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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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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Ronaldo’s Third Ballon d’Or a Further Testament to Consistency and Dedication

After leading Real Madrid to its tenth Champions League title in 2014, and breaking countless individual records along the way, Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded the 2014 Ballon d’Or trophy in Zurich on Monday. The Portuguese striker has now earned the title of world’s greatest footballer for the second consecutive year and third time overall. Last year, Ronaldo scored a combined total of 61 goals for Real Madrid and Portugal, and set a new Champions League record by scoring 17 goals in one campaign. “It has been an incredible year. I would like to continue the work that I have done so far. I want to try to improve, to become better as each day goes by…Every season is a new challenge for me,” Ronaldo said. “That’s how I have to look at things if I’m going to be successful. This Ballon d’Or caps a great season for me and it also gives me the motivation to start 2015 with the same ambition.” Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti also saw the trophy as a fitting reward for Ronaldo’s dedication to his game: “[He] is one of the players I most enjoy watching on the pitch. He’s a perfectionist and he has an awful lot of talent, but he works very hard to polish that talent and improve the many attributes that he possesses.”

There often seems to be a misconception among fans that players like Ronaldo are naturally gifted with their talent. While this may be partly true, Ronaldo’s dedication to improving his game through training and preparation is unmatched. For example, his free kicks are deadly, but very few know that Ronaldo remains on the field after almost every training session to work endlessly on perfecting them. On top of this, teammates, coaches, and trainers have commented in the past on how the 29-year-old devotes attention to every aspect of his preparation, including off-the-field workouts and nutrition, in an effort to gain an edge over his opponents. As a player, consistency in your game comes from your willingness and ability to prepare yourself physically and mentally to perform on a daily basis. Preparing your body and mind to be at their best day in and day out means that you are diligent in training, but also that you take care of the details off the field. Pay attention to the amount of sleep you are getting, and the types of food you are putting into your body. Instead of watching several hours of TV on the weekend, consider whether you can devote that time to getting in an extra run, or increasing your strength or flexibility. For many players, one obstacle to performing consistently well is the complacency that can arise after you achieve success. It can be tempting in these moments to let your guard down – content with the accomplishments or goals you have already reached. However, the best players in the world enjoy success, but are never satisfied with their talent. Instead of resting on your laurels, raise the bar for yourself. Set a new goal, and come up with an actionable plan that allows you to pursue it. Breaking an outcome goal (e.g., “I want to make the national team”) down into performance goals (e.g., “I want to improve my finishing ability”) and process goals (e.g., “I will strike 30 shots on goal after training three times per week”) can help you create a plan for yourself to continue lifting your game to the next level. Ronaldo epitomizes the dedication of a player never truly satisfied with his achievements. As he turns to 2015 in an effort to remain at the top of world football, his consistency in preparing and drive to improve will go a long way in keeping him there.

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Germany Sets the Standard for Preparation, Team Commitment, and Discipline

Even though it took 120 minutes, Germany’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in Sunday’s World Cup final was a fitting culmination to an outstanding overall performance by Die Mannschaft across 7 games. In fact, there seemed to be a general consensus that the team lifting the Jules Rimet trophy on Sunday night deserved to be standing there. Starting with an authoritative 4-0 win over Portugal, Germany met lofty expectations in the first few weeks of the tournament by finishing on top of, arguably, the World Cup’s most difficult group. The knockout round matches further proved the team’s quality on many levels, as Germany were patient in overcoming a resilient Algeria side, and admirably ruthless in dismantling Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal. It is also worth noting the discipline of the German players throughout this tournament: Across 7 games, Germany never conceded a penalty, saw only 6 yellow cards, and never received a red, while suffering the third most number of fouls of any team in the World Cup. In their 10 qualifying games leading up to the World Cup, Germany also avoided seeing a single red card. Throughout most of their seven games in Brazil, the Germans were organized, supremely confident in their technical execution, and efficient in the chances they created (they were outshot by Brazil, despite the one-sided semifinal).

This overall composure and discipline at the highest level of competition did not emerge for the Germans overnight. After the final, head coach Joachim Löw, summed up the patience and preparation that has gone into his country’s ultimate arrival at the top of world football: “It was time,” Löw said. “It’s the product of many years of work. [The team has] been together for 55 days, [but] we started this project 10 years ago and this is the result of that work, beginning with Jürgen Klinsmann. Through the years, we were able to increase our performances and make progress. We believed it.”

Germany’s triumph this month served as a testament to the effectiveness of the team-first approach of their players, and the extent of their preparation over the long term. Teams whose players and coaches maintain belief in collective goals typically find success in the long run because of the consistent commitment these individuals bring to their training and preparation for competition on a daily basis. For young players who watched Germany’s run through this year’s World Cup, you can learn from the experience by evaluating your own commitment to your team and individual preparation. Are you making the most out of every opportunity you step onto the field? Have you fully bought into your team’s goals and the work it will take to achieve them? Having a team-first approach as a player means that you set aside any personal agenda and focus on doing whatever it takes on a daily basis to contribute to your team’s objectives. It means that you maintain a high level of effort in every training session and game, and that you are also mentally disciplined in managing your emotions during games. Using strategies such as self-talk or a quick centering breath to compose yourself whenever you feel emotional in the heat of competition will allow you to stay disciplined and in the present moment during games. As a counter-example, in Germany’s first group match against Portugal, the Portuguese defender Pepe failed to manage these emotions and forced his team to play a man down for nearly 60 minutes.

