Loss to AFC Bournemouth Provides Union Players With “Good Learning Experience”

Prior to Wednesday night’s international friendly against AFC Bournemouth, the Philadelphia Union had put together a string of good performances and a four-game unbeaten streak across all competitions. However, Bournemouth, a club recently promoted to its first ever season in the Premier League this fall, put a resounding end to that run with a 4-1 win. While the English side owned a majority of possession and chances throughout the game, Union head coach Jim Curtin felt that the match provided an important opportunity for his players to grow. “Tough night for our guys, definitely a good learning experience. Credit to Bournemouth, I thought they put a lot into the game. Their ability to press us all over the field, their commitment and their organization was excellent…For our guys, it’s a big lesson learned. There’s a whole other level of technique, of work. Again, they’re not just good on the ball, they also put the dirty running in.” A first career goal by defender Richie Marquez helped the Union reach halftime only trailing 2-1. However, after changing the entire lineup for the second half, Bournemouth’s reserves continued to press and scored two more goals. “For a team in preseason that is going into the Premier League, they’re hungry…they showed that,” Curtin said. “[They] pressed us and made it very uncomfortable. We didn’t have a whole lot of the ball…Again, you try to take some positives and you learn from it, you like to measure yourselves against the top teams and we came up short for sure…I think that for our young guys to play against them was a good experience.”

Despite only being a friendly, games like this can be a struggle for some players who may feel their confidence drop or even become nervous about competing against more talented teams or players in the future. However, as a player, you always have a choice in how you view these experiences beforehand and how you respond afterward. Perhaps, after being invited to a youth national team camp, you realize that you are not quite as good as the other players, or perhaps you are returning from an injury and discover that you are nowhere near the level you need to be at to compete. These experiences can certainly be humbling and even frustrating. But they also provide you with a valuable opportunity to objectively evaluate yourself as a player, by identifying your weaknesses and even reflecting on ways to lift your strengths to another level. When you’re performing well against typical opponents, it can be easy to become complacent, believing that you have achieved your goals (e.g., playing professionally with the Union), and assuming that the work is done. However, encountering a “whole other level of technique,” can put you outside your comfort zone and can give you information on specific ways to improve your game. Take time to reflect on an experience like this, and develop one or more outcome goals for yourself (e.g., being invited back to that national team camp). Break these goals down into performance goals, or parts of your game that need improvement in order to help you achieve that outcome. Finally, set regular process goals that give you specific ways to build those skills (e.g., arriving early for training three days per week, or waking up early for a morning run). It’s normal to feel a bit “shaken up” after being outplayed like this, but the individuals who grow from this experience are the ones who take valuable information from it and apply it to bettering themselves. Heading back into their MLS schedule, players on the Union have a great opportunity, midway through the season, to think about ways to lift their game to the next level.


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Pfeffer Responds to Latest Disappointment With Strong Performance

This season has been full of highs and lows for Philadelphia Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer. The 20-year-old is currently enjoying the most playing time of his professional career, having appeared in nine out of the club’s 12 games thus far, and started five of them. He also scored the second goal of his career last month in the Union’s first win of the season over New York City FC. With that success has also come disappointment though, as Pfeffer was red carded last month against FC Dallas, and forced to sit out for two games. And last week, he learned that he was the final player to be left off the U.S. roster for the U-20 World Cup next month in New Zealand. Despite this setback, on Sunday, against Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United, Pfeffer scored the game winner in the 93rd minute after being subbed on for Andrew Wenger 22 minutes earlier, giving the Union its second win of the season. For the Union’s first ever Homegrown Player, his second goal this season showed he could bounce back from the mental challenges of a personal setback in a big way. “I was very excited, very happy, and relieved. It was a great moment…I was definitely disappointed not to have made the final [U-20 World Cup] roster, but that’s going to happen in this profession,” Pfeffer said after Sunday’s game. “There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs. I have to use moments like this as momentum. I did that tonight and want to keep moving forward. It’s a bump in the road, but I believe I’m in a pretty good spot with the team here.”

