Together, Sporting KC Cope With Small Roster and Focus on One Game at a Time

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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Froese Overcomes Nerves in MLS Debut

While the 2014 MLS season may be nearing an end, the careers of some players are just beginning. Vancouver Whitecaps Homegrown player Kianz Froese made his debut over the weekend in front of more than 55,000 fans in a pivotal away game against the Seattle Sounders. The 18-year-old earned his first MLS action as a halftime substitute, and played a strong 45 minutes to help the Whitecaps earn a 1-0 win. After the game, Froese acknowledged feeling nervous early on. “When [coach Carl Robinson] told me I was going in, my heart dropped. I was quite nervous for a bit, but the game settled down and then you slowly get into it…I’m just happy being part of the group and helping the guys win.” Froese’s coach and teammates were quick to praise the midfielder’s first MLS performance. “Sometimes it’s best learning in the toughest environments and [Friday] was the toughest environment for him to learn,” Robinson stated. “[He was] excellent. Hard work, determination, the kid can play.” Kekuta Manneh, the game’s lone goal scorer and the player Froese replaced, agreed with his coach. “He was exceptional when he came in,” Manneh said. “He did his job well and that’s what we can hope for. He’s a really good player and he just needs a little more minutes and you will see what he can do.

Froese’s performance provides an excellent example for young players on how to cope with nerves at any level of the game. While feelings of nervousness or anxiety are not a bad thing, they can negatively impact performance if you interpret them to be harmful. Whether you encounter them before or during a game, nerves and any related mental or physical sensations (i.e., worries or racing thoughts, shallow breathing, sweating, or upset stomach, etc.) are often indications that your body is getting ready to perform. Rather than interpreting nerves as a sign that you are not prepared to perform well, see them as a sign from your body that it is ready. Players who effectively cope with nerves or anxiety also maintain a focus on their strengths and what they can control leading up to, and throughout, the performance. Know your role on the field, reflect on your strengths as a player that allow you to perform that role well, and commit yourself to paying attention to details (e.g., hard work, communication, etc.) that can help you stay engaged in the present moment throughout the game. Recognize that you will probably make mistakes, and stay focused on how you will quickly recover in those situations, perhaps through the use of a refocusing cue (i.e., “Back to the moment” or “Here and now”). You can also help teammates cope with nervousness by providing communication on the field, encouraging them when they do something well, or providing effective feedback or guidance when they can improve. It is often the case that your efforts to help them stay composed will help you deal with your own nerves as well. Finally, as part of the reframing process in coping with nerves, enjoy the opportunity to test your abilities against other talented players. Whenever Froese sees the field again, either during the regular season or playoffs, he can draw confidence from his ability to cope with the pressure in his MLS debut, and continue to contribute to his team’s success.

High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Helping kids cope with pressure

Participation in youth sports has increased over the years, as has a trend for kids to specialize in a single sport at a young age. While participation in sports has a great deal of positive outcomes, such as learning discipline, teamwork, and perseverance, it can also result in young athletes feeling pressured and overwhelmed by rigorous training schedules and the perceived pressure to perform. Sometimes young athletes feel so much pressure that they lose their enjoyment of the sport and feel mentally and emotionally exhausted.

There are some things that parents can do to minimize the amount of pressure put on their young athletes of all levels. Parents should remain a source of unconditional support. It is typical for parents to take great pride in their children’s athletic achievements and also to grieve along with them when things don’t go well. It is important, however, that parents don’t let their behaviors put unintentional pressure on young athletes by placing too much importance on winning. For example, if parents praise their children for effort and attitude, it is more likely that the young athlete will think of success as being defined by the process of their development, rather than the outcome. Try to take a somewhat neutral stance so you can be a sounding board for your child to come to you with their feelings. For example, let your child talk first after a game and ask questions about how they are feeling rather than expressing your own feelings. Listen without judgment and let them know you value them as a whole person, regardless of wins or losses.

