Kompany: Mistakes Are “Part of the Job”

After joining Manchester City from FC Porto a few weeks ago, Eliaquim Mangala enjoyed a dream start to his career in the English Premier League as a center back with a Man-of-the-Match performance in City’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea. However, in his second appearance only a week later against Hull City, things did not go as well for the 23-year-old. In the 21st minute, after Manchester had jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, Mangala failed to get himself into a good position to properly clear away a service from Hull City’s Liam Rosenior. Instead, Mangala’s positioning caused him to turn the ball into his own net off his head. His own goal was only the start of a frustrating first half, however, as he conceded a needless penalty 11 minutes later, when he awkwardly took down a Hull player in the box. Despite Mangala’s first-half errors, Manchester City was able to retake the lead and earned the three points off second-half goals from Eden Dzeko and Frank Lampard. After the game, team captain and fellow center back Vincent Kompany was quick to offer his support for his newest teammate: “It’s part of being a defender,” Kompany said. “As defenders, we have to deal with this, it’s part of the job. But I always look at the reaction and we saw it from [Mangala] in the second half…he just got on with it and stood up to the task. The rest of the game, he played well, he stayed professional. You could not have asked for more…That’s all you can do, it’s always about the next minutes and that’s how I think about it.”

As a player, it is important to develop “temporary amnesia” in response to your mistakes. When they do happen (and they will), forget about them for the moment so that you can keep your focus in the present. It is important to maintain a focus on a part of your game you can control (i.e., effort, better positioning, communication, etc.) that will allow you to recover from a mistake and rejoin the action. Dwelling on the mistake that just happened or worrying about future mistakes that might possibly happen will only take your attention away from your role in the game, and the responsibilities you have as a player in the moment. To help maintain your composure and focus after a mistake, consider using a refocusing cue (i.e., “Flush it” or “Next play”) to help pull your attention immediately back to the play. Then, after a game, take time to reflect on and objectively evaluate your play, considering the strengths of your performance and any mistakes from which you can learn.

As a player, you can also play a significant role during and after a game helping teammates cope with errors in their performance. Just as Kompany was quick to acknowledge that mistakes are “part of the job,” help your teammates recognize that mistakes are a natural part of the game. Rather than yelling at them when they mess up during training or competition, help them respond effectively. Most players are acutely aware of their performance, and they know immediately when they have made a mistake. Angrily pointing this out to them will not help them respond effectively to it, and it will take your focus away from where it needs to be. As Man City prepares for its next EPL game against Aston Villa, Mangala should learn from his mistakes and his successes and go into the next game focusing on how he can accomplish his role on the field.


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Lambert Responds to Poor Performance With Accountability

Since Rickie Lambert completed his move in June from Southamptom F.C. to Liverpool (the club he grew up supporting as a boy), playing time has been hard to come by for the 32-year-old striker. In fact, he has often watched from the sideline this season, as head coach Brendan Rodgers has selected other players such as Daniel Sturridge, and newly acquired striker Mario Balotelli, to play up front. However, when Liverpool faced Middlesbrough at home, in the third round of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday, Lambert’s patience paid off, as he earned a starting spot as well as the captain’s armband. However, while Liverpool won in dramatic fashion, 14-13 on penalties, Lambert struggled to find a rhythm on the field, and was ultimately subbed off in the 74th minute for Balotelli. Following the game, Lambert noted that he felt honored to captain the team he had supported as a young player, but was disappointed in his contributions on the field. “I wasn’t happy with my own performance…I didn’t feel as sharp as I want to feel. I want to get my match fitness up because obviously everyone knows I’m not playing every game so I have to adapt myself now. I think I’m going to have to do more so my fitness is up to the same level as everybody else’s…I’m going to have to go to the fitness coach and see if I can do more.”

While Lambert is undoubtedly frustrated with his recent play, his response provides a great example of a player taking responsibility for his game. In a similar situation, other players might have chosen to complain about their lack of playing time and its impact on their fitness level, or to blame the coach or the circumstances for their lack of readiness. Instead, Lambert’s reaction shows that he has accountability for his performance, and recognizes the need to adapt to his situation and take personal control of his preparation. As a player, there will be times when you face frustration on the field (i.e., a lack of playing time, a drop in your play, or another form of adversity). Your attitude in dealing with these circumstances plays a significant role in responding effectively. It is important to always take responsibility for your performance. Focus on what you can control as a player, and have the willingness to own up to whatever part of your game may need work. If you are unsure about what steps you can take to get more playing time or to improve some part of your performance on the field, talk with your coach, and ask for his or her advice. Even if you feel that you are being treated unfairly, or you are dealing with factors outside your control, maintain your focus on what you can specifically do to improve. In many cases, similar to Lambert’s, this may require that you put in extra effort outside your normal training regimen to increase your fitness level or strength. If you feel that this is the case, it is always wise to discuss it with your coach first, to ensure that you are not overtraining yourself. Even if he faces further time on the bench this weekend, when Liverpool returns to Premier League action against Everton, Lambert’s ability to focus on the controllables gives him the best shot at earning more opportunities on the field.


