Cristiano Ronaldo: Adapting His Game to Stay on Top in Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo will go down in soccer history as one of the game’s greatest players. Over his long career, he’s certainly earned himself that recognition, winning more than one Ballon D’Or, the UEFA Best Player in Europe award, the World’s Top Goal Scorer recognition, and Globe Soccer Award for Best Player of the Year – all within the last couple of seasons. Besides his tremendous work rate, attention to detail, and competitive drive, lately he has showcased a skill that seems to be helping him keep his spot at the top of soccer: adaptability.

Although at the age of 30, Ronaldo is still very young, he’s not necessarily considered young for a professional soccer player. As each season progresses, he needs to continue to find ways to play to his strengths and remain a dominating force on the field. He’s done that by adapting his tactics on the field. Data show that Ronaldo’s touches on the ball and his number of shots have decreased over the past few years, and that he is covering fewer yards per game with the ball. However, he is still at the top of the charts in scoring. That’s because he’s adept at adapting his game. He’s continuing to develop his finishing technique and his positioning and rather than running here and there on the field, he’s smarter and more deliberate about getting into dangerous positions that provide him the highest opportunity to score.

Adaptability is an important skill for any athlete. Whether you join a team as a much younger or older player, or you’re asked to play in a position you’re not used to for the good of the team, being able to adapt your game in order to keep your performance up is essential. The best way to do this is to first understand and then accept your role, whatever that may be. Do this by recognizing how you can benefit the team. Next, learn what is specifically expected of you. For Ronaldo, that’s scoring goals. Once you know what you’re expected to do, make a plan for how you can do that most effectively and efficiently (like Ronaldo covering fewer yards, but improving his positioning). Continue to make adjustments like this until you are comfortable that you know what you want to do and how you plan to do it in order to do you job on the field or court. Being adaptable will help you continue to contribute to the team and develop your own individual game.

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Hope Solo: Maintaining Your Uniqueness and Excellence

Although soccer is a team sport, individually, each player brings something unique and special to the table. As you develop as a player, it is important for you to discover your strengths and understand your role on the team. Setting goals for yourself allows you to improve weaknesses and enhance strengths through directed training. Sometimes though, outside expectations influence your own individual goals, causing you to set goals to achieve what others expect of you, rather than what you expect of yourself. Hope Solo, goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Team once said: “If you truly expect to realize your dreams, abandon the need for blanket approval. If conforming to everyone’s expectations is the number one goal, you have sacrificed your uniqueness, and therefore your excellence.” By sticking to her own dreams, Solo was able to avoid sacrificing her uniqueness and her excellence. She has led the U.S. Women’s National Team to two Olympic gold medals, and was individually awarded goalkeeper of the year in 2009, and the Golden Glove in the FIFA 2011 Women’s World Cup. This Friday, Solo will attempt to add to that resume when the USWNT faces off against China in the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals.

Your personal dreams determine the specific goals you set for yourself. As Solo notes, in order to realize your dreams, you must often disregard others’ expectations for you, and focus on the expectations you have for yourself. Maybe you only want to play soccer through high school, or continue to play through college, or even attempt to play professionally. Once you know what your dreams are, you may begin to set goals that will help you achieve them. Set goals that are unique to you as a player, rather than goals that conform to the expectations of others. Break these goals down into steps (outcome, performance, and process goals) that will help you stick to them. An outcome goal is the equivalent to your dream – your big-picture goal, such as winning the state tournament. Performance goals focus on specific skills that, with improvement, will build the blocks to your big-picture goal. As a goalkeeper who wants to help your team win the state tournament, your performance goal may be to improve the accuracy of your distribution. Finally, process goals include when, where, and how you will specifically achieve your performance goal. Thus, a process goal is a daily training plan you can follow to help you achieve your goals. A process goal to improve a goalkeeper’s distribution may involve arriving 20 minutes early to training, 3 times a week and working with a teammate on various forms of distributing the ball safely and accurately (i.e., rolling, throwing, punting, drop-kicking, etc.). This is a continuous process that allows you to improve and grow as a player. By setting personal goals, you maintain your sense of uniqueness as a player and pave your path to excellence by pursuing your dreams.