Germany’s consistency and achievement this month was executed by a group of talented, team-oriented players and coaches, rather than any one or two self-interested stars. As the world reflects on the fantastic football spectacle that took place over the past month, many national and club teams will be looking to the team left standing on the podium on Sunday as the ultimate model of how a team can find and maintain success at the highest level.

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Blake Makes History, But The Real Work Starts Now

The city of Philadelphia was a hotbed of soccer excitement over the past few days, with the 2014 MLS SuperDraft providing one of the many highlight attractions and setting the stage for a new season starting in March. Amid a flurry of trades and last minute excitement, the Philadelphia Union emerged with the top overall pick, and selected Andre Blake, product of the University of Connecticut. Blake made history as the first goalkeeper to be selected number one overall in the SuperDraft. He leaves a three-year college career behind him with an impressive resume, including 36 shutouts, and a 0.75 goals against average this past season. He earned the American Athletic Conference Goalkeeper of the Year award, and was one of 15 semifinalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy, as college soccer’s top player in 2013. While most knew he would be selected early, Blake admitted that he was a little shocked when he heard his name called first. Yet, when asked about the pressure of being selected first and the potential to compete for Philadelphia’s number one spot, the standout keeper was quick to acknowledge that his work was just starting: “…For me, I’m not going to rush and get ahead of myself…I’m going to take it one step at a time. I’m going to earn my respect in the locker room, I’m going to earn my respect on the soccer pitch, by working hard every day and showing the coaches what I can do, and I will leave the decision up to the coaches.”

In joining a new team or environment, a player must have the right attitude, focus, and a desire to prove oneself. An impressive resume helped Blake add another fantastic honor to his long list of achievements, but, in many ways, his slate is wiped clean moving forward. Upon entering a new competitive environment in any sport, prior success holds little to no significance if one is not willing to continue working hard. When you are selected to a new team, you have a responsibility to earn your spot through hard work and dedication. You should maintain respectful communication with teammates and coaches on and off the pitch, and hold yourself to high standards of discipline by always working hard, arriving early for trainings and team functions, and listening to feedback from those around you. After the initial excitement settles, elite athletes will often reframe accomplishments as opportunities – ones that can either be conquered or squandered. Each new achievement is merely an opportunity to prove oneself all over again. This especially applies to players making the jump to a higher level (i.e., from high school to college, or from college to the pros). In these instances, respect and admiration at the next level are not given out freely. Players must continue to engage in the training habits and work ethic that carried them to their current level. As Andre Blake enjoys the satisfaction of knowing that his work up to this point has been rewarded, he is aware that such satisfaction should be short-lived: “I want to go out on the pitch and show them it was a good choice.”

Auburn Football: Discipline and Anticipation in Late Game Heroics

Over the weekend, many Americans witnessed one of the greatest endings to a college football game in history, as the 4th ranked Auburn Tigers upset their biggest rival and two-time defending National Champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide in heroic fashion. In the game’s final second, previously top-ranked Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal, with the game tied at 28. As the teams lined up for this final play, Auburn senior Chris Davis stood 60 yards away under his own goal posts. The Auburn senior shocked the football world when he caught the missed field goal attempt and returned it 109 yards, untouched, for the winning touchdown.

Even when a game seems over, or out of reach, the athletes who remain disciplined and take advantage of a competitive opportunity are often the ones who are ready for a “heroic moment.” Players with courage and confidence take action under pressure situations, choosing to take risks and chances. To be an elite player, it is important to take advantage of every opportunity you have on the field and remain focused until the final whistle – not a second less. Maintaining discipline and focus in games starts in training sessions and the training habits of a player, as well as behavior off the field, in preparation for performance. For example, during training sessions, you should play with focus and intensity during each drill, whether or not the coach is watching or if you are getting tired. Focusing on these training habits will help you develop a competitive mindset.

Davis’s heroism in this game’s final play also demonstrated another important mental skill for elite athletes: having a killer instinct. Ultimately, by maintaining high focus and intensity in training day-in and day-out, a player develops the courage to approach late game moments without a fear of failure – to meet the challenge of a situation with full confidence that you can overcome it. The discipline and intensity you have practiced on a regular basis will give you the hunger and drive to take chances and perform at an optimal level with no hesitation when you have the opportunity to do so. This type of discipline and competitive mindset were on full display in Davis and his teammates, and helped them achieve the near-impossible and make history.

Engaging in Sport

Have you ever been so used to doing certain warm-ups and drills in practice that you find yourself just going through the motions? In order to develop skills and improve, you have to repeat skills, practicing them over and over during training sessions. Still, this repetition should not be a signal for you to disengage with your training. In order to benefit from your training sessions and learn from drills, be mindful of your training and make an effort to engage in the tasks.

Engagement is the choice to commit to and connect with a task. Being engaged in the tasks you have to do as you train can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you are going through a shooting drill, make a conscious choice to engage in the drill and be mindful of your actions. Pay attention to your technique, your awareness of what’s going on around you, and how well you execute. Over time, continuing to be mindful and engaged throughout training can help you identify what you are doing well and what you need to work on. You can then set goals to keep up with what you’re doing well and make plans to train the skills you need to work on.

Being mindful and engaged could also help you enjoy training more because it could help you recognize and understand the purpose of drills. So, instead of going through the motions during a shooting drill, think about why your coach planned the drill. How can you use those skills in competition? Besides your shooting skills, which other skills is the drill helping you develop (e.g., communication skills with teammates, dribbling, composure under pressure)? Being engaged and finding the purpose of drills could help you feel more motivated and focused as you train.