Lack of Emotional Management Was Costly for Pique

Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao matched up on Monday for the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup (a competition between the winning teams of La Liga and the Copa del Rey). Going into the game, Barcelona had to score four goals to catch up to Athletic in aggregate and earn the championship title. Barcelona began the second half up 1-0, but that momentum was short-lived. Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was sent off hardly ten minutes into the second half on a straight red card, earned for foul and abusive language toward a linesman. Pique was reacting to what could be argued as a missed offside call, which could have led to a goal against his team. Although the play led to a corner kick, and not a goal, Pique demonstrated a noticeable lack of emotional composure that ultimately cost him the remaining minutes of the Super Cup game, as well as the opportunity to play in the first La Liga game this upcoming weekend. Barcelona ended the match in a 1-1 draw, which awarded Athletic the championship title.

Many things are out of your control in soccer, or any other sport. However, your recovery from mistakes, your attitude, and your reaction to adversity are within your control. In this instance, Pique could not control the referee’s decision, but he could control his reaction to what he considered a poor call. Managing your emotions during the height of competition is much easier said than done. But, it is a skill you can develop with deliberate training. One strategy is to manage your focus. Keep your attention on what you can control. In order to do this, use refocusing cues like “let it go” or “get organized for the next play” to help you think about what you need to do next, rather than something you cannot change (like the referee’s decision). This will take some getting used to, because your initial emotional reaction might be strong, but if you consistently practice this strategy in training, it will become easier to use and more effective over time. Another strategy you can add to this to help you manage your emotions is to take a centering breath. This is another way to help you shift your focus away from what you can’t control. After using a refocusing cue, try taking a centering breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose, bringing the air down into your stomach. Slowly release the breath out of your mouth and try to release any tension you feel as you exhale. Keep in mind that this will only be effective at certain points in a game, like at a stoppage in play. Work on these skills consistently to enhance your emotional management and be prepared to handle the highs and lows of competition.

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The Mentality of Penalty Kicks for Goalkeepers: Bingham and Rimando Come Up Big

Two different MLS goalkeepers faced the daunting task of saving a second-half penalty kick this week, and with two saves, both played a big part in helping their teams preserve shutouts. David Bingham of the San Jose Earthquakes was the first to be tested in Tuesday night’s game against the Houston Dynamo. Four minutes after the Earthquakes took the lead in the second half, Houston was awarded a penalty. Giles Barnes sent a low hard shot to Bingham’s left corner, but the goalkeeper dove and made the save. In his postgame interview, Bingham noted that he stuck to the same strategy he has used throughout his career: standing still and staring straight at the shooter. “I’m just focusing on him. [Barnes is] a great player. He probably finishes his PK’s nine times out of 10, but it was my job to get that one save,” Bingham said. “During the build up to the kick, I was looking right at him. For me, that’s something I like to do. I like to look at them and just stand still instead of bouncing around.” A day later, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando saved the 24th penalty kick of his professional career to preserve a tie against the LA Galaxy. With the game tied at zero in the 90th minute, the Galaxy earned a penalty and a chance to claim all three points. However, Rimando was up to the task, saving a well-hit shot by Juninho. After the game, Rimando was asked about his first thought when the referee blew the whistle. “Save it,” Rimando said. “Try to save it. Try to stall a little bit. Try to ask the referee what’s going on. Try to figure out what the foul was about and then just focus on the ball. I was lucky to guess the right way.”

There is no denying that luck can play a part in moments like these. However, it is also true that, for any penalty kick, both the shooter and the goalkeeper must overcome the challenge of staying mentally composed under pressure. For goalkeepers, it’s important to recognize, as Bingham noted following his save against Houston, that it is your job to save this one shot. It doesn’t matter how many penalties the opposing player has scored in the past, or how difficult it is for a goalkeeper to save a penalty kick in general. Your job involves focusing on doing everything you can to save this one. From a mental standpoint, saving a penalty comes down to having a well-rehearsed routine that helps you stay confident, focused, and composed in the present moment so that you can make the shooter’s job as difficult as possible. When you’re practicing penalty kicks outside of a game environment, whether in training or on your own, work on developing a routine that you’ll use on a consistent basis. Taking a deep centering breath (drawing air slowly into the stomach, holding it for a second or two, and releasing slowly) can help you calm some of the nerves or tension you may be feeling. The use of self-talk (e.g., “This shot’s not getting past me”) or a short focusing cue (e.g., “Calm and solid”) might be good strategies for helping you consistently build the confidence and focus necessary to perform at your best in this moment. As both Bingham and Rimando demonstrate, gamesmanship is also a strategy some goalkeepers use in this situation, in an effort to win the mental game played between a shooter and keeper. Within the rules of the game and limits of sportsmanship, taking your time walking over to the line or staring directly at the shooter could make him or her hesitate for a second, and that might be all you need. Above all, recognize that, as a goalkeeper, you will not save every single penalty. But developing a routine, like Bingham’s or Rimando’s, that you use consistently to help you face the shot with confidence, focus, and composure will give you the best chances to come up big.

