Arsenal Looks to Build Confidence From Big Performance

On Sunday, Arsenal took a massive step in its attempt to qualify for next season’s Champions League, with a 2-0 away win over Manchester City. After handing City its first loss since October, the Gunners are currently fifth in the Premier League, only one point behind Manchester United. Arsenal was an underdog heading into the game, having not beaten a top-four team in an away league game in over three years. For manager Arsene Wenger, the win was important for his team’s confidence moving forward. “We were well-disciplined, well-organized, had a good solidarity and overall we kept a good control of the game,” Wenger said. “What is pleasing is that [it] reinforces the belief of the team. To feel that you can do well is very important.” Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey agreed with his manager. “We have got a lot to play for this year so hopefully now we can build on this performance and that will give us even more confidence going into the business end of the season,” Ramsey said. “We will just have to concentrate on our own game and hopefully go on a big run and see where that takes us at the end…We are a team that can always create opportunities to score so the important thing is to defend as a team and stop them from scoring because we are always going to get opportunities to score…So if we can keep a clean sheet like we did yesterday, we are always going to have a chance to win.”

As a player, you are probably aware that your confidence can often play a huge role in whether you actually perform well on a given day. As Wenger noted, “To feel that you can do well is very important.” When you do feel confident, it might be the case that you take more chances, you play well, and you tend to enjoy yourself more. However, when your confidence is low, things can often become more challenging. You may feel hesitant, unsure, or fearful, and this can often lead to shaky performances and mistakes. Ultimately however, confidence is a choice. This is why it is so important to rely on your past success as a player. Whenever you step onto the field to perform, make the choice to be confident in what you are capable of doing, by recognizing what you have done well in the past. If you are a striker, remember a game when you scored, or a time when almost every shot you hit was on target. If you are a goalkeeper, think about the time you made the save that won your team the game. Look for small achievements in your past performances – a win, a goal, a strong tackle, or a great cross – and allow each one to reinforce your belief in what you know you do well. Allow each success to help you build confidence in your strengths and your ability to perform well when it matters. By acknowledging these strengths, you can also begin to focus more on what you can control whenever you play (i.e., Arsenal’s ability to create scoring opportunities). Ultimately, confidence is about doing the things you know how to do so that you can give yourself “a chance” to be successful. Heading into the second half of the league season, it will be important for Arsenal’s players to rely on their own past success (including their most recent win) to maintain their individual and collective confidence in each game.

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Henry Leaves Behind Legacy of Professionalism and Excellence

On Monday, Thierry Henry announced that he would be leaving Major League Soccer after five seasons with the New York Red Bulls. Whether or not this announcement has signaled the end of a masterful career, the 37-year-old’s status as a world-class striker has already been established. Since he first made his professional debut 20 years ago, Henry has scored 360 goals for various top-level clubs, including Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, and Barcelona. He has also scored 51 times for his country, and was the top scorer on France’s 1998 World Cup winning squad. Since Henry’s arrival in New York in 2010, the Red Bulls have made the MLS playoffs all five years and won the MLS Supporters’ Shield last season. And while his many achievements speak for themselves, the praise Henry has received from current and former teammates and coaches provides a true testament to his quality.

“I don’t think there will ever be a player in this league – there never has been – that has what Thierry has in all aspects…It’s just been a phenomenal two years as a head coach to have a mind like that and a person like that.” – New York Red Bulls manager Mike Petke

“I have to say I haven’t seen a player like him. He’s an athlete with great technical ability and a tremendous desire to be the best.” – Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith

