Hall Focused on Returning a “Better Goalkeeper” Than Before

After suffering a torn ACL in his right knee last August while playing for the Houston Dynamo, goalkeeper Tally Hall knew he was in for a long recovery process. During that time, he was traded to Orlando City, an MLS expansion club preparing for its inaugural season. Now, nine months after his injury, the two-time MLS All-Star is preparing to make his return to the field at a time when his new club might very much need him, having started the season with only two wins out of its first ten games. Hall, who helped lead Houston to two consecutive MLS Cup Finals in 2011 and 2012, recognizes that it’s ultimately his coach’s decision on when he returns to the field, but feels confident that he has controlled what he could throughout the process. “I feel very comfortable in practice. I feel like I can explode going both ways… my movement isn’t hindered at all,” Hall said. “My job is to work hard and try to be the best goalkeeper on this team. When coach deems that to be the case, then I’ll be playing.” Throughout his recovery, Hall has focused his energy not on getting back to his old self, but on returning better than he was before. “For me, it’s been an opportunity to refocus, reenergize, get a different mindset on how I approach the game,” he said. “I think what I’m doing now is going to prepare me to be a better goalkeeper than what I was doing a year ago.”

No matter how severe, being injured is never easy. As a player, it’s normal to feel frustrated and even helpless dealing with something that can, at times, seem fundamentally out of your control. It’s common to hear things like “be patient” and “stay positive” throughout an injury, but this is certainly never easy, and the mental challenges can at times be more difficult than the physical ones. With any injury, accept the fact that your body will heal at its own speed, and recognize that your doctor, athletic trainer, and coach will make many of the decisions regarding whether or not you are fit to play again. In the meantime, acknowledge what is out of your control, and choose to focus on what is within your control. Communicate frequently with your trainer and coach to set realistic goals for yourself. Commit yourself fully to the physical therapy, and ask about other ways that can possibly help accelerate the physical recovery process, such as changing your nutrition or sleep habits. Hall’s approach to his own injury demonstrates the importance of viewing recovery as an opportunity for reconditioning, as opposed to rehabilitation. In other words, injuries, as frustrating as they might be, open the door for you to work on different parts of your game (e.g., leadership, tactical understanding of your position, other forms of fitness, etc.) that could help you return to the field a better player – physically and mentally – than you were before you left. Also, recognize that, despite your absence from the field, you can still fill an important role within the team. Use your time away from the field to be a leader, both vocally and by example. When you’re watching training or games from the sideline, offer encouragement and feedback to players on the field. Take seriously the physical exercises you’re able to do, while remaining as patient as possible, because while you understandably want to play as soon as possible, your teammates and coaches are relying on you to be at your best when you do return. Even after nine months, Hall’s job isn’t done, as he must earn his spot back in the lineup. Nevertheless, having navigated many of the physical and mental challenges of a long reconditioning process, he is well prepared to cope with any further challenges or lingering frustrations that he might face.


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Johnson Confronts Mental Side of Injury With Determination and Patience

For most MLS players, preseason is about building themselves up so that they are ready to perform at their best when the regular season starts in March. However, for Portland Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, this preseason is about continued patience and determination, after more than four months have passed since his last game. In an away match against Toronto FC in September, Johnson suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg. For Portland’s captain, the mental challenges of this injury have, at times, been more frustrating than the physical pain he has endured. For 12 weeks following the setback, Johnson was unable to put weight on his right leg, and could not even pick up his newborn son for several days after the injury occurred. For a long period of time, his only option involved sitting on the couch. “Those things really break you down far more than any pain physically,” Johnson said. “Just the mental side of things when I was in the cast.” Looking forward, however, Portland’s captain seems to be confronting this mental challenge head-on. “What happened, happened…You can’t change that, so my mindset from day one post-surgery has always been just to take every day as it comes, and whatever the body allows you to do to push it to that point and use that to just get back fit, 100 percent as quickly as possible…I’m taking it one day at a time…listen to the leg, listen to the body. I want to use this opportunity that I’ve had to rebuild the foundation of my body and strength, and come back in better shape than I was when I left.”

While injuries of this severity can be a nightmare for any player, no injury is easy to cope with, regardless of how long it takes you away from the game. It is natural to feel upset, disappointed, or frustrated following these setbacks, especially when you know that you will be sidelined for a long period of time. However, once you have had the chance to digest your circumstances, recognize what you can control, and what you cannot. While you can’t change the fact that you are injured, you can control your mentality moving forward, to ensure that you make the most of your recovery. It is common for players to want to return to training quickly, and besides your own expectations, you may even feel pressure to do so from teammates, coaches, or parents. However, you have a responsibility to them and yourself to ensure that you are physically and mentally ready to return when you are cleared to do so. One of the important steps players can take to mentally respond to an injury involves focusing on a process of “reconditioning”, rather than rehabilitation or recovery. In other words, rather than striving to get back to where you were prior to the injury, your focus, like Johnson’s, should be on returning to the field both physically and mentally stronger than you were before the setback. In the early stages of a serious injury, when you are unable to do much physically, this may mean that you watch your own game film or study professional players who play in your position, to develop a better understanding of your role. In the later stages, in addition to addressing the injured body part, it may mean using the time to put in extra work on your weaknesses (e.g., your upper body strength). Throughout the reconditioning process, stay informed by communicating with your doctor, trainer, and coach, and rely on these and other forms of social support (e.g., teammates, family, and friends) to help you manage any of the psychological or emotional challenges you may face. While Johnson undoubtedly wants to return to the field as soon as possible, teammates and coaches are relying on him to continue working with determination and patience so that he can come back stronger than he was before.


