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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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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Nguyen Responds to Latest Opportunity With Focus and Commitment to Prove Himself

In his third season with the New England Revolution, the 28-year-old midfielder Lee Nguyen has enjoyed a breakout year, registering 20 goals and 6 assists during the regular season and first two playoff games. His performances have led many to group him among the favorites for league MVP this season. However, until recently, Nguyen had not been called up to the senior United States National Team in over seven years. That long wait became worthwhile last week with a phone call from national team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann. After acknowledging the honor of being named to the US roster for the upcoming friendlies against Colombia and Ireland, Nguyen quickly turned his attention to the job ahead of him. “This is hopefully just the first. I’ve still got to keep going and keep pushing, and that’s the main thing,” he said. “Any time you can play for your country and represent your country, that’s the highest honor, the highest privilege you can have as a football player. I’ve got to go up there and focus on the task at hand and try to prove myself.”

While achievements like this can be satisfying for a player, in some cases they can also be overwhelming. Have there been times in your career when you have performed consistently well, earned an opportunity, and suddenly you start to wonder if you will be able to maintain your consistency? Whether it is a call-up to your national team, or earning a spot in the starting lineup, you could feel pressure to reach the expectations of consistently maintaining a high level of performance. Nguyen’s response demonstrates the value of not “resting on one’s laurels,” a phrase that means one should not be satisfied with success and shy away from pursuing greater achievement. Following success, the greatest competitors set their sights on the next milestone ahead of them and continuing challenging themselves to excel.

There are specific strategies you can use as a player to strengthen your commitment and focus after success, and take the first step in chasing that next opportunity. First, take time to objectively evaluate yourself as a player. Identify strengths in your game, and habits in your preparation that have helped you achieve success in the past, and commit to those practices. Additionally, consider ways of continuing to develop by identifying one or two aspects of your game that can be improved. Set short-term process goals concerning the skills or qualities you want to develop. Embrace the mentality of wanting to become a better player tomorrow than you are today. Finally, view achievements as an opportunity to “prove yourself.” Rather than shying away from this mentality, the top players in the world are fueled by it. Having earned his way back into the national team mix at the age of 28, Nguyen’s continued success – both at the club and international level – will depend largely on his ability to see each achievement as a stepping-stone for the next one, rather than an endpoint.


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Dwyer Brushes Off Mistakes, But Still Wants More

In only his third season in the MLS, Sporting Kansas City’s Dom Dwyer has already broken several records, but remains unsatisfied. The English striker has 21 goals in 31 MLS games this season, which set a new club record and is currently the second most in the league. However, after the most recent goal against the Chicago Fire, Dwyer noted that he still wants more, and even half-jokingly told reporters that he was aiming to add another 10 goals to his club record, with only two regular season games remaining. In fact, his goal total would have been higher had he not missed his first penalty of the year in the 13th minute of the game against the Fire. “I know, throughout my career, I’m going to miss,” Dwyer said. “I’m going to miss another PK. There’s going to be a time I miss an open goal. It’s going to happen to everyone. You see Messi. You see Ronaldo. You see the best players in the world missing. That’s something you have to deal with in the game, and I’ve matured and learned to deal with it…you brush it off and move on and make sure you put away the next one…I’m still out to prove I’m getting better each game,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. I’m not satisfied. I want more.

As a player, it can be very difficult to strike a balance between holding yourself to high standards (always wanting more out of your performance), and also recognizing that mistakes will happen and accepting them. Dwyer provides an example of a player who has demonstrated a remarkable ability to strike this balance. In each game, he acknowledges that he will not be perfect, but he also continues to raise the bar for himself each time he steps onto the field. For players who want to continue developing and moving up to higher levels of the game, Dwyer’s mentality provides an excellent example of what is often needed for that continued growth: a refusal to be satisfied with achievement, along with an acceptance of imperfection. Goal setting can be an important element to this process, because goals provide milestones to help you maintain your focus and motivation over time. However, they also allow you to continue lifting the bar for yourself. Thus, if you achieve an objective you previously set, pick a new one. Along with goal setting however, on a day-to-day basis, it is important to allow yourself to make mistakes on the field. Goals should help guide your motivation and your focus, but they should also be realistic and allow for mistakes and growth. As a player, coping with mistakes during a training session or game involves your ability to stay in the present moment or the “here and now”. Consider using a refocusing cue (i.e., “Flush it” or “Let it go”) to maintain your composure and regain your focus after a mistake has happened. Dwyer’s professional career is still young, but the striker will likely continue to improve and will be around for some time, based on his ability to let go of mistakes in the moment, while challenging himself to prove that he is “getting better each game.”