Whether it’s losing a game, making a single mistake, or failing to be selected to a team, you are guaranteed to encounter disappointment during your career. Like most players, you will have many highs and lows, and strings of good days followed by some bad ones. The first step in coping with the setbacks that come with being a competitive athlete is recognizing that you will encounter these ups and downs so that you are prepared to manage the emotions that come with both extremes. As a player, it’s normal to feel upset, bitter, or frustrated after a setback like the one Pfeffer encountered last week. Ultimately, however, it’s important to turn your attention and focus back toward what you can control. Accept whatever has happened, because, in all likelihood, you can’t do anything to change it. Also, recognize that one setback does not mean that your talent or skillset has disappeared, nor has it been taken from you. You are still the same player, and like always, you have the opportunity to choose to be confident in your abilities in these moments. Start by focusing on the next training session or game on your schedule. Consider setting new outcome, performance, and process goals that will help you address elements of your game that you feel will make you a better player. At the same time, reflect on your strengths and the parts of your game that you can rely on to bring you success. Finally, recognize that, just like success, disappointment is temporary. Focus on your next performance, and gain confidence from your achievements, no matter how big or small. As a 20-year-old already in his fifth year as a professional, Pfeffer has a long career ahead of him. By focusing on improving each day and continuing to view setbacks as mere “bumps in the road,” it probably won’t be the last time he is in consideration for a national team spot.


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Gerrard Still Facing Tests of Confidence at the Age of 35

With three games left in the last season’s league campaign, Liverpool sat atop the EPL table with a 5-point lead over second-place Chelsea. When the Blues visited Anfield on April 27th, a Liverpool victory would have all-but-ensured the club’s first league title in 24 years, and the first for its iconic captain – Steven Gerrard. In first half stoppage time, however, with the game scoreless, the unimaginable happened. Gerrard slipped in his own half with the ball at his feet, allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to score easily and ultimately hand Liverpool its first loss in 17 matches, dating back to New Years Day. The Reds would go on to relinquish their lead at the top of the table, and settled for a second-place finish – admirable for its re-entry into the Champions League; yet, disappointing given what could have been. “It’s probably been the worst three months of my life,” Gerrard said. “I’ve seen it a few times…When something like that happens you have to face it up and be man enough to take it on the chin. Accept it happened. You can’t change it.” While the infamous slip and its aftermath were certainly painful for Liverpool’s captain, Gerrard’s 2014 troubles somehow worsened at the international level, as England endured one of its worst World Cup campaigns in the country’s history in Brazil last month. Gerrard, who also wore the armband for his country before retiring from international soccer following the World Cup, was quick to frame both disappointments as a personal challenge: “I have had two massive, unbelievable lows in a short space of time, so it is a good test for me this season. Can I hit form after that? I believe that I can.”

Gerrard’s recent experiences show that, even at the highest level of competition and even for the most elite athletes in the world, confidence is rarely, if ever, a fixed mentality. Like most other mental and emotional states, it fluctuates, and as an athlete, your confidence will constantly be tested through the highs and lows of competition. Contrary to popular assumption – that confidence is something athletes are born with; a personality trait that someone either has or doesn’t have – confidence is a choice. In any given situation, facing any form of adversity, while your confidence may bend, it is in your power to ensure that it never breaks. Doing so means that you are able to withstand temporary disappointment, frustration, or embarrassment, knowing that your preparation and experience as an athlete will help you overcome difficult times and find success again. Regardless of how many setbacks you face, you have a choice in how you respond. It often helps athletes to come up with a plan for these times. Knowing that you have faced adversity in the past, and that you will surely face it again, come up with a plan of action for when this does happen: How long will you allow yourself to dwell on negative thoughts or emotions? What will be your first step in setting a bad experience behind you and moving forward? This may even be a specific behavior – such as going for a long run, framing each step as a step forward away from whatever setback lies behind you.