It is also important to help young athletes maintain balance in their lives. Admittedly, this can be very difficult with the demanding athletic schedules, particularly of elite level athletes. Try to encourage your children to maintain a social life outside of the team and, if possible, to participate in other hobbies, as well. Continue to affirm them for their efforts in activities outside of sport such as academics, family responsibilities, and other activities such as music or art. It is important that their identities not be limited to being only an athlete. This will help them maintain perspective and cope with the disappointments and setbacks that they will inevitably encounter. Help your children view these setbacks as a way to gain skills such as perseverance and resilience that will help them succeed in sport and in all aspects of life.

Rule Changes: Evolving Games, Evolving Strategies

Women lacrosse players and coaches all over the nation are anxiously awaiting the start of the 2014 NCAA season due to the recent announcement of fifteen rule changes. The changes take effect at the start of the 2014 season and were made to encourage player safety, increase the speed of the game, and promote fair play. Women’s lacrosse is not the only sport that has seen major rule changes, and it will not be the only sport to change in years to come. Sports are constantly evolving and in order to thrive, it is important to learn to be flexible with and open to potential changes. While it may be difficult at first, try to accept the rule changes, study them, and apply them to your game as soon as possible.

If you have experienced rule changes in the past or anticipate changes in the future, remember that change can be an opportunity for you, and your team, to come together and grow. One strategy to handle rule changes is to have a team brainstorming session to think of ways to adapt. Use a chalkboard, whiteboard, or piece of paper to formulate new game plans that fit the rule changes. Ask questions and commit yourself to learning the new aspects of your sport. Once you understand the rules and have thought about new strategies, take your plans to practice and try them. If you are unsuccessful with your new strategies, don’t be discouraged; go back to the drawing board and keep thinking of ways to compete and play at your best with the new rules. By learning the rules quickly and developing new strategies, you may gain an edge over your competition.

To view the 2014-2015 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse rule changes, please follow this link:

Eliminating a Bad Attitude

All athletes want to be remembered for winning the big game or making the big play; what they don’t want to be remembered for is having a bad attitude. Athletes with a poor attitude strain their relationships with teammates, coaches, and even fans. Former Eagles’ wide receiver Terrell Owens has always been known in the media for having a bad attitude; he made headlines for trash talking and not paying his child support. Rather than being remembered for several National Football League records, Owens is remembered for his foul mouth and his statements against the Eagles administration and quarterback Donovan McNabb.

As an athlete, especially at the elite level, it’s important to remember that your attitude and the way you carry yourself affect your performance. Accordingly, after making a mistake on the field, it is important that you keep your composure. If mistakes make you feel angry or frustrated, release the emotion by taking a deep breath or use mistakes as motivation to fuel your performance. Another way to keep your composure and have an effective attitude is to be mentally prepared. Before a game, prepare yourself mentally for different situations that may occur during competition. Identify what situations set you off emotionally and create a strategy to deal with them. For instance, if a referee makes a bad call, make a plan to cope with your frustration. This plan could include a centering technique, deep breathing, or talking to a teammate to distract yourself from the bad call.

Not only is a bad attitude detrimental to your own performance as a player, the whole team may suffer. Coaches and teams often refuse to work with players who maintain a bad attitude. No one wants to put in the time and dedication to train with someone who is not respectful. Treat your athletic career as you would any other career: act professionally and compassionately. Whether you’re a team captain or not, be a leader on and off the field by communicating effectively and leading by example. Be a mentor to your teammates and a student to your coaches. Take advice seriously and respectfully. Remember, you don’t want to be remembered for your poor attitude; you want to be remembered for your effort.

Developing a Routine Without Superstitions

During the 1986 World Cup, the members of the Argentine National Team were forced to take taxis to their group stage match after their bus broke down. They went on to win the game and coach Carlos Bilardo attributed their victory to the mode of transportation, rather than the team’s level of play. Bilardo, who was notoriously superstitious, made the team take taxis for the rest of the tournament. In sports, superstitions develop when success is attributed to situations and circumstances unrelated to performance. A player may feel that superstitions are beneficial to his/her performance, giving that player a coping mechanism in a situation in which he/she feels pressure to succeed. However, when a player, or in this situation a coach, begins to rely on a superstition, he/she is depending on factors outside of his/her control, such as Bilardo believing that taking taxis to the match was directly related to the team’s success.

