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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