Lahoud Overcomes Mistake to Earn Union a Spot in IMG Pro Classic Final

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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Kompany on Upcoming Match Against Barcelona: “We Don’t Fear Them”

Barcelona visits Manchester City on Tuesday in the first of two matches to determine which of the two clubs will advance to the Champions League quarterfinals. City, who will try to redeem itself after a 4-1 aggregate loss to Barcelona at the same stage of last year’s competition, is currently second in the English Premier League, and with a 5-0 win over Newcastle over the weekend, the team is in impressive form heading into Tuesday’s match. Nevertheless, Barcelona’s lineup includes three of the best attacking players in the world in Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. Manchester captain and center back Vincent Kompany is aware of the challenge in front of him and his teammates. “The next game is a massive one now and it’s one of those … if you have a good day it can be a special night,” the defender said. “So we have to prepare and I think everyone is ready for it.” Despite Barcelona’s talent up front, Kompany was quick to dismiss the notion that he and his teammates are hesitant or fearful heading into the match. “We don’t fear them. You don’t go in at this level fearing strikers. We want to play against them. It’s the fourth time in a year now. There’s nothing new to worry us. It’s a case of having the whole team at a very high level…[Barcelona is] a special team with special players…But I’ve come into football to play these games. The moment I’m feeling reluctant to play in these games I’m not in the right place. This is what I want.”

There will be times in your career as a player when you are matched up against a more talented opponent. There is no harm in recognizing and accepting this. Frequently before a difficult game, young players will say things like “That team is really good,” or “That player is big and fast,” or “He/she scored three goals on us the last time we played them.” These statements can actually be quite useful, if players view them objectively and then figure out ways to handle the adversity in front of them. However, young players in these situations often follow up these observations with things like, “There’s no way we will beat them” or “They are just better than us, there’s nothing we can do.” These statements convey fear. They are the response of players who feel that they have no control over the situation. As a player, fear can lead you to dismiss any chance you have of winning before you even step foot on the field. Rather than allowing fear to overcome you in these moments, acknowledge the challenge of the situation and confront it. Try to remain objective, by identifying your opponent’s strengths (e.g., a fast striker), and figuring out ways your team can work to cope with them, by staying organized, communicating effectively, and playing to your own strengths. And as Kompany points out, your preparation before these games is crucial, so do everything you can to ensure that you are ready, both physically and mentally, to play at your best.

Finally, like Kompany, the best competitors in the world embrace and desire these games. They know that testing themselves against more talented opponents will allow them to gauge their own ability and also make them better players in the process. Try to welcome these moments. See them as your opportunity to play the game you love at a level that will challenge you and bring out your best. By setting fear aside, preparing well, and embracing the occasion, Kompany and his teammates will go into Tuesday’s match having done everything they could to be successful.–manchester-city-captain-vincent-kompany-plays-down-champions-league-test-10063751.html

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Cech Continues to Put Club First, While Pushing for a Starting Spot

On most teams, it is often the case that competition for playing time can involve two or more talented players fighting for the same position. At the world’s best clubs, this competition can lead to the unfortunate reality that some of the world’s best players are handed a spot on the bench. For Chelsea’s two goalkeepers, Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, this has been the case all season. Last week, Cech, who has been a reserve for most of this year, staked his claim for the starting spot with an outstanding performance in the club’s 1-0 win over Everton. However, despite the shutout and several impressive saves, he returned to the bench, when Courtois was given the starting spot for Chelsea’s round-of-16 Champions League matchup with Paris St. Germain on Tuesday. Nevertheless, as club captain John Terry recently stated, Cech has continued to show his commitment to the team, despite the lack of playing time. “We have the two best keepers in the world in my opinion both fighting for one place – it’s difficult…Petr still has a lot to give and is fighting for his place, which is great,” said Terry. “He’s not just given up and said, ‘The place is yours, Thibaut’. Credit to him, he’s not even rumbled or sent shockwaves through the dressing room. The manager stresses the importance of the team coming first and he’s done that, Thibaut too. They’re both there for the whole squad. They have both been excellent.”

