The New England Revolution is riding a hot streak at the right time, as it prepares for its MLS playoff matchup with the Columbus Crew. The club is unbeaten in 10 of its last 11 matches, and the impressive string of results has been partly due to the contributions of Jermaine Jones, who was added as a Designated Player in August, after a career with top-level German clubs such as Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer, Leverkusen, and Schalke 04. However, despite his contributions and his club’s strong performance recently, the 32-year-old defensive midfielder feels that the most important game in the last 11 was the only loss during that time: a 1-0 setback against the Crew on September 20th. While the Revolution bounced back against the Crew with a win a few weeks later, Jones hopes that the loss will serve as motivation and a learning experience for his team, as it prepares to face Columbus again on Saturday. “[That] one game showed us that when we don’t play 100-percent focused on the game that we can lose it…[The] second game at home, everybody was focused that we can beat them and we can give them a lot of trouble…We have to be focused, the same like when we were playing Columbus here at home. I think when we are 100-percent concentrated we can take something.”
Coming from someone with a wealth of experience playing at the game’s highest levels, Jones’s comments can provide some useful mental insight for young players. While it is important to draw confidence from success and build on momentum, it is equally important to constantly challenge yourself as a player to remember, and learn from, your setbacks. While New England’s players can certainly take pride in their recent form, failing to adjust and improve on mistakes they’ve made in the past will likely hurt them under the pressure of postseason play.
Furthermore, what can Jones’s comments offer players who may struggle to maintain focus during competition? While every player may desire to be “100-percent focused” at all times throughout a game, this can be difficult to maintain, with the many distractions that can arise during competition (i.e., mistakes, parents or coaches on the sideline, a referee’s decisions). As such, it is important to (1) be aware when you lose your focus during a game, and (2) develop the ability to quickly and effectively regain your focus when it gets pulled away. Refocusing cues (i.e., “Here and now” or “Zone in”) can be useful and simple tools to recover your attention when you become distracted. Reflect on your playing experiences and acknowledge situations in which you have lost focus during a game in the past. Begin using a refocusing cue or two during your training sessions to become comfortable with them, until they become more automatic while you play. As the Revs prepare to face the Crew for the fourth time this season, it will be up to each player to learn from individual mistakes and team setbacks in the past, and bring a high level of focus to the field for each playoff game.
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