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Leicester City Responds to Adversity Through ‘Belief and Spirit’

Amid several upsets in the English Premier League this weekend, in which West Ham beat Liverpool, and West Brom beat Tottenham, there was one shock result that stood out above the rest. Leicester City, a club only recently promoted back to the Premier League after last year’s Championship title, earned a thrilling 5-3 win over Manchester United. The contest started strongly for United, as they built 2-0 and 3-1 leads, before Leicester scored four unanswered second-half goals in a span of 19 minutes to claim three massive points at home. For Leicester head coach Nigel Pearson, the monumental victory was a reflection of his players’ determination and belief in their approach to the game. “Coming from 3-1 down to win…it’s a testament not only to, I think, the quality of players that we have, but the belief and the spirit amongst us to keep trying to do the right things,” Pearson said. “It’s not a case of just saying ‘we’re going to be positive’ and being naïve about it…we’ve got to try and find the right way to approach games. All in all today, the players have to take a lot of credit…they’ve shown a resilience in terms of their belief and their spirit, and that’s always going to be important.”

A team’s belief in its ability to win means more than simply being “naively positive” or having blind faith in chance. Instead, belief means having confidence in your strengths as a team and the things that have brought about success in the past. As a team, Leicester’s players were aware of the weaknesses in United’s backline, and used their speed and athleticism throughout the game to exploit these weaknesses. While, United may have had more talented attacking players, and jumped out to an early lead, Leicester remained committed to its approach to the game. Similarly, when you are matched up against a more talented opponent, think about ways you can capitalize on small advantages you may have, as a team (e.g., mismatches in speed on one side of the field, etc.). In other words, focus on what you can control. A team’s belief in its ability to be successful also means that its players are confident in their preparation for competition. As a team, you know that you have collectively taken the right steps in physically and mentally readying yourselves to perform at a high level, and you know that this preparation will translate into your team’s play.

As an individual player, using self-talk in these scenarios can play a significant role in helping you maintain belief in your ability to overcome adversity. Leading up to competition, rather than focusing on things outside your control (e.g., “This team is too good, they’ve beaten us every time we’ve played”), shift your focus and your inner dialogue to the controllables (e.g., “I will do everything I can during the game to make things difficult for my opponent”). Finally, when facing a more talented opponent, see the game as an opportunity to test your ability outside your comfort zone. The greatest competitors in the world, in any sport, relish these types of challenges. For Leicester City’s players, having earned a massive win, they now face the mental task of moving on to the next match, and maintaining belief in their ability to compete against bigger clubs, and respond in the face of adversity.


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Barcelona Draws Positives and Negatives From First Champions League Test

Placed into one of the most difficult groups of this year’s UEFA Champions League, Barcelona’s attempts to reach the knockout round will be challenged by two other highly successful European clubs: AFC Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain F.C. However, it was the fourth, lesser-known club in the group – APOEL FC – that presented a challenge in Barcelona’s opening match. Despite having two-thirds of possession, Barcelona settled for a 1-0 win over the team from Cyprus, off a 28th-minute goal by center back Gerard Pique. The physical and mental effort from APOEL was impressive throughout, and highlighted some needed improvement in Barcelona’s ability to break down committed defensive teams. Moving forward, Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique was objective in noting the lessons that his team could take from the match: “We had problems because they gave us so little space…We were not too fluid and we know we have to improve and we will analyze our performance…As a positive, we scored from a set piece. I also love the fact we have not conceded. It was a tough match and we made few mistakes…The way forward is not to get over-confident. We always have to find solutions.”

While he could have been frustrated by the lack of goals, or overly relieved at getting three points, Enrique’s appraisal of his club’s performance was useful in identifying both strengths and areas for improvement for his side moving forward. An objective evaluation allows you, as a player, to collect valuable information from each of your performances, regardless of the outcome. First, recognizing your strengths (i.e., what worked for you) creates a better understanding of the parts of your game that you can control and rely upon to have success. If, as a defender, you did well in containing the other team’s best player in 1-v-1 situations, reflect on what allowed you to do well in these situations, and what you can take forward when defending against other talented opponents in the future. With all of the technical and tactical instruction that goes into training, soccer games are ultimately about finding solutions to problems or circumstances you may encounter. Knowing the physical and mental parts of your game that have brought you success in the past allows you to rely on the same strengths to solve similar future problems.