No player enjoys being left on the bench, especially when it seems like you have performed well and earned playing time. For goalkeepers, this can be especially frustrating, given that starters in this position typically play the entire game, with the rare exception of an injury or disastrous performance. Yet, dwelling on things you cannot control will not help you in these circumstances. While it is normal to be frustrated and disappointed, griping or complaining out loud about your situation will not earn you a starting spot. Instead, it will negatively impact the players around you and drag down the team’s performance. It is important to recognize and accept the fact that your coach has the final decision on these matters. The good news, however, is that you have the power to make that decision a difficult one. The more effort you put in, and the more you push yourself to improve, the harder you will make it for your coach to put any other player into the role you want. Try using any frustration you may feel in this situation to fuel your motivation to earn that spot, and continue doing everything you can to get better. Whether this involves arriving early to training to work on weaknesses, adjusting your habits off the field (e.g., healthy eating, better sleep, lifting weights, etc.), or speaking to your coach about things you can do to earn more playing time, direct your attention to what you control.

Under these circumstances, push yourself to succeed on an individual level, while also putting your team’s goals before your own interests. This may seem like a difficult balance to strike, but it can be accomplished by focusing your energy on contributing to the team’s success in whatever role you find yourself. In training, work hard and push the players around you to get better. During games, provide encouragement and effective communication from the sideline. Continued hard work and commitment in these situations is a strong show of leadership. For a world-class goalkeeper like Petr Cech, spending time on the sideline is never easy. But as Chelsea attempts to win its first Premier League title in five years, the coach and players will be looking to the veteran to continue putting his team first.

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Johnson Confronts Mental Side of Injury With Determination and Patience

For most MLS players, preseason is about building themselves up so that they are ready to perform at their best when the regular season starts in March. However, for Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, this preseason is about continued patience and determination, after more than four months have passed since his last game. In an away match against Toronto FC in September, Johnson suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg. For Portland’s captain, the mental challenges of this injury have, at times, been more frustrating than the physical pain he has endured. For 12 weeks following the setback, Johnson was unable to put weight on his right leg, and could not even pick up his newborn son for several days after the injury occurred. For a long period of time, his only option involved sitting on the couch. “Those things really break you down far more than any pain physically,” Johnson said. “Just the mental side of things when I was in the cast.” Looking forward, however, Portland’s captain seems to be confronting this mental challenge head-on. “What happened, happened…You can’t change that, so my mindset from day one post-surgery has always been just to take every day as it comes, and whatever the body allows you to do to push it to that point and use that to just get back fit, 100 percent as quickly as possible…I’m taking it one day at a time…listen to the leg, listen to the body. I want to use this opportunity that I’ve had to rebuild the foundation of my body and strength, and come back in better shape than I was when I left.”

While injuries of this severity can be a nightmare for any player, no injury is easy to cope with, regardless of how long it takes you away from the game. It is natural to feel upset, disappointed, or frustrated following these setbacks, especially when you know that you will be sidelined for a long period of time. However, once you have had the chance to digest your circumstances, recognize what you can control, and what you cannot. While you can’t change the fact that you are injured, you can control your mentality moving forward, to ensure that you make the most of your recovery. It is common for players to want to return to training quickly, and besides your own expectations, you may even feel pressure to do so from teammates, coaches, or parents. However, you have a responsibility to them and yourself to ensure that you are physically and mentally ready to return when you are cleared to do so. One of the important steps players can take to mentally respond to an injury involves focusing on a process of “reconditioning”, rather than rehabilitation or recovery. In other words, rather than striving to get back to where you were prior to the injury, your focus, like Johnson’s, should be on returning to the field both physically and mentally stronger than you were before the setback. In the early stages of a serious injury, when you are unable to do much physically, this may mean that you watch your own game film or study professional players who play in your position, to develop a better understanding of your role. In the later stages, in addition to addressing the injured body part, it may mean using the time to put in extra work on your weaknesses (e.g., your upper body strength). Throughout the reconditioning process, stay informed by communicating with your doctor, trainer, and coach, and rely on these and other forms of social support (e.g., teammates, family, and friends) to help you manage any of the psychological or emotional challenges you may face. While Johnson undoubtedly wants to return to the field as soon as possible, teammates and coaches are relying on him to continue working with determination and patience so that he can come back stronger than he was before.

