his performance.
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