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Ramos’s Moment of Madness Costs Orlando

As a club, Orlando City SC had plenty to be frustrated about on Saturday, after a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew. While Columbus performed well in front of its home crowd, Orlando’s struggles were mostly due to its own mistakes, including a first-half red card issued to young right back Rafael Ramos. The 20-year-old performed extremely well in the club’s first six games this season, but was far from his best on Saturday. Ramos’s poor clearance was mostly to blame for the Crew’s first goal in the 32nd minute. On the other end of the field, two minutes later, he lost possession of the ball after being knocked off balance by Columbus defender Waylon Francis. When the assistant referee failed to call a foul, Ramos jumped up and lunged feet-first into Francis’s legs. While referee Ricardo Salazar initially pulled out a yellow card for the foul, Ramos ignored him out of frustration, and ran down the sideline back toward his own goal. Salazar finally caught up to him and instead held up a red card. For Orlando head coach Adrian Heath, Ramos’s inability to manage his emotions was a turning point in the game. “Rafa’s had a lot of really good publicity in the last week, but then tonight he has cost us dearly,” Heath said after the game. “Just because you don’t get a decision doesn’t mean you can go and recklessly tackle somebody…He has got a lesson to be learned here and we will have a look at it on Monday and sit down with him and have a chat about it. We have spoken to him in the past, but today it has been costly for his teammates.”

This incident demonstrates how easily a player’s emotions, if they are not managed effectively, can influence his or her own performance, and cost a team the game. Like any sport, soccer can be emotional. There are times when you may feel incredibly excited, perhaps after scoring a goal, and there are also times when you may feel angry or embarrassed, possibly after making a mistake. These and other emotions (e.g., pride, nervousness, disappointment, etc.) are not inherently good or bad. Instead, they can either be effective or ineffective, depending on how they impact your performance. Players are often told that they need to control their emotions, as though feelings like frustration, anger, or happiness can be turned “on” or “off” whenever they wish. Instead, it’s important to see these emotions as part of the game. In these moments, it’s not about controlling your emotions, but instead, about managing them. Emotional management starts with your awareness. Knowing, like Ramos for example, that you become frustrated after a mistake or after a referee’s call doesn’t go your way, think about how it influences your performance. Next, develop a plan for how you’d like to respond when you become emotional during a game. Many players manage their emotions by using them to their advantage, or channeling them into something effective. In other words, if you are angry after a referee fails to call a penalty when you were tripped up in the box, consider using that anger to motivate you to work harder and earn another opportunity. A centering breath can also help you create some space between the emotion you are feeling during a game and your behavioral response. Drawing air deeply into your stomach, holding it for a second or two, and then releasing slowly can help you relieve tension and can also provide you a moment to refocus and then choose to respond in an effective way, rather than to react with no thought. As a young player, Ramos now has the opportunity to learn from his mistake, and develop strategies for managing his emotions so that they no longer cost his team valuable points.

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Spieth Becomes Second-Youngest Masters Champion Through Poise and Killer Instinct

On Sunday evening in Augusta, Georgia, Jordan Spieth put the final touch on an outstanding four-day performance to win the 2015 Masters Tournament. In doing so, he became the first golfer since 1976 to lead a Masters from start to finish. He tied the tournament scoring record of 18-under par, set by Tiger Woods in 1997. He set records for the lowest score after 36 holes and 54 holes, and for most birdies (28). Most impressively, at 21 years old, Spieth became the second youngest Masters champion in history. After going into the final round last year tied for the lead before losing to Bubba Watson by three strokes, Spieth was determined to see this year’s tournament through to the end. “It was something I watched slip away last year, and I had a chip on my shoulder,” he said on Sunday. This mentality helped Spieth remain composed under pressure throughout this year’s Masters. On Sunday’s par-five 13th hole, with a five-stroke lead, Spieth had the opportunity to play it safe by laying the ball up in front of a body of water, rather than hit a more difficult shot towards the hole. Instead, he chose the more difficult shot from 200 yards away, and landed it flawlessly onto the green, 14 feet from the pin. “He’s fiery…he’s got that killer instinct,” said Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller. According to three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for second, Spieth’s poise under pressure sets him apart from his competitors in a unique way: “…He has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on.”