Choosing to be confident also rests partly on your ability to remind yourself of your strengths as an athlete. After setbacks or disappointment, returning to the simplicity of what you do well on a consistent basis is often the best way to “hit form” again. Also reflect on times when you have had success, and times when you have overcome challenges and returned a stronger, more experienced competitor in the past. Gerrard’s experience will be essential for the legendary midfielder who, at the age of 35, may be facing a second retirement – at the club level – in the near future. His self-belief following a painful three months, maintained with the knowledge that he has overcome adversity in the past and will do so again, will likely play a significant role in Liverpool’s further attempts this coming season to reach for that long-awaited league trophy.

Also check out the blog post on Gerrard’s leadership throughout his career and last season: (https://yscsportsmentaledge.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/the-leadership-of-steven-gerrard/)



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Following Brazil’s Shocking Collapse, Their True Test of Mental Strength Awaits

Some claim that it was a lack of preparation, a lack of talent or depth in the roster, or maybe a lack of mental strength when the pre-tournament favorite finally matched up against some of the very best the rest of the world had to offer. Perhaps it was the absence of Neymar or Thiago Silva – both losses in ability, leadership, and inspiration. Or, perhaps the Germans were just too powerful, too clinical, and too merciless in their execution. In the 48 hours following Brazil’s demolition at the hands of Germany in Tuesday night’s World Cup semifinal, the football world has found itself in shock, disbelief, and confusion, as to how things could have possibly unfolded the way they did. After an opening ten minutes in which the game looked balanced, Germany exploded with five goals, and suddenly, Brazil’s World Cup title hopes slipped away before the half hour mark on the game clock had been reached. The final hour – a painfully slow one – yielded two more German goals. And despite a single late consolation strike by Oscar, Brazil suffered arguably their worst World Cup humiliation in history.

David Luiz, Brazil’s captain for the day in Silva’s absence, summed up his disappointment, before looking to the future: “They were better than us. They prepared better. They played better. It’s a very sad day but it’s also a day from which to learn.” Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, echoed the need to look forward: “I think it was the worst day of my life, but life goes on…We are a hard-working team, we win together and lose together…We are sorry we could not get to the final and we will honor the team in the third-place playoff in Brasilia on Saturday.” Despite pain and disappointment – made worse a day later when Brazil’s greatest rival, Argentina, booked its place in the final on Brazilian soil – the Seleção still have a game left to play, when they meet the Netherlands on Saturday in the consolation game.

Through losses, injuries, or failing to make a team, there will be times in your career, as a player, when you face what may seem like insurmountable disappointment in the form of a setback. The psychological challenges in the aftermath of these experiences can be daunting. As is the case with any adversity, however, the quality of your response depends, in large part, on your ability to focus on what you can control. Following a heavy setback, and after taking time to allow your emotions to settle, work on identifying new, or redefining old, goals for yourself moving forward – perhaps even adjusting your previous outcome, performance, and process goals to pursue success in the immediate future. For Brazil, this could involve seeking a result in Saturday’s game (outcome), through a more confident and composed presence on the field (performance), and a careful attention in training this week to adjustments each player can make in his preparation in order to achieve that composure (process). As a player, make these goals specific for yourself. Ensure that, soon after the setback, you create opportunities to have some small success in order to rediscover your confidence. Strengthen this confidence by going back to your strengths as a player, and identifying ways that you can return to what has worked to bring you success in the past. As a team responding to adversity, it also becomes even more important to maintain your cohesion and chemistry. In these times, don’t hesitate to rely on the support of those around you. After a loss, it is likely that your teammates and even your parents are struggling with the disappointment you probably feel. Use these times to talk with those individuals, and discuss lessons you can pull from the experience, and ways that you can grow as a player and a person. Disappointment and embarrassment from their loss on Tuesday is, to a large extent, unavoidable given the pressure Brazil was under, heading into the World Cup, to capture a sixth title on its home soil. Yet, the team still has an opportunity ahead of them. Everyone has off days. No matter how severe these setbacks are, reestablishing your focus on the things you control will strengthen the quality of your response, and will better allow you to grow as a player and person from the experience.