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USMNT Looks to Benefit From Demanding Environment

Four months removed from the last World Cup, the U.S. Men’s National Team already has its eyes set on preparing for the next step. For head coach Jürgen Klinsmann and his players, that next step is the Gold Cup, hosted by the United States next summer. On Friday in London, the USMNT lost a hard-fought 2-1 friendly game to Colombia, ranked third in the latest FIFA rankings. On Tuesday, the U.S. faces Ireland – a team working to earn its berth into the 2016 European Championship. For Klinsmann, these games provide an ideal test for his players. “The earlier that we can throw the players into a stress environment, into a very demanding environment, the better it is,” Klinsmann said. “And that is why we try to get games here [in Europe] and going down in the future to South America…And to keep learning and keep losing to get that experience. That’s what these guys need. They need to understand what it really takes to master the game at a higher level and hopefully get the results down the road.” U.S. midfielder Mix Diskerud agreed. “It helps a lot when you play against a top three team [Colombia] in the world and you learn a lot,” Diskerud noted. “For me, it definitely was an experience and I know where the bar is set right now and where the best players are at…Going forward, and playing this game against Ireland, I know and the rest of the players as well, where the highest tempo is and how it should be played.

There are many young players in this country who, like you, want to make it to the highest levels of the game. As a player, what steps are you taking to prepare yourself for these goals? Part of preparation involves exposing yourself to high-level environments, where you are outside your comfort zone and challenged on a weekly basis. As a player, it is important to constantly seek out ways to push yourself physically and mentally to become better. One way of doing so is by competing against older, bigger players. If training with older players is not an option, think about how you respond when you find yourself competing against an opponent who is faster or maybe more talented than you. Preparing yourself for the higher levels of the game means that you are willing to be uncomfortable by testing yourself against better competition and testing your limits in pressure situations. When you know that you are going to be competing against more talented players, set short-term process goals for yourself concerning what you want to accomplish, and maintain your focus on the parts of your game that you can control. For example, aim to win 75% of your tackles or to beat your defender down the line. No matter the outcome of the game, you can still focus on these goals that you control and measure your success based on your performance with them. As Klinsmann notes, this mentality means that losing should be viewed as a way of learning and gaining experience as a player. This certainly does not mean that you should want to lose. Instead, it means that you do your best to win, and recognize the lessons you learn from both wins and losses, including the fact that merely competing against more talented players is an opportunity to make yourself better. Exposing yourself to these high-level environments, and embracing the moments when you get to compete against the best, will also help you test your character when facing adversity. How will you respond when your back, or your team’s back, is against the wall? As the United States prepares for its next friendly against Ireland, Klinsmann will be watching for those players who embrace these tests, and enjoy challenging themselves against the best the world has to offer.

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Messi and Neymar Meet Daunting Expectations With Excellence

For months, this tournament was billed to be their moment. One player, at the ripe age of 22, carried the pressure of leading Brazil to World Cup glory on its home soil. The other, in his prime at 27, was expected to finally meet the expectations on the international level he has so consistently set with his club. For Brazil’s Neymar and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the stage has long been set for both stars to cement their places in history, while carrying their respective countries’ hopes and dreams on their shoulders.

At the club level over a decade, Messi has redefined success in the modern football era. With Barcelona’s First Team since 2004, his accomplishments include two Champions League triumphs, four Ballon d’Or trophies as the world’s greatest player, and an unfathomable 243 goals across 277 appearances. However, with each moment of captivating brilliance on the field, Messi seems to set the bar higher for himself. The quality and quantity of his goals are now commonplace and expected – expectations made more daunting by the fact that he has largely fallen short of them on the international stage. Neymar, on the other hand, seems to reserve his greatest moments for when he is wearing the yellow and green of the Seleção. While he plays a reserve role, for the most part, as a teammate of Messi’s with Barcelona, Neymar consistently shines with Brazil and seems to embrace the expectations his nation places on his shoulders. At the conclusion of this tournament’s group stage, however, the two stars lead all 736 players in the World Cup with 4 goals apiece across three games, along with Germany’s Thomas Müller. Each has been largely the catalyst for his nation’s berth into the knockout round, despite the enormity of the expectations in front of them. In a recent interview with FIFA, Neymar commented on his approach to any perceptions of pressure: “I’m now playing in matches that I always dreamed about…I just want to help my fellow players not only by scoring goals but doing whatever it takes on the pitch to help us win.”