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Lennon Maintains Professionalism, Views Everton Loan as Fresh Start

It is probably an understatement to say that Aaron Lennon has been frustrated thus far this season. After enjoying consistent time in the starting lineup with Tottenham Hotspur for the past nine years, the 27-year-old winger has struggled to find time on the field this season, appearing in only nine of the club’s 25 league matches and starting in only three of them. As a result, when the winter transfer window offered the opportunity to be loaned out to another club, Lennon jumped at the chance. He was sent on loan to Everton, and made his first appearance for the new club against Liverpool over the weekend as a substitute. For Lennon, the opportunity to play for Everton offers a fresh start, and a chance for him to prove to himself and to others that he deserves to be on the field. “It’s been a tough year. I’ve hardly played at all this season. It’s something I’ve not been used to before,” he said. “You’ve got to be professional in situations like that. [Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino] hasn’t really explained why I’ve been left out. I’ve just kept training hard and hopefully I can take this opportunity with Everton…I still feel I’m capable of doing it for England. Hopefully if I can get a run of games and get back to the level of form I know I can reach then who knows? My immediate aim is to help Everton as much as I can.”

As a player, professionalism means that you hold yourself to high standards both on and off the field, especially when things aren’t going your way. It is never easy to cope with limited playing time. When you are working hard, and doing all the right things on a regular basis, it’s natural to want to see rewards for your efforts and it can be frustrating when those rewards don’t come. In these moments, it can seem easy to blame other people or circumstances outside your control. Many players begin to show less focus or effort, because they spiral into a pattern of self-pity. However, as with any other form of adversity (e.g., an injury, bad calls from a referee, a talented opponent, etc.), it is important to cope with the cards that you have been dealt. While you may not have the opportunity to “transfer” to a new team, the best way to cope with your situation comes from focusing on what you can control, and even figuring out a way to engage in your own form of a “fresh start”. Perhaps you begin to arrive early to training to put extra work into some part of your game. Or perhaps you start by getting in an extra run on the weekend, or doing yoga on a daily basis, to boost your athleticism, stamina, or resistance to injury. You can also communicate with your coaching staff, and ask them about adjustments or improvements you can make to your game that will allow you to see more time on the field. Whatever you decide to do to take control, it should involve coming to terms with the frustration of your particular circumstances and figure out a way to persevere in spite of it. While Lennon’s loan to Everton offers him a fresh start with a new club, his ability to continue focusing on what he can control will be the most important factor in determining his future at the club and international level.

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Zardes Continues to Prove Himself Through Attitude and Coachability

The US Men’s national team put an end to a five-game winless streak on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Panama. Among the players who put forth good performances was Gyasi Zardes, who earned his first start for the national team after putting together two strong years with the LA Galaxy. With an assist on Clint Dempsey’s first-half goal and an impressive display throughout the full 90 minutes, Zardes was named Man of the Match. Following the game, the 23-year-old also earned praise from head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, as well as many of his teammates, such as USMNT veteran Michael Bradley. “He’s a great kid, great attitude, he comes everyday ready to listen, ready to learn, and he’s good to play with,” said Bradley. “He’s still a young kid and he’s relatively inexperienced, but he has the right mentality.” Klinsmann agreed, noting that Zardes has earned future appearances with the national team. “He’s very teachable, he’s listening, he’s eager to improve, he wants to do extra shifts every day, he’s hungry…[it’s] really fun to work with Gyasi, and I think he deserves to be part now of this group.” Zardes himself was pleased with the experience of starting his first game for the USMNT, and shared his mentality moving forward. “I’ve just been trying to learn what I can from the coaches, but not only the coaches, [also] the players here,” he said. “The players are phenomenal here … and all the feedback they’ve been giving me, I’ve just been taking it in and trying to develop and grow as a player.”