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Regardless of Altidore’s Status, He Must Play a Role

While the US Men’s national team earned a hard-fought win in their first 2014 World Cup match on Monday night over Ghana, American fans around the world collectively held their breath in the game’s 21st minute, when Jozy Altidore went down with an injury. The 24-year old striker pulled up short while sprinting down the sideline for a Michael Bradley pass, grabbing the back of his leg. The obvious pain, subsequent tears, and later reports of a strained hamstring seemed to confirm the fears of those watching around the world. “I was sprinting and I felt something, and we’ll see what happens,” Altidore stated, following the Ghana game. “Of course it was tough for me, I was crushed. I knew right away I couldn’t continue, so that was probably the worst feeling.” With three days until their next game, everyone now waits to see if Altidore will return for the second match on Sunday against Portugal, or even see the field again in Brazil at all. The striker has been a consistent feature in the US starting lineup for several years, boosted by an unprecedented scoring streak throughout World Cup qualifying, and an additional two goals in the USMNT’s final tune-up game before Brazil.

Altidore’s time on the field at the 2014 World Cup may or may not be over. However, his role as a member of the 23-man roster is just beginning this month. At 24 years old, he is already a leader on the USMNT. He has more international experience than many of the younger, and even older, players on the team. As such, he is needed, and expected, to remain a contributor in some form on or off the field through his communication and guidance of less-experienced players. As a player, there will be times when you are forced to the sideline – whether due to injury, sickness, or fulfilling the role of a substitute. When coping with limited playing time, it’s important to continue to find ways of fulfilling a role and making some impact in your team’s efforts. During longer spells away from the game due to injury, make the road back a process of reconditioning, rather than simply recovery. In other words, take time to focus on areas of your game or physical training that you can improve while also rehabbing your injury. Do everything you can to take care of your body and listen to doctors or team trainers in an effort to get back to 100% fitness as quickly as possible. However, also focus on areas of your game – mental or physical – that need improvement. With an ankle injury, this may mean that you spend extra time building upper body strength. Similarly, watch game film and talk with your coach on tactical adjustments you can make when you make it back to the field.

Communication also plays a significant role in these moments. As with any sort of adversity, it’s important to focus on everything that you can control during the reconditioning process. Communicate with your teammates before, during, and after trainings and games, providing encouragement after they do something well, and motivation or specific feedback or instruction when needed. If you are an older player, take the opportunity to support less experienced teammates, and those who earn playing time in your absence. As a leader on the team, Altidore must also play a role in guiding the younger teammates on the US roster. If players like DeAndre Yedlin or Julian Green are called upon to step onto the field in the next several games, Altidore can potentially play an important role in helping them cope with the pressure of this stage. Similarly, if you face a similar experience, take the opportunity to lead through your communication and by example. Maintain a positive attitude and a belief in your teammates and their efforts. While your dedication and performance may not require wearing shin guards and boots, it is no less important. Altidore undoubtedly played a major role in head coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s plans heading into the tournament. However, even though these plans may need to change, the striker will be called upon to fulfill an equally important role as a leader and role model for the other 22 players. With a daunting task ahead of them in Portugal and Germany, the United States will need a belief, energy, and commitment from those on and off the playing field.


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The Spurs Look Forward: Learning From (Not Dwelling On) The Past

Tonight, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs meet in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA finals – a rematch of last year’s dramatic 7-game championship, in which the Heat bounced back three times to tie the series, before winning it all on their home court. The 2013 NBA finals gave Miami their second consecutive Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy; however, it also served up bitter disappointment for the Spurs, who held a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6, and after leading for most of the game, were 28 seconds away from being crowned NBA Champions. A few missed free throws, several late-game errors, and an improbable comeback by the Heat erased a five-point deficit, sent Game 6 into overtime, and ultimately tied the series, before it was won in Miami several days later. For the Spurs, the disappointment of that loss – an outcome so close to ending differently – inevitably extended into this season’s training camp. However, before the start of camp, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had the team re-watch the final two games of the 2013 finals, in a final attempt to, as a team, collectively learn from the experience, and put it behind them. Facing tonight’s new opportunity, Spurs guard Manu Ginobli and his teammates recognize the importance of learning and letting go: “It stays in your head for a while,” Ginobli said. “But then you get away from it, you grow up, you have a new challenge, a new season, and you work to be in that position again, and we are in that position again, so hopefully we do better.”

