Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the New England Revolution, Sporting KC faced arguably its most difficult test this season. With a slew of injuries and several players called into duty with their national teams, the club had to bring in rookie defender Saad Abdul-Salaam from his loan club in San Antonio just to have 17 eligible players on its roster for game day. Despite the roster limitations, Sporting KC earned a massive 4-2 win over the Revolution, currently in second place in Eastern Conference. For goal scorer Dom Dwyer, the result came down to the team’s ability to push through adversity together. “You can see that this side is a hungry team…We were down to bare bones tonight, had to call a guy back from on loan…so that shows the character of the team.” Dwyer said. “We’ll deal with what we get and fight for it. We’re all working through injuries and nagging hurt bodies, and we just keep pushing and keep going.” For head coach Peter Vermes, it was also his players’ ability to focus on one game at a time that helped the team overcome adversity. “I really think the reason why we were able to get a result tonight was because of this one thing, and one thing only: We take every game that’s coming up as our most important, and we’re focused on that game, and we’re not thinking about the next.” Playing with such a depleted roster was made even more challenging after Sporting KC conceded a goal 11 minutes into the game, after Benny Feilhaber turned the ball over in midfield. “We go down a goal, mistake on my part, and then every single guy picks me up, picks the team up and we deserved the game from then on out,” Feilhaber said. “It says a lot about the mentality, the ability of the guys.”
Sporting KC’s ability to win under these conditions speaks volumes about the mentality of the players and the team as a whole in coping with adversity as a group. Part of overcoming these types of challenges is recognizing that things may not always go as planned, and that you and your team need to be ready to adapt to uncomfortable circumstances. There will be days when your team is missing one or more key players. There will be days when you are forced to play down a man after a red card. And there will be many days when your team goes down by a goal or more, and you must find a way back. In these situations, how do you individually, and collectively, “keep pushing and keep going” when it seems like the odds are stacked against you? Effective communication among players can play a big role in these moments. When players are placed outside their comfort zone, they can often start criticizing and yelling at teammates, especially when another player makes a mistake (e.g., Feilhaber). Communicating effectively, however, means that you provide specific, useful information (feedback) to other players in a way that encourages them, or gives them instructions to improve their performance, rather than attacking them generally and personally. Furthermore, as Vermes pointed out, part of a group’s ability to overcome adversity also has to do with keeping the focus only on what is happening now, whether it’s this game or this single play. When you notice that you or your teammates are starting to worry about, or dwell on, a future outcome, or what may seem like impossible challenges in the future, find a way to bring the focus back to the present moment, perhaps through a team refocusing cue or mantra (e.g., “Here and now” or “One play at a time”). As players eventually return and Sporting KC regains its full roster, a big part of the club’s continued success will come down to the players’ collective ability to cope with whatever cards they are dealt, and to, as a team, take things one game at a time.
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