Coachable players like Zardes are fully committed to their development and are constantly showing a desire to learn and improve their performance. They show up on a regular basis to trainings and games and give their best effort, physically and mentally, even if they are tired or don’t feel up to it. They ask questions and they watch and learn from more experienced teammates. And they listen carefully when their coach is giving instructions or providing feedback. Above all, coachable players are able to receive this feedback. Many players struggle to receive feedback from their coach because they become upset or defensive, take it personally, or feel that they don’t need improvement in that area of their game. When your coach is providing you with feedback, remember that he or she is doing so to help you become a better player. Even if you may not agree with what they are telling you, think about ways in which their message can help you improve your game. For example, as a striker, a coach may tell you that you need to work harder on the defensive side of the ball. While some players may feel personally attacked and criticized by this information, coachable players are able to learn from the message at the center of this feedback and use it to improve their performance. And if they don’t fully understand the message, they aren’t afraid to ask questions. Lastly, coachable players take feedback they receive and apply it effectively to their training. After a coach talks to you about some way to improve your performance, it is up to you to put it into action and determine process goals that will allow you to address this area of your game. After putting forth an impressive display in his first start with the national team, the likelihood that Zardes earns more appearances in the future depends on his continued willingness to learn and work on all facets of his performance.

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MLS Clubs Focus on Building Cohesion Before Season Begins

All 20 MLS clubs are currently in the heat of their respective preseason camps at the moment, and one of the first objectives for each team will be figuring out how to build cohesion or team chemistry with so many new faces on the field. In addition to returning players, many of the clubs enter preseason with players recently drafted out of college, new signings from offseason trades, and trial players attempting to make it onto an MLS roster. For the Portland Timbers, this process of finding cohesion in such a mixed group has gotten off to a strong start, as the club’s returning players are stressing the importance of making the newcomers feel welcome. “It’s coming together nice,” said third-year Timbers midfielder Ben Zemanski. “We’ve got a lot of pieces that were here in years past and then the new guys are developing and fitting in just as we hoped they would.” Nine-year MLS veteran Jack Jewsbury agreed, and pointed out the importance of building team chemistry both on and off the field. “Whether it’s a foreign guy coming into the group or a rookie coming out of college, the group is one that welcomes anyone and makes the transition as easy as possible…I think it’s important,” Jewsbury said. “If you are a group that’s united in the locker room, that translates on the field. And so from day one, when these guys come in, we want to let them know that they are part of a special group and a special organization.”

The process of building chemistry or cohesion can, at times, be a challenging experience for any team. Whether you are a veteran on your team or a new player, there is the challenge of getting to know your teammates both on and off the field, becoming accustomed to their style of play, and developing the ability to effectively work together during training sessions and games. However, in many cases, returning players can feel threatened in these situations, and see new players solely as competition rather than as potential teammates. If you are a returning player, reflect back on a time when you were a newcomer to a team, and recall some of the challenges you faced while trying to fit in. Help new players feel comfortable by asking them questions, inviting them to team functions off the field, and encouraging their performance and effort on it. It can also be helpful to simply tell a new player that you recognize the challenges and obstacles he or she might face when transitioning and adjusting to a new team, and offer your support if that player needs help or has questions. Nevertheless, with all of this in mind, working to make newcomers feel welcome does not change the fact that you are competing against these individuals for playing time. Similar to your goals as a returning player, the newcomers will be fighting to earn time and compete for a spot. Both veterans and newcomers alike have the choice in these moments to view this competition unfavorably (or threatening), or to consider it beneficial for their development as a player. By making other players feel like part of the team, and by also focusing on what you can control and putting forth your best effort on the field, you will put yourself in the best position to do well and help the team build its chemistry in the process. With only a few weeks left in each team’s preseason schedule, MLS players and coaches will be working hard to strike this balance as well.

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