As an athlete or a team, letting go of the past and refocusing on the present moment and the next opportunity is not necessarily an easy feat. Frustration and disappointment after a major setback – especially one that was agonizingly close to a triumph – is a natural response for those committed to, and passionate about, their sport. And such disappointment can be painful, especially after you’ve physically and mentally pushed yourself on a daily basis for success. However, your ability to move on can be developed through objective evaluation, short-term memory, and a process-oriented approach to your game by focusing on what you can control. As an athlete, an objective evaluation makes the most of past experience, by allowing you to identify both strengths and weaknesses of your performance. After the disappointment has subsided, it is important to draw out some positives from the experience, by recognizing what you did well – what worked. Similarly, take time to acknowledge specific areas of your game that can be improved. Learn from the experience in such a way that fuels your mental or physical approach in the future and allows you to set new training goals for yourself moving forward. For example, if you felt fatigued late in the competition, it may mean that you increase your commitment to building your fitness by running an extra day each week.

Finally, moving on from disappointment means that, as an athlete, you have a short-term memory, and that your focus is not on the outcome, but on the process: the aspects of your performance that you control in the present moment of competition. These aspects include your effort, your attitude, and your commitment to fulfilling your roles and responsibilities on the field or court. Use the lessons of past setbacks to guide your training and preparation for the next competitive opportunity; but, when the time comes to compete, set the past aside and concentrate on what you control in the now. For both the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, the slate is wiped clean when tonight’s game begins. The only thing that matters now is which team can consistently bring their best to the court for this year’s best-of-7 series.


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Resilience and Perseverance Carry Donovan and Edu Forward After Disappointment

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

At some point in their careers, all players will encounter setbacks or failure. The ability to bounce back and recover after those setbacks depends on an individual’s perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity. Last week, U.S. men’s national team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann released his 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer, and among five other names, prior World Cup attendees Landon Donovan and Maurice Edu were left off the list. While this was a very difficult announcement for both players, it was made, perhaps, more challenging by the fact that in returning to the MLS, they were to play in a game (against each other) three days later. Sunday’s match between the LA Galaxy and the Philadelphia Union provided an opportunity for Donovan and Edu to turn their attention back to their respective club seasons, and move on from the disappointment of the previous week. Across 90 minutes, both players rose to the occasion and met this challenge head-on. While the Union ultimately fell to the Galaxy 4-1, Edu left his mark on the game by scoring from the penalty spot in the 88th minute. Donovan’s performance was even more impressive, as the striker recorded two goals and an assist in the Galaxy’s win, and broke the all-time MLS goal-scoring record along the way. Following the game, Donovan noted that, “It’s been an emotional three days. A lot of down and a lot of up honestly…I’m just glad I could come back and contribute and help out.”

As a player, recognize that you will encounter setbacks or disappointment at some point in your career. Whether this adversity comes in the form of repeated injuries, or failing to make a team, it is important to develop your resiliency for these experiences. While initial disappointment or frustration in response to these experiences is often automatic, it is necessary to eventually shift your attention to the challenge in front of you in order to move on: continuing forward with renewed motivation and commitment to your training and your performances. Re-establish your focus on what you can control as a player by thinking about your role and your responsibilities in the next training session or game. Consider setting small process goals for yourself (i.e., running several times per week to increase your fitness) to keep your attention in the present moment, rather than on the past, and help you train to fulfill your role and responsibilities.

Another way to recover quickly from disappointment is to focus on your strengths as a player. This was evident in Donovan’s play on Sunday. The build up to his first, and record-breaking, goal was a testament to his exceptional qualities on the field: his vision, his ability to thread a pass on the run, and his movement and timing off the ball in receiving the return pass back from Robbie Keane. Like Donovan, after a setback, return to the basics of your game by relying on the strengths that have brought you success in the past – such as your communication, your hard work, or your vision or composure on the field. The omission of players like Donovan and Edu from the World Cup roster shows that even the greatest players face disappointment at times. Those players with the resilience to rise above this adversity and focus on what they can control are often the ones who are quickest to bounce back.



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