Players should maintain a level of consistency prior to competition by having a pre-practice or pre-game routine, not by having superstitions. A routine is beneficial because it allows a player to focus his/her mental energy on game preparation instead of wasting cognitive resources on unrelated tasks or problems. There are many things that a player can’t control, both leading up to and during the game. Routines allow each player to maintain control, which could help improve confidence and reduce anxiety before competition. Superstitions, on the other hand, are entirely out of a player’s control. Following superstitions instead of planned routines could result in a player feeling stressed or helpless if the superstition doesn’t go as planned.

If you don’t have a pregame routine, consider the benefits of developing one. Before any game, pack up all of your gear and equipment, including food and water. Also, think about what you need to do to be mentally prepared for competition. This could be different for every player. For example, some players listen to loud, upbeat music to get ready, while others benefit from peace and quiet before games. You should use your routine consistently to benefit from it the most. However, be open to adapting parts of your routine that do not work for you anymore; keep your routine flexible in order to prevent it from becoming a superstition. Don’t panic when things outside of your control don’t go your way. As long as you stick to your routine and maintain control of yourself and your preparation, you should be able to compete at your best level.

Rainy Days at the U.S. Open: Using Routines to Overcome Tough Conditions

Tiger Woods, the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world, missed yet another opportunity to win a major golf championship during the 2013 U.S. Open. Woods struggled to make par at the Merion Golf Club all weekend. At the conclusion of the tournament, Woods spoke to ESPN about his less than desirable performance. Woods reported that he struggled with the speed of the course because the “greens [were] grainy.” He went on to say that the unfavorable weather conditions were the contributing factor to his 13 over par performance: “Today was a little bit of a struggle out there in these conditions. Conditions are tough out there.”

Undoubtedly, weather can change the course of any sporting event, including golf. However, unfavorable weather conditions are obstacles that many athletes should learn to overcome if they want to perform at their best. Recognize what is controllable, and what is uncontrollable, so that you can begin preparing for competition. You cannot control the weather, but you can control how you prepare yourself mentally and physically for inclement conditions. If you are constantly worried about the rain or fog during an event, you may lose the ability to focus on your sport and your performance.

To avoid this debilitating mindset, make a detailed routine for yourself and commit to it before and during every event. A routine will keep you focused on the things that you can control instead of the weather or field conditions. Here are some things to consider when designing a personal routine:

    • Make sure that you are hydrated and are eating properly
    • Make a list of the things that you need to bring to your event (equipment, water bottle, mouth guard, etc.)
    • Think about the activities or exercises that help you feel mentally and physically prepared for competition
    • Use cue words or phrases that help keep your focus on your preparation and off of any distractions, such as the weather

Remember, your preparation methods and routine are both under your control. Don’t let the uncontrollable conditions rain on your parade!

Staying Focused with the Lead and When You Are Down

The quarterfinals of the Champions League were underway this past week, beginning with Juventus’ devastating loss against Bayern Munich. Bayern’s 2-0 victory put them one step closer to reaching their third Champions League final in four years. The Bavarians did not waste any time getting the lead, as David Alaba scored just 23 seconds into the game. With the early lead, it was extremely important that Bayern not lose focus, but instead, continue playing with the confidence and intensity necessary to earn the victory. In the second half, Thomas Mueller put another one away, giving Bayern the 2-0 advantage. It seemed like Juventus was unable to recover after Bayern’s early goal, resulting in a less than desirable performance that wasn’t up to their full potential. Juventus did have some opportunities in the second half, but those opportunities were not enough against the dominating Bavarians. In a situation such as this, it’s important not to allow an early mistake to dominate the mentality and the intensity of the game.

