After an impressive season last year, Liverpool has struggled over the first four months of this season. The club was recently knocked out of the Champions League and, in the Premier League, is currently six spots outside of Champions League qualification for next season. Over the weekend, Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was benched as a combined result of the club’s and his own poor performance, in a move that manager Brendan Rogers called ‘indefinite’. While this is undoubtedly a frustrating time for the Belgian, Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Rob Green, who has endured his own share of struggles, including an infamous mistake that cost England a win over the United States in the 2010 World Cup, noted the likelihood that Mignolet returns a stronger player. “At some point keepers need a time out…that’s the manager’s decision. Simon will work hard and come back stronger,” Green said. “Clearly he’s got the ability and clearly the manager believes in him – he signed him – but when times are tough the manager may take stock behind the scenes and say ‘now’s the time to give him a rest’. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to every goalkeeper.”
Whether due to your poor performance, or simply the better performance of another player, there will be times in your career when you must deal with limited playing time. Whether or not you agree with the decision will not change things, so accept the responsibility and role you play in earning a return to the field. Granted, this can be a challenging and frustrating experience for players who are working hard in training and want to see rewards for their efforts. However, in response to these circumstances, recognize the things you can control, and those that you cannot. Your coach’s decision to ‘give you a rest’ is not under your control. Your response to this decision is. These times should be treated as an opportunity to, in some way, push the ‘reset’ button and recover both physically and mentally to eventually return to the field stronger than you were before. In these situations, it is tempting to blame something or someone else for your limited playing time. However, the players who are able to objectively evaluate themselves are often able to identify something that they can improve, take action in addressing that part of their game, and ultimately return a more complete player than before. Communicate with your coach to better understand what you can do specifically to see more time on the field. For example, perhaps he or she says that you struggled to start games well, and that it took several minutes after kickoff for you to physically and mentally adjust to the speed of play before you began to perform well. This could be due to insufficient preparation on your part. Under these circumstances, consider ways to boost your physical and mental readiness for a performance by taking the opportunity to fine-tune your routine (i.e., through improved nutrition and sleep, longer warm-ups, mental imagery, etc.). Regardless of your personal opinion concerning whether or not you should to be on the field, it is your job to remove any doubt from your coach’s mind about whether you deserve playing time. This ‘time out’ could prove to be a pivotal point in Mignolet’s professional career, and the outcome rests on his ability to respond effectively and seize the opportunity to become better.
High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement