In Wednesday’s IMG Suncoast Pro Classic match against the Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union’s Michael Lahoud had his first experience playing as a center back when he entered the game in the second half. Throughout the game, both teams found it challenging at times to play in the difficult weather conditions, as fog, rain, and wind battered the field. Philadelphia was able to take the lead with a 27th minute goal by newly acquired striker, Fernando Aristeguieta. However, halfway through the second half, Lahoud slipped moving toward a ball, allowing Crew midfielder Justin Meram to equalize on a breakaway, and send the game to penalties. After Union goalkeeper Rais Mbohli saved Meram’s penalty in the third round, Lahoud converted the Union’s fifth shot to earn the club a place in Saturday’s championship game against the New York Red Bulls. Following the game, Lahoud was quick to take ownership of his earlier mistake, and point out the importance of bouncing back. “I was directly involved,” Lahoud said. “I should have done better. It’s just part of the game. Mistakes are going to happen. Critical mistakes are going to happen. It’s not the final exam, and your mistake isn’t the final exam. It’s how you react to it. I’ve been playing for awhile and kind of knew that there’d be an opportunity to atone for it.”
Recognizing that “mistakes are going to happen” is an important part of being able to cope with them during your performance. Nevertheless, these moments are not easy to bounce back from without practice. Following a mistake, players may feel frustrated or embarrassed, or may wonder what coaches, teammates, and fans are thinking. They may suddenly become worried that they’re going to mess up again. While these reactions are common, it means that your mind is either stuck in the past, or worried about the future, rather than staying the present moment where it should be.
The first step to responding effectively to a mistake is recognizing the times when these ineffective thoughts or emotions are taking you away from the game. After you become aware of these distractions, there are several mental strategies you can use to bring yourself back. During a stoppage in play, take 3-5 seconds to perform a centering breath, drawing air deeply into your stomach, holding it for a brief moment, and releasing it slowly. You can pair this technique with a refocusing cue (e.g., “Flush it” or “Let it go”), so that your exhaled breath corresponds with a mental release of any ineffective thoughts or emotions attached to the mistake. Some players use a physical trigger (e.g., snapping their fingers, or clapping their hands once) to help them bounce back as quickly as possible to the present moment. There will always be time after a game has ended to reflect on your mistakes, and to learn from them through an objective evaluation process. During the game, however, using any of these strategies to practice “temporary amnesia” will allow you to keep your mind in the here and now. While Lahoud’s experience has certainly helped him manage mistakes at the professional level, younger players can learn a lot from the poise he showed in bouncing back in Wednesday’s game, and begin to develop this response in their own performance.
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