After a goal, whether for or against a team, the mentality of any player is bound to change. The player is not only focusing on the goal itself, but also on what the goal means. Rather than allowing the meaning of the goal to dominate your focus, focus on the here and now. A present-centered focus can help you stay on task and perform to the best of your ability. When a player scores a goal, it is common for him/her to feel emotions such as joy and happiness. But, not letting these emotions control you is the challenging part. Instead of letting your emotions take over your mind, stay focused on your performance. A good strategy to keep yourself focused after you or your teammate scores a goal is to allow yourself a moment to experience these positive emotions as you run back to midfield. However, bring your focus back to the present and reset your mind quickly so that you’re prepared to help your team. Stay focused on your role on the field and continue to play with intensity, regardless of the score.

If you are down a goal, rather than thinking, “we will never get that goal back,” think about what needs to be done to score a goal, such as connecting passes or winning more tackles. Focusing on these tactical skills could help the team work together more effectively. Instead of focusing on the past, think about what you can do to improve your game to benefit the team. As a team player, you need to realize that your job is not only to focus on your own performance, but also to think about what you can do to benefit the team as a whole.

Kevin Ware: Rebounding from Injury

On Sunday, March 31st, during the Louisville-Duke NCAA tournament game, Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffered one of the most dramatic injuries ever seen in a basketball game. As he lay on the ground with a compound fracture in his leg, everyone in the stadium seemed to be affected by what they witnessed. Players sunk to the floor and cried, and there were tears and anguish on the faces of the coaches and fans. The trauma for Kevin Ware, however, is just beginning, as he will now have to deal with both the physical and emotional impacts of his injury.

Anyone who has experienced an injury that takes them out of their sport knows how devastating it is. Whether the injury is career-ending or one that removes you from a season or a stretch of games, an injury presents a variety of psychological challenges. Feelings of loss are common and manifest in three areas: loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, and loss of coping strategies for stress. With these losses, it is common for athletes to feel isolated and alienated from their teammates.

One strategy athletes can use to deal with an injury is to seek out support from others. They should talk to people about how they are feeling instead of trying to tough it out for fear of appearing weak. It can also be helpful for athletes to continue to participate in team activities in order to combat feelings of isolation. This can include doing rehabilitation exercises on the sideline of team training sessions and continuing to travel with the team to competitions. Viewing recovery training as reconditioning rather than rehabilitation could also help athletes deal with their injuries, viewing recovery time as time off from playing their sport, but not from developing and conditioning. Finally, it is important for athletes to set new, realistic goals for their rehabilitation. This can help athletes measure successes in new ways and help them stay positive, motivated, and focused on getting healthy and returning to play.

USMNT’s World Cup qualifier roster: Working through injuries with team cohesion

The USMNT announced its roster for the World Cup qualifiers this past Monday, March 18th. The roster is notable for the number of players out, either due to injury or illness. Some prominent players absent from the list include goalkeeper Tim Howard and captain Carlos Bocanegra. The diluted squad will play in two crucial World Cup qualifier matches in the next few days against Costa Rica and Mexico. In order to have a chance to advance, following their 2-1 loss to Honduras last month, the USMNT needs all 3 points against Costa Rica and at least one point against Mexico. U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann remains positive, however, about the young talent he has brought on as replacements, saying, “we have a roster together that gives us confidence to approach both games very, very positively.”

It can be difficult when teams are missing players due to injury, particularly when the missing players are the more experienced players. While the situation presents opportunities for younger, less experienced players to step up, success depends on how able those players are to take on new responsibilities. One thing that could help in this situation is enhancing team cohesion on and off the field. The players on the USMNT can’t control the fact that their roster is wrought with injury, but they can control how they prepare for their qualifying matches. It is important for a team’s new players to feel comfortable in their roles on the team and also to feel that the team has confidence in them. Increased communication on the field during training and games could enhance team cohesion, and communication is entirely within a team’s control. Coaches and veteran teammates should give specific and accurate feedback to their less experienced teammates and should be open to receive feedback in return. This open communication should not only help the new teammates learn the expectations associated with their new roles, but also should increase the levels of trust and confidence on the field among all players.

Being able to communicate effectively and play cohesively as a team may help the new, less experienced players on the USMNT feel more involved, and ultimately, play better in the upcoming matches. To see how they do, tune in to watch the match up against Costa Rica on Friday, March 22nd.