Neymar’s statement speaks less to the existence of pressure in these games – because pressure will almost always be there in some form – and more to his mental interpretation of pressure, and the impact that pressure might have on his performance. As a player, there will be times when you may face pressure or expectations in your career. It is important to recognize, however, that while these expectations are out of your control, your response to them is controllable. Players who are able to embrace these moments and the opportunities created by this pressure (“playing in matches that [they] always dreamed about”) are often able to bring their best performance to these occasions. Try to see pressure as a personal challenge for yourself, and know that the significance of the moment will bring out your best game because you have prepared for it. When facing perceptions of pressure, also consider how your focus before and during these competitive moments plays a major role. Focusing on the parts of your game you can control (i.e., your effort) during competition will help to keep your mind in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the expectations you feel you need to meet in the future. Furthermore, as evident in Neymar’s comment, it can help to focus your attention and energy on your team’s goals and success. See these moments as opportunities to use your strengths to contribute as much as possible to your team’s efforts. Above all, excellence in the face of pressure or expectations comes from a determined effort to stick with what you know works for you – whether that be your routine, the skills you use to stay composed and confident during a game, or your strengths as a player. Hopeful murmurs of a World Cup final between Brazil and Argentina – and a highly anticipated matchup between Messi and Neymar – are already being tossed around. However, with increasingly difficult knockout round games ahead of them, both players will need to continue coping with expectations as they inevitably continue to rise. Similarly, the world will have to be content with marveling at the consistent brilliance of Neymar and Messi in meeting, and exceeding, those expectations each time they step onto the field.

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For Ronaldo, Excellence and Professionalism Extend Beyond the Field

This week, TIME Magazine released its illustrious annual list of the ‘Most Influential People in the World,’ and for the fourth time in five years, a soccer player was included among the prominent names. Real Madrid striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, the 2013 Balon d’Or winner as the world’s greatest footballer, was one of 100 individuals selected by TIME and one of five athletes on the list. Ronaldo’s rise in prominence on the field has been nothing short of spectacular, as he continues to break records and assert his place among the world’s elite players. The Portuguese international has scored 49 goals for Madrid this season, including two breathtaking long distance strikes over the weekend against Osasuna and two more goals in the Champions League semifinal second leg against Bayern Munich. Above all, it is the consistency in Ronaldo’s excellence that has earned him the right to be grouped with the greatest players of all time at the age of 29. Commenting on TIME’s list, three-time World Cup winner Pelé noted that, “Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most influential athletes in sports today…I greatly respect his competitive mindset on the field, and it’s no surprise that he is currently considered the best football player in the world…I would like to encourage him to keep up the hard work and to continue to fuel the passion for the sport among today’s youth.”

While Ronaldo continues to cement his status among the all-time soccer greats, his latest achievement is a testament to the excellence and professionalism he shows consistently both on and off the field of play. This is largely a result of two of the qualities mentioned in the quote above: his competitive mindset and hard work. As a professional athlete, Ronaldo has become a role model for young soccer players all over the world by choice. He consistently focuses on the parts of his game he can control in order to make himself a better player.

As a young player, displaying excellence and professionalism on the field means that you hold yourself to high standards in training and games. It also involves focusing on what you can control, by bringing a consistently high work ethic, level of concentration, and commitment to your physical and mental preparation for competition. However, it is important to recognize that these habits can translate to other areas of your life as well, in terms of how you demonstrate commitment to your development as a person off the field, by working hard in the classroom and fulfilling your responsibilities at home. For players who aspire to compete at the collegiate level, it is especially important to develop a strong balance between your athletic and academic responsibilities in order to be able to handle the demands and rigors of the life of a student-athlete. Displaying professionalism and excellence off the field also means that you are respectful to the people with whom you interact on a regular basis. As a player, you should strive to be an ambassador and positive representative, not only of your club or high school team, but also of the game of soccer in general, through your high character and behavior in all contexts of your life. As Ronaldo aims to expand his soccer resume this season with a second Champions League title with as many clubs, his status as an “influential person” and role model for young players around the world will be determined by the excellence and professionalism he continues to display on a regular basis.

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – Pairing Excellence With Sportsmanship

In its first week, the Winter Olympics have offered us a wonderful display – not only through the fantastic performance of elite athletes from around the world, but also through countless moments of exceptional sportsmanship and respect throughout the competition. On Tuesday, in the final stretch of the men’s cross-country skiing freestyle semifinal, Russian competitor Anton Gafarov fell and broke one of his skis. Canadian ski team coach Justin Wadsworth was on the sideline and immediately rushed out onto the course and helped Gafarov onto one of the Canadian team’s spare skis, allowing him to complete the event. In an equally admirable display of sportsmanship that day, Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov showed his respect for his biggest rival competitor – American snowboarding legend Shaun White. After White’s final pass on the halfpipe failed to earn him a medal and ensured that Podladtchikov won gold, the Swiss athlete gripped the American in a full embrace and congratulated him on his run. On the respect he has for his top rival, Podladtchikov stated that “He’s always pushing the limits and that’s just exciting to watch. You want those kinds of people to win because they are pushing themselves more than anybody else…It just motivates me. He made me go out there and try new tricks…