The poise and killer instinct Spieth showed over the weekend was especially impressive given his inexperience compared to many of the veterans he was competing against. Under these circumstances, it would have been easy for many young athletes to play it safe, rather than continuing to push themselves and take chances. However, having a killer instinct as an athlete means that that you choose to compete with assertiveness, rather than a fear of failure, and it requires the ability to maintain a high level of focus while you perform. Staying focused during competition allows you to consider all of your options in any given moment, and recognize when the time is appropriate to take risks, and it also helps you execute when you decide to take those risks. All of this starts with the habits you build during training. While it may be easier to allow your focus or concentration to drop off when you train, because there is less pressure to perform well, using refocusing cues or other strategies to maintain your focus when training will increase your ability to do the same during competition.

When it comes to competition, athletes who stay poised under pressure are able to stay focused on the process, rather than any future outcome. This means knowing exactly what you need to do to have success and staying in the present moment so that you can perform to the best of your abilities. Despite wanting to stay in the present moment throughout a performance, there will be times when your mind strays to the future and starts thinking about what it will feel like to win, or how important it is to not make a mistake or to avoid falling apart. When this happens – when you notice that your thoughts are carrying you toward the future, or keeping you in the past after a mistake – the use of a refocusing cue (e.g., “Stay present”, “Here and now”, or “In the moment”) can help redirect your mind to what you need to do to perform well. Having won his first major at such a young age, Spieth seems to have a long successful career ahead of him, and his poise and killer instinct under pressure will go a long way in helping him continue to perform at his best on golf’s biggest stages.

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Keane Recovers from Early Mistakes to Score Late in MLS Cup

For the third time in four seasons, on Sunday afternoon the LA Galaxy won the MLS Cup, beating the New England Revolution 2-1 in extra time at the StubHub Center. The game was surprisingly sloppy throughout, as neither team put forth its best performance, and the Galaxy had to rely on a goal in the 111th minute from MLS regular season MVP Robbie Keane to claim the title. The Irish international recorded 19 goals and 14 assists during the regular season to earn league MVP honors. However, he was far from his best in Sunday’s game, and failed to convert on several early opportunities. In his postgame interview, Keane was asked about several of the chances he had missed early in the game. “I’ve been playing for 15 years…you miss chances and you score chances…I don’t worry about missing chances,” Keane said. “For me, I always tell young strikers that as long as you’re getting into the right areas, and you keep getting in there, you’ll score goals…I knew if I got another chance, I would put it away.” This belief paid off, and after Keane scored the winner with 9 minutes remaining in extra time, commentator Taylor Twellman said, “It doesn’t matter when you’ve had the kind of game that Robbie Keane has had…all it takes is one.”

Despite a slow start, Keane ultimately showed why he is LA’s captain and the league MVP, partly through his ability to cope with mistakes. As a player, it is important to recognize that mistakes will happen and accept them as moments to cope with and overcome throughout a game. Before competing, rather than dwelling on mistakes that will happen, focus your energy on how you will respond to those mistakes. Failing to let go of a mistake can often cause effort and focus to drop off, because you disengage from the game by remaining preoccupied with the past. Dwelling on a mistake that has just happened only pulls your focus away from the present moment. Instead, work to keep your mind in the ‘here and now’, and focus on the parts of your game that you can control. Keane notes the importance of strikers putting themselves “in the right areas.” This awareness of effective movement and positioning, along with effort, communication, and a positive attitude, are great examples of the “controllables” that you can focus on immediately after making a mistake. The use of refocusing cues can also help you let go of mistakes and keep your focus in the present. Imagine, as a striker, that you’ve missed an easy tap-in in front of goal. You may feel frustrated, disappointed in yourself, and embarrassed at your inability to capitalize. Using a refocusing cue (i.e., “Let it go” or “Flush it”) can help you turn your attention back to where it needs to be, and focus on what you can control. Twellman’s comment following the winning goal on Sunday – “all it takes is one” – is a powerful message for young players watching Keane manage an “off-day” and ultimately deliver for the Galaxy when it mattered most.

