Soccer Stars Remember to Stay Focused on the Team

This weekend’s soccer matches demonstrated a great display of team-oriented attitudes. On Saturday, Philadelphia Union tied New England Revolution, earning one point on the road. During the game, Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, starting only his third game of the season, played an exceptional game, making ten memorable and decisive saves. In an interview after the game, his first response to how well he played was not about him, but rather about trusting and relying on his strong backline and the work the team did together. He went on to give further credit to his coach and fellow goalkeepers, saying, “I have a great goalkeeper coach I believe in, and I have two goalkeepers… that we push each other every day. For me, we can only get better.”

Further, on Sunday, LA Galaxy beat FC Dallas 3-2. Going into the half up 2-1, Galaxy’s Steven Gerrard pushed the lead to 3-1 early in the second half with a goal. That was Gerrard’s first goal since his MLS debut in July, but he didn’t focus on himself after the game. “I think the goal was good for the team,” he said. “…it’s all about three points and not about individuals, tallies and who gets what, but it’s about the team getting three points. It’s a big result for us.”

Both of these examples demonstrate the importance of valuing the accomplishments of the team over the accomplishments of any one individual. Certainly, athletes and players in team sports should work on developing their own skills, but that development should be focused on how it can be applied to benefit the team as a whole. To do this, understand your position on the team and the role that you play. Commit to deliberately training the skills that will help you execute that role. Also, put effort into building relationships with teammates. In team sports, you win together and you lose together; this process is easier when you trust those around you, and you understand and value how they contribute to the team. Just like you should know your role, try to understand the responsibilities your teammates’ have and the struggles they face when trying to accomplish their job on the field. This will give you a stronger appreciation for the work that each player does day in and day out. Make sure that you talk to teammates and ask them questions. Pay attention to what’s expected of them and the work that they put in on and off the field in order to prepare themselves physically and mentally to compete. Next time you finish a competition – whether or not you played your best – don’t forget to acknowledge the contribution each teammate made the game as well.

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Cristiano Ronaldo: Adapting His Game to Stay on Top in Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo will go down in soccer history as one of the game’s greatest players. Over his long career, he’s certainly earned himself that recognition, winning more than one Ballon D’Or, the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, the World’s Top Goal Scorer recognition, and Globe Soccer Award for Best Player of the Year – all within the last couple of seasons. Besides his tremendous work rate, attention to detail, and competitive drive, lately he has showcased a skill that seems to be helping him keep his spot at the top of soccer: adaptability.

Although at the age of 30, Ronaldo is still very young, he’s not necessarily considered young for a professional soccer player. As each season progresses, he needs to continue to find ways to play to his strengths and remain a dominating force on the field. He’s done that by adapting his tactics on the field. Data show that Ronaldo’s touches on the ball and his number of shots have decreased over the past few years, and that he is covering fewer yards per game with the ball. However, he is still at the top of the charts in scoring. That’s because he’s adept at adapting his game. He’s continuing to develop his finishing technique and his positioning and rather than running here and there on the field, he’s smarter and more deliberate about getting into dangerous positions that provide him the highest opportunity to score.

Adaptability is an important skill for any athlete. Whether you join a team as a much younger or older player, or you’re asked to play in a position you’re not used to for the good of the team, being able to adapt your game in order to keep your performance up is essential. The best way to do this is to first understand and then accept your role, whatever that may be. Do this by recognizing how you can benefit the team. Next, learn what is specifically expected of you. For Ronaldo, that’s scoring goals. Once you know what you’re expected to do, make a plan for how you can do that most effectively and efficiently (like Ronaldo covering fewer yards, but improving his positioning). Continue to make adjustments like this until you are comfortable that you know what you want to do and how you plan to do it in order to do you job on the field or court. Being adaptable will help you continue to contribute to the team and develop your own individual game.

