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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Rookie Greenspan Shows Adaptability and Willingness to Learn From Mistakes

Following Joseph Greenspan’s impressive four-year college career at the U.S. Naval Academy, the Colorado Rapids drafted the 6’6” defender in the 2nd Round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Greenspan officially joined the Rapids in June after receiving permission from the Navy to temporarily forego his service duties, and quickly earned his first two MLS starts against Orlando City FC and Sporting KC. In both games, Greenspan, a towering center back in college, had to adjust to life as an outside back at the professional level, playing against some of the top attacking talent in the league. Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said that he had confidence in Greenspan’s ability to adapt to the new position. “I talked to Joe quite a bit,” Mastroeni said. “He’s obviously dynamic on set pieces. Defensively, one-v-one he’s pretty good, so there’s a lot of good characteristics to put him in that position.” Nevertheless, Greenspan struggled at times during those games – both of which were 2-0 losses – including a moment in the second half against Orlando when he was unable to contain the speed of Carlos Rivas, who assisted on Orlando’s opening goal. Despite the challenges, Greenspan pulled some valuable lessons from his first two professional games. “I learned I could improve my closing-down speed in cutting down angles for guys,” he said. “If I could’ve angled my body better I could have forced Rivas inside…The coaches gave me a decent bit of instruction during training and before and after matches. It was a bit different because all of my tendencies are as a center back. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but I thought I did a decent job for never playing there before in MLS matches.”

The idea of playing in a different position can be daunting for many players, who might be uncomfortable with unfamiliar responsibilities, or feel pressure from the expectations to perform well. However, being asked to play in a new position doesn’t have to be a source of fear, but should instead be viewed as an opportunity to expand your game. Gaining experience in a new position is a great way to increase your versatility on the field, and improve your ability and understanding of the game as an all-around player. As with any type of adversity you may face, playing in a new position requires focusing on what you can control. Before stepping into that role, reflect on your individual strengths as a player – the parts of your game that have made you effective. Consider how those strengths can help you fulfill the responsibilities of a new position. For example, if you are a striker who is asked to play on the backline, think about how some of your attacking attributes (e.g., speed, movement off the ball, etc.) can help you have success in a defensive role. And, regardless of your position, there are parts of your game that are always under your control, including your attitude, your communication, and your hard work. Also, recognize that, by putting you in a new position, your coach is demonstrating confidence and belief in your ability to play there. Finally, while some players are easily critical of their performance after stepping into a new role, the process of evaluating your performance should not change. Be objective about your play, and identify specific aspects of your performance that allowed you to have success, and specific ways in which you can improve. Don’t be afraid to seek out feedback from coaches and teammates on how you can better yourself in your new position, and then incorporate that feedback into your training. At 22 years old, Greenspan potentially has a long career ahead of him, a career that will be successful as long as he maintains his adaptability and commitment to learning as a player.

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Columbus Crew Players Stay Relaxed and Adaptable Through Rain Delay

Saturday night’s game between the Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy, originally scheduled for 7:30 PM, was delayed by severe thunderstorms in Ohio, and both teams faced the challenge of waiting for over two hours in the locker room before returning to the field for kickoff. According to an MLS report, Crew players found a unique way to occupy their time, in an attempt to stay “mentally sharp” while waiting things out. In a “Header Challenge” video posted to Instagram by midfielder Hector Jimenez (see link below), some of the players sat in the locker room in two rows of chairs facing each other. They attempted to move the ball from one side of the room into a trash bin at the other by heading it back and forth between the two rows. The video shows the room erupting in celebration when midfielder Ethan Finlay dropped the final header into the bin. Despite going down a goal after the game finally started just before 10 PM, Columbus secured a 1-1 tie against the defending MLS Cup Champions, the club’s first comeback of the season.

Situations like this delay can often be challenging for players, because while you don’t want to relax too much and completely lose focus during the downtime, you also don’t want to exhaust yourself by spending two hours pumping yourself up to perform. While the Crew’s response may have been unorthodox, it shows the importance of being flexible and adaptable when it comes to your physical and mental preparation for games. Pre-performance routines (i.e., stretching, listening to music, imagery, self-talk, etc.) give you consistent ways of preparing your body and mind to be able to perform at a high level during competition. However, what happens when something unexpected (i.e., weather, dead iPod battery, etc.) disrupts your routine and you need to modify your preparation? Many players in this situation can feel overwhelmed or anxious about the prospect of having to change things, but while it’s important to use a routine consistently, it’s equally important to be flexible and adaptable if the situation calls for it. The strategy used by some of the Crew players in managing Saturday’s rain delay provided a way of passing the time, while doing something together as a team and maintaining positive attitudes and a lighthearted atmosphere. Watching the short video, though, also notice that there were some players who sat to the side watching and chose not to participate in the activity. In other words, it’s equally important to understand your individual needs as a player in these moments. When it comes to managing unexpected disruptions to your pre-performance routine, develop a plan of action for yourself, based on how you like to feel to be able to perform at your best when the time comes. If you need to feel relaxed, this might mean listening to music or using some imagery or deep breathing exercises. If you know that you tighten up under these circumstances, find ways to stay loose without exhausting yourself. While there will undoubtedly be more unexpected distractions that threaten to disrupt pre-game preparation in the future, the Crew players can know that they have successfully coped with such challenges in the past and can do so again.