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Seattle Seahawks Are Not Satisfied Yet: How the Defending Super Bowl Champs Manage to Stay Motivated

Six months after winning the Super Bowl, the singular focus of the Seattle Seahawks’ training camp is on doing it again. This offseason has been a whirlwind of parades and ceremonies, all celebrating the achievements of a team that was consistently excellent the previous season. While it would be easy to bask in the glow of their tremendous accomplishments, that is not part of the plan in Seattle. “Time for a championship season. Every play’s a championship play.” These were the words of Russell Wilson, addressing his offense in the huddle on the first day of training camp this offseason. This unquestioned leader of the offense has consistently put the past behind him, where it belongs, and set new challenges for himself moving forward. “We have a target on our back now, I guess it is,” Wilson said. “But I think our mentality, our focus, is it’s a brand-new year. And we’re trying to do better than we did last year.” While it can be very difficult to move past a loss or setback, moving past achievement – especially achievement as immense as winning the Super Bowl – and focusing on improvement can be even more challenging.

As an athlete, it can be difficult to avoid becoming complacent after success. However, the very best athletes in the world are constantly pushing themselves to be better, setting new goals when old ones are accomplished. After being drafted in the third round, dismissed by many because of his height, Wilson set the goal of becoming the starting quarterback as a rookie. Once that goal was accomplished, he set the goal of winning a Super Bowl. Now that he has done that, Wilson and his teammates have their sights set on becoming the first team since New England, a decade ago, to win back-to-back championships.

As an athlete, you are constantly facing successes and failures, and each situation is going to call for a different reaction. The critical thing to consider is that your reaction should be conducive to your future success. Focusing on the present – not the past – and on continually improving can help you achieve this. This can be applied on a short-term or long-term scale. If you make a great contribution to your team early on in a game, it is important to let it go, and remained focused on continuing your success, rather than being satisfied with what you have already done. Similarly, if you have previously had a great season, you should put it behind you so that you can remain focused on building on that success. In either scenario, while moving on from success is important, it is equally important to learn from the experience. What allowed you to be successful in the past? What effective habits can you carry with you moving forward? One technique to help you maintain this focus is to have a phrase that you can say to yourself to continue pushing yourself to get better. Saying something such as “Move forward,” or “Keep working” when you find yourself stuck on a past success can help you maintain your focus on improving.

Goal setting is an important tool for avoiding complacency, and maintaining that focus on continued success. In guiding your improvement, there are three types of goals that you should set for yourself: process, performance, and outcome goals. Outcome goals are the big picture ambitions, such as “I want to be an All-American.” In order to reach your outcome goal, you must first reach your performance goals. Performance goals are more related to skills, and are more under your control (i.e., “I want to improve my fitness.”). In order to achieve a performance goal, you must also set process goals. Process goals have to do with daily steps you can take to work towards your performance goal (i.e., “I will run an extra three miles after every practice to improve my fitness.”). As you achieve your goals, continue to challenge yourself by setting new ones, choosing aspects of your game that need work.

Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have little interest in looking in the rearview mirror, as there is a lot to look forward to. With a continued commitment to maintaining their focus on what they control and setting new challenges for themselves, the team seems primed to strive for the second Super Bowl championship in the franchise’s history.


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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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High Expectations for the Miami Heat

On Sunday, the Miami Heat posted a 112-98 win over the Orlando Magic, improving their home record to 23-4. After two consecutive NBA Championships, and boasting one of the most talented rosters in the league, the team is facing high expectations from their fans this season. Things look promising, thus far, as the Heat have earned a 42-12 overall record and have won 10 of their last 11 games. However, with 7 weeks until the NBA playoffs, a lot can change. Addressing the expectations for his team, Miami Heat President Pat Riley said the following: “Before everybody gets excited, we’ve got another 24 or 25 games…We’re playing very well right now, but every day you keep ratcheting up what you need to do to get ready for what you know is going to be an incredibly competitive playoff. Right now, you have to keep in mind we have a long way to go.

For any athlete, Riley’s comment demonstrates the importance of focusing on the present and not getting distracted by your own expectations or those of fans, parents, or coaches. Such expectations can often cause pressure and make athletes doubt their ability to meet them. They can also cause complacency and a loss of focus if athletes dwell too much on the expectations and start thinking too far into the future. A good way to alleviate the pressure created by expectations and to maintain your focus is to set short term goals for each training session and game. Focus on the specific tasks or skills that that you need to execute in order to help your team. For example, think about your next opponent and work on skills that will take advantage of their weaknesses or counter their strengths, such as your offensive rebounding or moving your feet on defense. Short term goals like these help keep you in the moment and focusing on the process, rather than the outcome. These types of goals are completely within your control. By focusing on what you can control during training and competition, you are more likely to perform to the best of your ability.

Dealing with the expectations that come from others or from within yourself requires you to maintain your focus and concentrate on the things you can control. Keep perspective and stay in the moment, thinking only about the things you need to do consistently to perform well. If you can do this, you can be confident that you did all you could do to meet expectations and reach your goals.