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After Impressive Start to Season, Berahino “Soaks In” Pressure

After scoring only five goals in 32 games last year with West Bromwich Albion, Saido Berahino is currently enjoying an impressive start to this season with the club, and is starting to see the rewards. In West Brom’s first 11 matches, the 21-year-old striker has already scored seven times, and has added another three goals for the England Under-21 national team this year. As a result, he was recently called up to the country’s senior national team to make his debut in its upcoming qualifiers for the European championships. After moving to England as a 10-year old seeking asylum from his home country of Burundi, Berahino has played for nearly all of England’s youth national teams during his young career. In response to his most recent achievement and any possibility of increased pressure, Berahino exhibited some of the same composure he has shown in his finishing ability this season, including three goals from the penalty spot. “I don’t feel under pressure,” he said. “People put it on me but I just soak it in. I try to enjoy it. I am definitely mentally strong after what I have been through in life – I am a stronger person and a stronger character – nothing can be harder than that.”

It is no secret that players can perceive increased pressure as they move up in their competitive careers. Many players falsely assume that composure is only a natural ability – that some players are born able to cope with pressure, while others are not. While it may be the case that some are less influenced by pressure, there are strategies any player can use to cope with perceived pressure under different circumstances. Berahino’s response demonstrates several of these tools. First, one of the most effective means of coping with pressure involves reframing it as a challenge. Embrace whatever situation is in front of you and enjoy the opportunity to test yourself. Recognize that you have prepared well for the moment you are facing, and “soak in” any pressure as fuel to drive your performance. Whether you are preparing for a championship match, thinking about an upcoming tryout, or walking up to take a penalty kick, find some enjoyment in the moment. Viewing these situations as opportunities for yourself can help you manage any nerves or anxiety you may be feeling. Second, Berahino also demonstrates the value of identifying your past experiences as an individual, and recognizing that there have been times in the past when you have overcome challenges in the face of expectations or perceived pressure. Use these experiences as proof for yourself that you have what it takes to confront whatever is in front of you. Furthermore, consider how the opportunity ahead of you can provide a valuable learning experience for you as a player and a person, and focus on the process of that experience, rather than the outcome. Finally, acknowledge the individual strengths or qualities you have built up as a result of overcoming these challenges, and rely on those strengths to take advantage of the upcoming opportunity. Berahino’s continued ability to cope with pressure will go a long way in helping him earn further opportunities with England’s national team, and will help his club as it attempts to build on a solid start to the season.

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Most Recent Matchup in Djokovic-Murray Rivalry Becomes a Battle of Emotions

Wednesday’s U.S. Open quarterfinal match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray produced a fierce battle of fitness, mentality, and emotions. Top-ranked Djokovic ultimately won the match over his close friend and rival, after four sets and a riveting three and a half hours. At times, both players enjoyed some strong play and also suffered through mistakes and periods of frustration. However, across the entire match, the world’s No. 1 seed seemed better able to manage these ups and downs. “I get the feeling that if I get to stay with him and work, and not get too loose and too frustrated with points, and not allow him to get into a big lead, I feel like there is a point where I have that edge physically,” said Djokovic. “That’s what I try to always focus on and it paid off tonight.” In Thursday’s matchup, this seemed to be a noticeable difference between the two players, as Murray – known to be a temperamental player – struggled to manage his emotions and maintain his composure after mistakes. Between points throughout the match, Murray became visibly frustrated with his performance and self-critical, often hanging his head after a shot was mishit. At one point, after hitting the ball into the net, he swung his racket furiously, hit himself in the leg, and screamed. During another break, he was overheard talking angrily to himself out loud, even calling himself an “idiot” and describing his play as “terrible.”

As an athlete, it is important to find effective ways of managing your emotions and maintaining composure throughout competition. Rather than thinking of them as good or bad, emotions should be effective, rather than ineffective. While some players may feel that they can handle frustration, it can still become a distraction and take your focus away from what you can control and what you need to do in the present moment. Your self-talk during these times is extremely important. It is okay to hold yourself to high standards as an athlete, and you may even feel frustrated or disappointed after a mistake. However, instead of allowing words like “terrible” or “idiot” to enter your dialogue, exchange these comments for more effective ones (i.e., “Move on” or “Next point.”). As a general rule, if you wouldn’t say something to a teammate after he or she made the same mistake, chances are that you should not say it to yourself. During competition, when things seem to be going wrong and you feel that mistakes are becoming more frequent, try using a centering breath during a stoppage in play (i.e., inhaling deeply into your stomach, and slowly letting the air out) to regain composure. As Novak Djokovic prepares for his eighth straight semifinal in the U.S. Open, he recognizes the importance of this part of his mental game against Murray: “We both go through a lot of emotions, times when you play well…you’re positive,” he said. “Sometimes you’re a little bit negative about how you’re doing, about how you’re feeling…It’s important to handle this emotion.”

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