On the other hand, objective evaluations also involve reflecting on the weaknesses of your game – the areas where you need to improve as a player. Objectively recognizing mistakes or flaws in your performance means that you acknowledge ways you can get better without dwelling on them, and that you use the information to your advantage. As a striker, if you missed several clear chances in front of net in one game, reflect on the reasons behind these mistakes (i.e., a lack of awareness for the goalkeeper’s position, a lack of composure, etc.). This information can allow you to prepare for similar situations in the future. If it is a matter of composure, work on getting repetition in these situations to feel more comfortable in front of goal receiving the ball. Set aside time to train individually with a coach or teammate on receiving balls inside the box from different angles and calmly finishing. Use objective evaluations to set specific performance and process goals for yourself, so that you know what you need to do each week to work on a specific area. As Barcelona enters into its next two Champions League games against much stronger opponents, both Enrique and his players will be using the lessons from this game to build on each performance moving forward.


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Gaddis Earns a Boost Through Hard Work and Professionalism

As the Philadelphia Union prepares for the US Open Cup Final tonight against the Seattle Sounders, one of their players is especially confident, knowing that his work, thus far, has paid off. Third-year defender Ray Gaddis was recently signed to a new contract through 2016. Prior to the start of the season, with an impressive array of talented defenders on Philadelphia’s roster, some felt that Gaddis would not be a consistent first-choice for one of the outside back positions. Instead, Gaddis has started all 28 of the Union’s MLS matches this season, and played for all but nine of those minutes. His versatility in playing on either the right or left and his ability as a 1-v-1 defender have allowed him to fill a vital role for the Union in 2014. According to Union technical director Chris Albright, one of the most impressive aspects of Gaddis’s third year in the MLS concerns the fact that he has improved on many of the weaknesses that were evident earlier in his career, through his hard work. Interim head coach Jim Curtin also recognized the defender’s talent and commitment to improving: “One-on-one with the ball, Ray Gaddis is the best defender in our league right now…But he’ll be the first to tell you he still has room to grow and work on things…he’s the same guy that is the first to ask after practice to work on that stuff. In terms of accepting challenges and taking on new roles – playing left back without complaining, working after practice every day on his weak foot and finding ways to get better – he does everything you ask and more.”

Professionalism is a word often used in high-level sports, at both young and older ages, as a sign of a player’s commitment to training, accountability, and respect for other competitors and coaches. Being a “professional” involves holding yourself to high standards as a player, both on and off the field. It involves making a commitment to prepare for training and games (physically and mentally), taking care of the details, and exercising good habits (i.e., proper nutrition, stretching, and recovery) before and after your performance. Professionalism also means that you bring a high level of effort and focus to the field whenever you play, and that you are committed to improving in all aspects of the game. Of course, as a player, it is important to recognize your strengths, as these will help you focus on what you can control during games and play to the best of your ability. However, do not be afraid of your weaknesses. Weaknesses provide opportunities for improvement, and becoming a more all-around player. They allow you to approach each training session or game with a focus on what needs work, and short-term process goals for how to go about accomplishing that work. Finally, reframe each weakness as a challenge: turn it into one of your strengths. This attitude and approach takes a high level of effort during training, and on your own time, and Ray Gaddis provides an example of how hard work can pay off. When it comes to his contributions for the Union this season, and his professionalism as a model for younger players, perhaps Curtin said it best: “He should be the guy a lot of young kids look up to because he treats the game with respect. He brings it every day in training.”


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Edu Contributes With Versatility and ‘Team-First’ Approach

Since he arrived in January, Maurice Edu has offered a much-needed boost to the Philadelphia Union lineup. His ability on both sides of the ball have kept the Union firmly in the postseason race, as they are currently tied with Columbus on points in the fifth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference standings. At various times throughout this season, Edu has been asked to play both as a defensive central midfielder and a center back, depending on the team’s needs and the availability of other players. When interim head coach Jim Curtin stepped in a few months ago, one of his first changes involved moving Edu into the backline to help solve the Union’s defensive struggles. After Carlos Valdes returned from loan during the summer, Edu was shifted back into the midfield, and has recently been moved into the backline again, after Valdes was called in for national team duty with Colombia. For Edu, his versatility and his willingness to play wherever he is needed is all part of being a Union player. “If I was asked to play right back, if I was asked for whatever reason to play in goal, I would do it,” he said. “The same can be said for everyone on this team because we believe in what we’re trying to accomplish here. And at the end of the day, you’re doing this for the team. It’s not about your personal preference; it’s about accomplishing something greater than yourself.”