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Seattle Responds to Adversity and Grinds Out “Workmanlike” Win

The Seattle Sounders know how to win, even when it’s not pretty. Consistently known as one of the more entertaining attacking teams in the MLS, the Sounders had to make some tactical adjustments against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. After Seattle scored just before halftime, midfielder Gonzalo Pineda received a red card 11 minutes into the second half, and the Sounders were forced to play a man down for the game’s final half hour, before pulling out a 1-0 win. After the red card, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid switched things up to play with five in the back and was pleased with his team’s response in the face of a challenge. “I thought the first half was pretty even. I liked our energy, I liked that we were aggressive…In the second half, obviously the game changes with the red card…It was a workmanlike effort,” he said. Veteran center back Chad Marshall agreed with his coach’s assessment. “It wasn’t the prettiest of games. But we grinded and got three points at home,” Marshall said. Another defender, 23-year-old Dylan Remick, was one of the players who performed well in his first start of the season, despite the adversity. “It’s one of those things where you just take it as it comes,” Remick said. “Everyone’s played five at the back, three in the back, so it’s not that big of a deal…We’re just trying to keep the ball out of our net, especially with 10 men.”

Despite your best efforts to physically and mentally prepare to perform consistently at a high level, there will be times during competition when you will need to change parts of your game or take a different approach. These are times when you have to adapt as a player. Adaptability refers to your ability, when facing adversity, to adjust your mentality or role on the field in response to the conditions you may face. When called upon to respond to a challenge during a game, it’s important to recognize that you have faced different kinds of adversity in the past and to know that you are prepared to adjust your game to meet the demands of the situation.

During times like this, it can be especially difficult to motivate yourself to meet the obstacle in front of you. Especially late in the game when you’re exhausted, yet playing a man down, the voice inside your head may try to tell you that it’s okay to slow down a bit when you’re tracking your man back to your own penalty box, or that you can lose focus for a second when defending a corner kick. Players who maintain their effort and focus in these moments often use a refocusing cue (e.g., “Here and now”; “I’ve got this”; or “Dig deep”) that helps them find that extra boost whenever they feel their effort dropping. Sometimes adapting to a situation means that you must rely on sheer effort and hard work to be successful. There will be times to catch your breath, so it is important to also “work smart,” but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Working “smart” can have a lot to do with communicating effectively in these moments. Effective communication can help your team stay organized and disciplined, and it can make the individual workload more manageable when you are coordinating with the players around you. With its latest win, Seattle moved up to 5th in the Western Conference standings, and the gutsy, “grind-it-out” performance, so early in the season, showed players, coaches, and fans that the team can adapt when its back is against the wall.

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One Year Later, Rogers Still Coping With Challenges of a New Role

When Robbie Rogers made the switch to play as an outside back for the LA Galaxy nine months ago after playing his entire career as a winger, many were impressed to see how quickly he acclimated to the position. It didn’t take long for him to earn a starting spot, and he played a major role in helping the Galaxy claim the 2014 MLS Cup. The start of his second year in the backline, however, has not been as easy. Rogers has been partially responsible for three out of the four goals that opponents have scored in the Galaxy’s first four games. After training on Tuesday, the 27-year-old spoke with reporters about the mistakes in his recent performances. “It’s just been a little weird,” he said. “There’s like little moments where I think my decision making hasn’t been as good as I want it. … It’s been a little frustrating because it’s just little mistakes that make a big difference…It’s a little disheartening…I just need to kind of take a step back and see and learn from these…and progress going forward…I want to be a good defender, and that’s my position now, so I need to learn from these.” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena acknowledged the importance of Rogers finding his consistency again, but emphasized the learning process. “He’s been inconsistent,” Arena said. “He’s got to be steadier than he’s shown…[but] I think you’ve still got to accept the fact that he’s played this position for a little over a year, if that. There’s still a learning curve to it.

Adaptability and confidence are two of the most important mental tools for any player transitioning into a new position (see link for previous blog above). However, what happens when that transition does not go as smoothly or as quickly as you would like? What happens when, nearly a year later, you are still making “little mistakes that make a big difference” in your new role? Under these circumstances, some players may encounter a decline in confidence. For Rogers, and any other player faced with these challenges, it is important to remain objective in these moments and recognize that any learning process will have ebbs and flows. There will be times when things come easily for you and you make huge strides in your new role, and there will also be times when it all seems unnatural, and you are making some of the errors that you thought were behind you. Don’t be afraid to seek out feedback in these moments. Talk with the coaching staff and teammates, watch game film if possible, and reflect on your recent performances, to determine specific things you can do to build your consistency in that role. As soon as you stop seeking out ways to learn how to be more effective (even after years of playing in a position), your improvement in a new role will plateau. Think about what helped you to have success in this position in the past – for example, this could be making your game as simple as possible – and watch other players in this role to see if you can pull new useful information about how to be more effective there. Come up with performance and process goals that will add new dimensions to your game and give you a plan of action for how you’ll improve. Lastly, recognize that every training session and every game is merely a chance to grow as a player. View success as evidence that you are improving, and see mistakes as opportunities for learning more. With a long season ahead, Rogers has plenty of time to gain his consistency again, as long as he remains committed to the learning process.