For any athlete, this sort of respect and admiration is not earned overnight. It comes from years of excellence and professionalism, both on and off the field. Henry’s career has been nothing short of legendary, and he serves as a wonderful role model for young players striving to advance to higher levels of the game. As a player, professionalism starts with the recognition that you are in control of your development. It means that you take responsibility for your game, and that you are committed to taking care of the details off the field (i.e., nutrition, proper sleep, etc.) so that you are at your best whenever you play. Treat every training session or game as an opportunity to improve. Use routines to ensure that you are physically and mentally prepared each time you step onto the field, whether for training or competition. Show respect to other players, referees, coaches, and parents, while also competing relentlessly on the field. Above all, professionalism means that you bring your competitive edge and commitment to the game by holding yourself to high standards whenever you play. When you train, recognize that each drill, each pass, and each touch on the ball is an opportunity for you to become a better player. For any young player, this kind of mentality also means that you are able to acknowledge weaknesses in your game and work to turn them into strengths by identifying areas you want to improve upon and setting up specific plans to go about doing so. Lastly, professionalism also means that you are committed to raising the bar for yourself, rather than becoming satisfied with your development. Henry’s legacy has been defined by an insatiable desire to always be the best, no matter what environment he is in: “I’m obsessed by the idea of making my mark on history.” Even as a 37-year-old, playing well beyond the time most players retire, he has continued to make this mark, and is a model of professionalism and excellence over a wonderful career.

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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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Newcomers Bring Maturity and Experience to the Union’s Playoff Push

With 12 games remaining in the MLS regular season, the Philadelphia Union hover three points behind a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, battling six other clubs separated by only seven points. With the pressure of a late postseason push building, the Union recently received a needed boost in the arrival of two high-profile players – both of whom dressed for their respective countries in last month’s World Cup in Brazil. Algerian goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi and Colombian defender Carlos Valdes join the Union shortly after their World Cup stints, and bring a wealth of experience to Philadelphia. Mbolhi, a 28-year-old veteran of two World Cups (2010 and 2014), started all four of Algeria’s games in Brazil, helping the country advance out of its group for the first time. While Algeria ultimately lost its knockout round debut against Germany, Mbolhi registered an impressive 11 saves, helping to push the eventual World Champions into overtime. 29-year-old Valdes returns to the Union, having joined the team in 2011, before being loaned out to clubs in Colombia and Argentina in the hopes of making his country’s World Cup roster. The defender succeeded in doing so, and played the full 90 minutes at center back in Colombia’s group stage win over Japan, helping his team secure its third straight win and earn its first appearance in the knockout round since 1990. Both players, in the prime of their careers, have played at some of the highest levels in the world, and join a club in need of such experience as it strives to climb up the Eastern Conference standings in the next two months.

Having enjoyed success, faced adversity, and overcome setbacks on prior occasions, experienced players can be relied on to lift the level of a team’s training environment and bring a sense of composure and confidence to a team during competition. First, experienced players often know what it takes to bring a high level of performance on a consistent basis. They are familiar with the rigors of a long season, and as such, they know how to manage themselves physically and mentally over the long term to get the most out of each time they step onto the field. These individuals can be relied upon to maintain a consistent level of focus regardless of any one result – not becoming overly confident after a win, or too discouraged following a loss. Second, in high-pressure situations, experienced players are often described as “knowing how to win”. This means that, whether up or down a goal late in a match, players with experience know how to go about finding a result – balancing sheer perseverance and effort with a confident and patient tactical approach. For example, when a team faces a must-win game and goes down a goal with ten minutes remaining, experienced players carry the maturity and wherewithal to stay in the present moment and remain calm and composed in these circumstances. In using their experience, they also make the choice to be confident and rely on their strengths, rather than becoming unsettled and frantic. In a sense, experienced players learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, and can bring a sense of calm to their team’s efforts in times when the pressure is high.

Finally, in training, experienced players also have the ability (and responsibility) to constantly push the players around them to get better. Mbolhi joins a young Union goalkeeping cast brimming with raw talent in Zac MacMath (22) and Andre Blake (23). The Algerian’s ability to set a strong example and provide mentorship for these two players will go a long way in enhancing the training environment and elevating the level of the team’s goalkeeping overall. As Philadelphia enters the final third of the regular season, its ability to earn a second ever playoff berth may depend largely on the qualities that Mbohli and Valdes bring to the table through their experience playing at the highest levels in the world.

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