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Andy Murray and Consistency in Play

On Monday, famed Scottish tennis player Andy Murray faced Kevin Anderson, a South African player with nine years of professional experience, for a spot in the US Open quarterfinals. After an incredibly long match (over four hours), Murray lost to Anderson, ending his streak of making it through to the quarterfinals in all of the 18 Grand Slam tournaments in which he’s competed. After the match, Murray explained how disappointing it was to lose, particularly breaking his streak of making it to the quarterfinals, stating that, “Obviously that’s many years’ work that’s gone into building that sort of consistency.” He was questioned about whether or not his grueling competitive schedule throughout the year might have contributed to his loss that night, and Murray responded, “It was more playing against Kevin on the court of that speed, and with him serving as well as he does, it’s a tricky match. It comes down to a few points in each set. He managed to get them today.”

Murray’s comments touch on an important factor that influences performance: consistency. This includes consistency in training and in competition. Consistency is part of what separates good athletes from great athletes, and it starts with preparation. As he stated, Murray’s overwhelming success is a product of “many years’ work” and dedication to developing his game. Use this as a lesson. Take advantage of the time you have to train. Before you practice, set one or two goals to try to achieve during the session. This will help you stay focused and driven. After the session, take a minute to reflect on what you did well, what you want to work on, and how you plan to improve it next time. Make an effort to repeat the things that work for you while also continuing to improve your weakness. Consistency in training transfers to competition.

You have to be able to consistently manage emotions and recover from mistakes and setbacks in order to be successful. Murray explained that the match came “down to a few points in each set,” so, there is often little room for error. Training is the time to develop effective habits and reactions to both the highs and lows during competition. In training, deliberately practice your composure by using cues like “here and now” or “next point” to help you refocus on the present moment after a mistake or a good play. Get used to using centered breathing or self-talk, for example, to help you stay clam if you feel overly excited or nervous. Find what works for you and use it over and over in training until it becomes automatic. That will help you be able to rely on those habits to consistently come into play during every point. Of course, Murray’s loss demonstrates that even if you prepare well, you still have to compete with an opponent. He recognizes that it was Anderson’s serve that made the difference. By recognizing the strong points and how well his opponent played, he is better able to manage the loss. He can continue to train consistently and with purpose in order to be as prepared as possible to compete.

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Serena Williams Takes It “One Match At a Time” As She Competes for a Calendar Year Grand Slam

In tennis history, only five players have earned their place in the upper echelon of tennis greats who have won the calendar year Grand Slam (winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open in one year). As Serena Williams embarks on yet another US Open, she is fighting to earn a place among those greats, as winning this major tournament would earn her a calendar year Grand Slam. Such a history-making tournament outcome could certainly put pressure on Williams. As a seasoned player at the professional level, however, she seems to understand the need to focus on the process of her performances, rather than the overall outcome. In an interview after her first match (in which Williams won after her opponent, Vitalia Diatchenko, forfeited in the second set due to an ankle injury), Williams explained that this tournament is an opportunity for her to reach a major milestone and that she’s, “trying to take one match at a time.” When asked what she needs to do to be successful, she stated that she needs to, “Stay relaxed, stay in the points, and stay calm.”

Staying in the present moment and focusing on the process is an important step in being able to perform at your best. To do this, let go of past plays or points (whether good or bad) and try to avoid thinking about the future. Keep your mind in the present moment by using focusing cues like, “here and now.” You can also add a deep, centering breath and combine breathing and self-talk to help you stay in the moment. Keep in mind that you will find yourself losing focus and getting distracted from time to time. Just recognize that (non-judgmentally), let the distraction pass, and use your refocusing strategy to bring you back to the moment. As Williams stated, it’s important to “stay in the points” and take things “one match at a time.”

Also, recognizing how you like to feel before you play – and using a routine to help you feel that way consistently – will benefit your performance greatly. Williams explained that she wants to feel relaxed and calm. You might find that you like to feel the same way, or maybe that you like to be pumped up and a little nervous. Every athlete is different, so find what works for you. Once you know how you like to feel and what you want to focus on, use a pre-competition routine to help you get to that state consistently. This includes making a plan for what you want to think about and focus on the morning of a competition, on the way there, during warm-ups, and as you compete. For example, if you like to be calm and relaxed, then consider listening to music that calms you, taking deep centered breaths, and doing a body scan before you compete to release any muscle tension you feel. All of these strategies should be used consistently for your routine to be effective. Remember, there are many things that you cannot control in competition, but you can control how you prepare and what you choose to focus on.

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