As young athletes develop and advance to higher levels in sport, they could lose sight of the importance of sportsmanship, as more and more emphasis is placed on winning. However, while it is natural to focus on performing at your best and beating your opponent, it is also important to acknowledge their talents and efforts and the extent to which they help to create a competitive environment that challenges you to test your ability each day. Regardless of how intense a rivalry may become, elite competitors understand how much they rely on an opponent to motivate them and lift their game to a higher level. There are specific ways to acknowledge your opponent and treat him or her with respect throughout competition. Stopping play when they are injured or helping them back to their feet after a foul are ways of demonstrating sportsmanship and recognizing their part in helping to maintain a competitive environment. After a game, be sure to shake hands with your opponent, complimenting them on their effort and their performance. Further, this sportsmanship should not stop with athletes; coaches, like Wadsworth, who demonstrate sportsmanship before, during, and after competition, set a strong example for how younger competitors should behave. On one of the highest athletic stages in the world, displays of sportsmanship by coaches and athletes like Wadsworth and Podladtchikov demonstrate to athletes and spectators everywhere that athletes can compete with intensity at the highest level and still maintain respect for competitors and for competition itself.

For Ronaldo, Excellence, Consistency, and Persistence Pay Off

For the last four years, Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the audience as Lionel Messi walked to the stage in Zurich, Switzerland each time to collect the Ballon D’Or trophy, as the world’s greatest footballer. That agonizing streak has now been broken, as Monday evening saw Real Madrid’s star striker collect the prize for the second time in his career. Ronaldo’s status at the top of the football world shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. His 2013 body of work includes a jaw-dropping 66 goals in 56 games for Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team, as well as a mesmerizing display in the final match of Portugal’s World Cup qualifying campaign, in which he scored a hat trick, in their 3-2 win over Sweden. Yet, for nearly half of a decade, Ronaldo has always seemed a step behind his Argentine and Barcelona counterpart. While the world collectively placed the two in a class above everyone else, Messi always seemed to be the natural choice when we asked ourselves “Who is the very best?” Yet, following his first Ballon D’Or in 2008, Ronaldo seemed to give us a simple promise: his work was not done: “…It does not mean I have reached the top. I want more. I’m going back to square one. I’m starting my career again now.”

Elite athletes in any sport have an insatiable hunger to be the best and push themselves at all times. Temporary excellence, therefore, is not sufficient. For players at any level, achievement is something that should be cherished and enjoyed, as it is a testament to hard work and ability. However, the greatest players are the ones who continually set new goals and new challenges for themselves as they accomplish their goals. Furthermore, they consistently lift their game to match and exceed those around them. Ronaldo’s endless rivalry with Lionel Messi has ushered in the new era of football greats, as both players continue to break records and perform at a breathtaking level, in part because of the competitiveness and drive that continues to raise their game. Players of all ages, hoping to reach the high school, college, professional, or international stage, can benefit from continuously renewing the goals and challenges they set for themselves. To be a top competitor on a consistent basis, you must be willing and able to take time to enjoy success, and then set new standards of excellence you hope to achieve. With six months remaining between now and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Ronaldo has thrown down a challenge to Messi and other players around the world who hope to contend for the team and individual titles of football’s greatest. Ronaldo’s excellence and persistence have landed him in the spotlight consistently. Even after losing to Messi four years in a row, he kept his focus and kept working on what he controlled and it paid off – you could see it in his excitement as he received the trophy. Fortunately, this will motivate him even more and there will be a lot more Ronaldo for years to come!

Be Comfortable in the Uncomfortable

It is the dream of many young players to play their chosen sport at the collegiate or even professional level. In order to reach higher, more competitive levels, players should learn how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

There are several situations in which this concept applies. One is related to the training regimens necessary to progress to the higher levels of athletics. It is important for players to realize that training will not always be fun or pleasurable. Training should be difficult and players should be willing to push their bodies to the limits and accept that some pain will accompany that. For example, the level at which elite players perform could lead to sore muscles or minor aches that accompany intense training; elite players push their bodies hard in order to reach their goals. However, pain beyond sore muscles or minor aches should be taken seriously. Pushing through pain that seems more than just sore muscles could lead to injury, which could hurt a player’s performance and well-being. Still, players at the elite level often come to reframe the normal pain they feel in their muscles from intense training as something good, sometimes as a reflection of hard work and determination. In other words, they become so comfortable being uncomfortable that a training session is not considered effective without a certain level of pain or discomfort.

Another area in which players need to be comfortable in the uncomfortable is pressure situations. Being under pressure evokes a number of physiological and psychological responses, including muscle tightness and increased heart rate, sweating, and stress and anxiety. While, admittedly, these responses are not always considered pleasurable, the elite player, in order to perform at high levels, will find a way to manage them, or “be comfortable” with them. In fact, many may become so comfortable that they may welcome those high-pressure situations.