Maintaining a “team-first” approach as a player means that, at times, you are willing to set your individual interests aside, and do what is needed to help your team have success. Often, this may involve being versatile and playing in a new position. As a young player, gaining experience in a variety of positions is an important part of your development, because it exposes you to different situations around the field, and gives you an understanding of what your teammates may be experiencing in those spots. Furthermore, playing in different positions allows you to work on other parts of your game and develop holistically as a soccer player. This means that you become a better all-around player through the various physical and mental skills necessary in different positions. While central defenders are facing forward, and develop a strong awareness for what is in front of them, central midfielders often need more of a 360-degree vision to be able to connect passes around the field and maintain possession. Whenever you are asked to play in a new position, recognize your abilities and strengths as a player, and think about how you can best apply them to have success in the new spot. If you are a quick attacking player, use your speed to your advantage if you are asked to play in the backline. However, as Edu noted concerning his occasional appearance as a center back, it is also important to make necessary adjustments, and maintain a high level of focus and communication with players around you. “Obviously the position is different, so when you’re on the backline, you can’t take as many risks,” Edu said. “It’s just about making sure you’re always alert, always aware of what’s going on in the game and just being as vocal as you can with your teammates.” With eight regular season games remaining, and the Union riding a three-game winning streak, Edu’s “team-first” approach will go a long way in contributing to a postseason push.


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Williams Quiets Doubters With Courage and Perseverance

While she has been among the greatest in tennis for some time, Serena Williams joined further elite company with her sixth US Open title on Sunday. At the age of 32, her win over Caroline Wozniacki gave the world’s number-1 ranked player 18 Grand Slam singles championships – tied with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in fourth place on the all-time list. Despite making history in dominating fashion, Williams’ accomplishment was, perhaps, most impressive for her ability to overcome difficulties – both physically and mentally – from earlier in the year. Previously this summer, at Wimbledon, she was forced to walk off the court and end her tournament during a second-round doubles match, after she suddenly became disoriented, struggling to serve the ball over the net, or even hold onto it. It was later explained as a ‘viral illness’; however, many onlookers felt that there was something else going on, and some began questioning her age, other potential physical issues, and even her mental strength. All of that was put to rest on Sunday, as Williams fought her way back to the top of her game.

In the world of sports, injuries and illness are, for some reason, often seen as a sign of weakness. The image of a “strong” player is typically one who pushes through pain and doesn’t allow his or her body time to recover. At Wimbledon, however, Serena Williams was courageous. She was aware of her body’s limits, and knew how and when to respond appropriately, and remove herself from competition. As an athlete, it is important to recognize times when you need to take care of yourself, rather than continuing to push through pain. Be attentive and responsive to your body’s needs. Your preparation as an athlete will certainly require times when you have to endure discomfort – both in training and competition. However, recognize the difference between discomfort and serious pain, discuss things with your coach and trainer, and be able to step away at the appropriate time.

Williams’ strength was, perhaps, even more evident in the confidence and resilience she demonstrated in bouncing back. Athletes who are able to earn their way back to their top level after a setback are those who are resilient in the face of a challenge, and maintain a belief in their preparation and their strengths. As an athlete, a major part of resilience comes from your ability to view adversity as a challenge to overcome, and an opportunity for growth and development. Therefore, when facing setbacks, focus your attention on the aspects of your game, such as effort, preparation, and a positive attitude, that are consistently under your control. In Sunday’s US Open final Williams’ performance displayed many of the qualities (i.e., fierce competitiveness, unwavering focus, and powerful forehand) that have brought her success in the past. Therefore, as an athlete, take time to reflect on the training habits and strengths that have worked for you, and when facing a challenge, recommit yourself to those parts of your game. Serena Williams will likely continue to make history for her accomplishments. However, perhaps the greatest lesson she can pass on to young athletes is one of mental strength, in knowing when to step away and how to bounce back.



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Most Recent Matchup in Djokovic-Murray Rivalry Becomes a Battle of Emotions

Wednesday’s U.S. Open quarterfinal match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray produced a fierce battle of fitness, mentality, and emotions. Top-ranked Djokovic ultimately won the match over his close friend and rival, after four sets and a riveting three and a half hours. At times, both players enjoyed some strong play and also suffered through mistakes and periods of frustration. However, across the entire match, the world’s No. 1 seed seemed better able to manage these ups and downs. “I get the feeling that if I get to stay with him and work, and not get too loose and too frustrated with points, and not allow him to get into a big lead, I feel like there is a point where I have that edge physically,” said Djokovic. “That’s what I try to always focus on and it paid off tonight.” In Thursday’s matchup, this seemed to be a noticeable difference between the two players, as Murray – known to be a temperamental player – struggled to manage his emotions and maintain his composure after mistakes. Between points throughout the match, Murray became visibly frustrated with his performance and self-critical, often hanging his head after a shot was mishit. At one point, after hitting the ball into the net, he swung his racket furiously, hit himself in the leg, and screamed. During another break, he was overheard talking angrily to himself out loud, even calling himself an “idiot” and describing his play as “terrible.”

