Amid several upsets in the English Premier League this weekend, in which West Ham beat Liverpool, and West Brom beat Tottenham, there was one shock result that stood out above the rest. Leicester City, a club only recently promoted back to the Premier League after last year’s Championship title, earned a thrilling 5-3 win over Manchester United. The contest started strongly for United, as they built 2-0 and 3-1 leads, before Leicester scored four unanswered second-half goals in a span of 19 minutes to claim three massive points at home. For Leicester head coach Nigel Pearson, the monumental victory was a reflection of his players’ determination and belief in their approach to the game. “Coming from 3-1 down to win…it’s a testament not only to, I think, the quality of players that we have, but the belief and the spirit amongst us to keep trying to do the right things,” Pearson said. “It’s not a case of just saying ‘we’re going to be positive’ and being naïve about it…we’ve got to try and find the right way to approach games. All in all today, the players have to take a lot of credit…they’ve shown a resilience in terms of their belief and their spirit, and that’s always going to be important.”
A team’s belief in its ability to win means more than simply being “naively positive” or having blind faith in chance. Instead, belief means having confidence in your strengths as a team and the things that have brought about success in the past. As a team, Leicester’s players were aware of the weaknesses in United’s backline, and used their speed and athleticism throughout the game to exploit these weaknesses. While, United may have had more talented attacking players, and jumped out to an early lead, Leicester remained committed to its approach to the game. Similarly, when you are matched up against a more talented opponent, think about ways you can capitalize on small advantages you may have, as a team (e.g., mismatches in speed on one side of the field, etc.). In other words, focus on what you can control. A team’s belief in its ability to be successful also means that its players are confident in their preparation for competition. As a team, you know that you have collectively taken the right steps in physically and mentally readying yourselves to perform at a high level, and you know that this preparation will translate into your team’s play.
As an individual player, using self-talk in these scenarios can play a significant role in helping you maintain belief in your ability to overcome adversity. Leading up to competition, rather than focusing on things outside your control (e.g., “This team is too good, they’ve beaten us every time we’ve played”), shift your focus and your inner dialogue to the controllables (e.g., “I will do everything I can during the game to make things difficult for my opponent”). Finally, when facing a more talented opponent, see the game as an opportunity to test your ability outside your comfort zone. The greatest competitors in the world, in any sport, relish these types of challenges. For Leicester City’s players, having earned a massive win, they now face the mental task of moving on to the next match, and maintaining belief in their ability to compete against bigger clubs, and respond in the face of adversity.
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