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Sterling Gradually Adapting to New Role

After changing positions from a midfielder to a target striker in mid-December against Manchester United, Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling initially struggled to adjust, and encountered criticism over his inability to score in his first game, despite several easy chances. Since then, the 20-year-old has shown increased comfort as a center forward, and has scored four goals in eight matches. “It is a role I am learning and adapting to, but that is something if you want to be a good player you have to adapt to different positions, and that is something I am keen on doing,” Sterling said. “When I get in front of goal sometimes I get a bit excited thinking I’ve done it all, but now I am keeping focused and trying to get my game to the next level and chip in with more goals and assists.”

Adjusting to a new position can be an uncomfortable process. Many players become accustomed to the skills and responsibilities of one role, and can feel overwhelmed or nervous about the prospect of stepping into a new one. However, the adaptability it takes to play in multiple positions is an important quality for any player. Adaptable players are often capable of solving problems on the field in creative ways, because they can draw from the experience and perspectives they’ve gained from playing in multiple spots. And, on many teams, adaptable players often earn the most playing time, because they are able to fill into various roles when teammates are injured or under-performing. Finally, these players demonstrate how to put the team first. Setting aside individual interests or preferences for the good of the team is a strong show of commitment and leadership.

Part of being an adaptable player, as Sterling notes, is being able to recognize your strengths on the field and figure out how to apply those strengths to your new position. Rather than feeling the need to completely change your game to perform well in your new role, reflect on your strengths and how those strengths can help you be effective in a different way. For example, if you are a center midfielder with excellent vision on the field, and you are asked to play as an outside back, think about how you will use that vision to help you make quick and effective decisions as a defender and how it can help you organize your backline. This is not to say that adapting to a new position is as simple as applying the way you are accustomed to playing to your role moving forward. There will be a learning curve, and it is important to seek out ways to develop the skills and learn the responsibilities necessary for your new position (e.g., asking your coach for advice, or watching and learning from other players who play in the role). Ultimately, recognize that you have been put in a new position because your coach has confidence that you can perform well there, and see it as a challenge or opportunity, while drawing on your past experience to approach your new role with confidence. As Liverpool attempts to climb the Premier League table in the second half of the season, the coach and players will continue relying on Sterling to learn and adapt.

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Edu Contributes With Versatility and ‘Team-First’ Approach

Since he arrived in January, Maurice Edu has offered a much-needed boost to the Philadelphia Union lineup. His ability on both sides of the ball have kept the Union firmly in the postseason race, as they are currently tied with Columbus on points in the fifth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference standings. At various times throughout this season, Edu has been asked to play both as a defensive central midfielder and a center back, depending on the team’s needs and the availability of other players. When interim head coach Jim Curtin stepped in a few months ago, one of his first changes involved moving Edu into the backline to help solve the Union’s defensive struggles. After Carlos Valdes returned from loan during the summer, Edu was shifted back into the midfield, and has recently been moved into the backline again, after Valdes was called in for national team duty with Colombia. For Edu, his versatility and his willingness to play wherever he is needed is all part of being a Union player. “If I was asked to play right back, if I was asked for whatever reason to play in goal, I would do it,” he said. “The same can be said for everyone on this team because we believe in what we’re trying to accomplish here. And at the end of the day, you’re doing this for the team. It’s not about your personal preference; it’s about accomplishing something greater than yourself.”

Maintaining a “team-first” approach as a player means that, at times, you are willing to set your individual interests aside, and do what is needed to help your team have success. Often, this may involve being versatile and playing in a new position. As a young player, gaining experience in a variety of positions is an important part of your development, because it exposes you to different situations around the field, and gives you an understanding of what your teammates may be experiencing in those spots. Furthermore, playing in different positions allows you to work on other parts of your game and develop holistically as a soccer player. This means that you become a better all-around player through the various physical and mental skills necessary in different positions. While central defenders are facing forward, and develop a strong awareness for what is in front of them, central midfielders often need more of a 360-degree vision to be able to connect passes around the field and maintain possession. Whenever you are asked to play in a new position, recognize your abilities and strengths as a player, and think about how you can best apply them to have success in the new spot. If you are a quick attacking player, use your speed to your advantage if you are asked to play in the backline. However, as Edu noted concerning his occasional appearance as a center back, it is also important to make necessary adjustments, and maintain a high level of focus and communication with players around you. “Obviously the position is different, so when you’re on the backline, you can’t take as many risks,” Edu said. “It’s just about making sure you’re always alert, always aware of what’s going on in the game and just being as vocal as you can with your teammates.” With eight regular season games remaining, and the Union riding a three-game winning streak, Edu’s “team-first” approach will go a long way in contributing to a postseason push.

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