As an athlete, it is important to find effective ways of managing your emotions and maintaining composure throughout competition. Rather than thinking of them as good or bad, emotions should be effective, rather than ineffective. While some players may feel that they can handle frustration, it can still become a distraction and take your focus away from what you can control and what you need to do in the present moment. Your self-talk during these times is extremely important. It is okay to hold yourself to high standards as an athlete, and you may even feel frustrated or disappointed after a mistake. However, instead of allowing words like “terrible” or “idiot” to enter your dialogue, exchange these comments for more effective ones (i.e., “Move on” or “Next point.”). As a general rule, if you wouldn’t say something to a teammate after he or she made the same mistake, chances are that you should not say it to yourself. During competition, when things seem to be going wrong and you feel that mistakes are becoming more frequent, try using a centering breath during a stoppage in play (i.e., inhaling deeply into your stomach, and slowly letting the air out) to regain composure. As Novak Djokovic prepares for his eighth straight semifinal in the U.S. Open, he recognizes the importance of this part of his mental game against Murray: “We both go through a lot of emotions, times when you play well…you’re positive,” he said. “Sometimes you’re a little bit negative about how you’re doing, about how you’re feeling…It’s important to handle this emotion.”




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Madrid Faces Early Questions Surrounding Attitude and Concentration

Despite a busy summer of high-profile acquisitions, and opening the La Liga campaign with a win over Córdoba CF, Real Madrid is facing some early concerns this season. After losing to cross-town rival Atlético de Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, Real Madrid lost 4-2 to Real Sociedad in their second league match over the weekend. Things looked promising on Sunday for the defending UEFA Champions League winners, when Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos put Madrid ahead 2-0 after only 11 minutes. However, two goals before halftime drew the hosts even, and two more second half strikes by David Zurutuza and Carlos Vela gave Real Sociedad an impressive comeback win and three points, despite being outshot and out-possessed. Some were quick to attribute the result to recent losses in Madrid’s roster. Angel Di Maria (sold to Manchester United), Xabi Alonso (sold to Bayern Munich) and Cristiano Ronaldo (out with an injury) were all missing from a squad still brimming with the world’s best talent. However, following the game, head coach Carlo Ancelotti pointed the finger at a lack of concentration, rather than a few missing players. “This defeat does not change anything. What needs to change is our attitude and concentration in these types of games. At 2-0 you must show concentration to see out the game…The first half hour was very good, with good concentration. The other hour was very bad. We thought the game was over.”

Holding onto a lead can be a challenging mental task for players, because of the temptation of slipping into complacency and assuming the game has already been won. As such, it is important to ensure that players remain committed to their roles and responsibilities on the field after a lead has been built. Even when you’ve had early success in the game, remain objective about your performance. Determine what has worked well for you in the early stages, while also looking for any small adjustments that can be made to improve your performance and maintain the advantage. As a player, use the early success to boost your confidence. However, complacency emerges when you fail to continue doing the small things that brought you success in the first place. In these circumstances, take on a leadership role, by bringing teammates together into a huddle after a goal is scored, to ensure that all players are on the same page and collectively maintain, or even lift, their focus and intensity.

On the other side of the result in Sunday’s match, Real Sociedad showed impressive mental strength in coming from behind against a stronger opponent, after enduring its own struggles to open the season, when they were bumped out of the Europa League last week. After conceding an early goal (or more), many teams find it difficult to lift their intensity and focus enough to avoid falling further behind, while also trying to stage a comeback. In doing so, take a moment to determine one or two adjustments you can make individually as a player, to help your team prevent the deficit from growing. Try to focus on the simple aspects of your game (i.e., effective communication, hard work, etc.) to regain composure and confidence, and stay organized as a team. The use of a refocusing cue (i.e., “Next pass” or “Here and now”) can often help you stay in the present moment, rather than becoming distracted by possible future outcomes. Above all, rely on your strengths and your sources of confidence to maintain a belief in your team’s ability to get back into the game. Sunday’s result sent two very different messages to the players on Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, and as it is still early in the season, the game will serve as a learning experience for both teams on staying focused and fighting until the end.



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