So, how do you work on being comfortable in the uncomfortable? You can simulate stressful situations in training. When you experience stress at practice and you can handle it effectively, it will be easier to tolerate the uncomfortable sensations during competition. The more comfortable you can be in these uncomfortable situations, the more likely you are to maximize your talent and perform to your best ability. To handle the pressure you simulate in training, create a pre-performance routine that gets you feeling prepared and ready to play. This could include eating and drinking before playing to boost your energy, listening to music, and/or using self-talk that helps you feel confident and ready. A routine that prepares you to play can help you be in the right mindset to feel confident facing pressure situations and to be able to recover quickly after the highs and lows during a session or game. Also, try practicing centering breaths when the ball is out of play. Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose, letting the air fill your stomach, not your chest. Release the breath steadily out through your mouth. This controlled breathing could help you feel composed and ready to handle whatever the session throws at you.

Perseverance in the UEFA Quarterfinals

On April 9th, Real Madrid and Galatasaray faced off in the second leg of the UEFA 2013 quarterfinals. Despite going into the match with an aggregate score of 0-3, and Ronaldo’s goal in the seventh minute making it 0-4, Galatasaray didn’t give up. The Turkish football club was able to come back in the second half after Eboué’s shot found the back of the net in the 57th minute. This equalizing goal seemed to empower his squad and the team was able to push through and persevere, tearing through Real Madrid’s defense. Sneijder and Drogba added to the morale of the team with goals in the 71st and 72nd minutes. Galatasaray’s performance showed how a team is able to persevere despite difficult challenges and unfavorable odds.

Everyone faces challenges and obstacles at some point. At times you may want to give up and cut your losses. However, it is important to stay focused on your goals, remain positive, and be confident. Great players display perseverance by trying their best, regardless of whether things are going their way or if they are facing an obstacle. Although it may result in being knocked out of the Championship, like Galatasaray, it is impossible to know the final result before a game is over. The only thing that is certain is that if you give up, you’re very unlikely to win. Continuing to give 100% effort, regardless of the situation, gives you the best odds to win or at least perform to your best ability.

When facing an obstacle, picture it as a wall in front of you. Just because the wall is there doesn’t mean you have to stop your forward progress and give up. Instead, you just have to find a new way to get past it, perhaps going over it or around it. Set goals to help you get past your obstacle. The amount of effort you put forth to achieve these goals is within your control, so push yourself to persevere. The more goals you’re able to accomplish, the more motivated you could feel to keep going. If you’re able to stay focused and calm, and give 100% effort, you’re more likely to persevere and overcome the obstacle.


“One man can’t carry a nation. He needs other players to help.”Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard, captain of England’s National Team, stated the quote above when asked about his twenty-one year old teammate and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere. Wilshere is touted as having the potential to grow into a world-class player. With that tag, Gerrard warns against Wilshere’s National Team teammates becoming too reliant on Wilshere, as this pressure might not help him grow as a player. He believes the National Team puts too much pressure on Wilshere to meet the expectations of being a world-class player. England sees Wilshere as part of their future because they recognize that he has the talent to go far in soccer. With this vision of his potential, they continue to set high expectations for him.

Depending on one’s mindset (i.e., a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset), a player could interpret these expectations differently. Players with a fixed mindset believe that they are born with their traits. They do not see the value in putting forth effort to get better because they believe that they have their set talents, and that’s that. With a fixed mindset, Wilshere could see his talents as something he was born with and decide not to continue working to develop these skills; he could see that he was born with the talent to become a world-class player and decide that there is no value in working to get even better if he’s already approaching the expectation of being a world-class player. However, this could hinder him from reaching his full potential.

On the other hand, a player with a growth mindset is likely to see the high expectations the National Team has for Wilshere as a compliment and an exciting challenge to live up to. Growth mindset players might think that the expectations demonstrate that their teammates trust them as a player and believe in their abilities. With a growth mindset, Wilshere could possibly use this as motivation to work hard and try to live up to the expectations of being a world-class player and commit to continuously developing his skills.

Having a growth mindset is more conducive to developing your skills as a player. It is important to always remember that no matter what talents you may have, you should still work to develop these skills and continue to strive to become a better player. Know that, regardless of your skill level now, you have the potential to grow as a player if you continue to push yourself. If Wilshere knows that, he could feel motivated to use his teammates’ high expectations as a challenge to continue improving and putting forth effort to earn the tag of a world-class player.