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Neymar Responds to Injury With Positivity and Support for His Teammates

The longer he remained on the ground on Friday, grimacing in pain and clutching his lower back, the more an entire country (and world, for that matter) grew worried and concerned. Replays shown from several angles were difficult to watch, as a Columbian defender jumped knee-first into the back of the player wearing the iconic number 10 Brazilian jersey. And after the diagnosis – a fractured vertebra – was released several hours later, it was all but certain that Neymar had played in his final game of the 2014 World Cup. Across five matches, including the quarterfinal against Columbia, Neymar has been electrifying in this tournament, with four goals and an assist. In fact, he has arguably lived up to the lofty expectations set prior to the World Cup – that Brazil’s title hopes rested largely on his individual performance. Yet, after a strong showing across the group stage and first two knockout games, the injury sustained on Friday will likely keep Neymar off the field for two months. Despite disappointment and frustration, Neymar’s response to the injury was far from hopeless: “…My dream is not over. It was interrupted by an incident, but my dream continues. I’m sure my teammates will do everything to make my dream come true – and that is to be a World Champion…I’m sure they’ll win the semifinal and will go on to be champions, and I’m going to be by their side, with them, and all Brazilians will come together as one in support.”

As a player, the physical toll of an injury can be made significantly more difficult by the psychological challenges that come with it. First, it is important to recognize that there will be circumstances that you encounter in your career that are not under your control, such as a referee’s call, the weather conditions, or an injury despite your best preparation. However, your response to these circumstances is, in fact, under your control. After an injury, take time to assess your role within the team moving forward. While this role is not lessened, it may change, as you identify ways that you can continue to help the team pursue its goals and have success while not being able to play. Communicate openly with your coach and doctor/trainer, determining what you can and cannot do from the sideline. Consider how your experience as a player can help teammates (especially younger players) cope with the pressure or nervousness before competition. Don’t be afraid to assume a stronger leadership role from the sideline, communicating through the use of effective feedback when a teammate does something well, and motivational/instructional feedback when they can improve.

Concerning your own road back from an injury, try to view this process as one of reconditioning, rather than rehabilitation or recovery, so that you aim to return to the field physically and mentally stronger than before. Do your best to maintain a positive attitude and approach to these circumstances, and also encourage those around you to do the same. Like Neymar, the injury should be viewed as a minor speed bump or “incident”, rather than a catastrophe. It is a small obstacle, a test of adversity, or a challenge for you to overcome in order to become a stronger player. During the reconditioning process, be positive about the future, while trying to stay in the present moment by controlling the things you can control – your physical therapy, your sleep and nutrition, and your communication with teammates. Maintain effective communication with teammates, coaches, and trainers; but, above all, maintain effective communication with yourself. The effectiveness of your self-talk in these circumstances (“I will return to the field stronger than before” rather than “I will never overcome this”) can play a significant role in your road back to full fitness. Finally, while it may be tempting to dwell on the disappointment and frustration you may feel as a player, turning your attention to the goals and efforts of your team is a strong demonstration to your teammates that you support and believe in them. Even at the age of 22, Neymar occupies a position of leadership on the Brazilian national team. With his continued positive attitude and support for his teammates, perhaps he can, in fact, still play a role in helping Brazil claim a much-coveted sixth World Cup trophy on its home soil.



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Regardless of Altidore’s Status, He Must Play a Role

While the US Men’s national team earned a hard-fought win in their first 2014 World Cup match on Monday night over Ghana, American fans around the world collectively held their breath in the game’s 21st minute, when Jozy Altidore went down with an injury. The 24-year old striker pulled up short while sprinting down the sideline for a Michael Bradley pass, grabbing the back of his leg. The obvious pain, subsequent tears, and later reports of a strained hamstring seemed to confirm the fears of those watching around the world. “I was sprinting and I felt something, and we’ll see what happens,” Altidore stated, following the Ghana game. “Of course it was tough for me, I was crushed. I knew right away I couldn’t continue, so that was probably the worst feeling.” With three days until their next game, everyone now waits to see if Altidore will return for the second match on Sunday against Portugal, or even see the field again in Brazil at all. The striker has been a consistent feature in the US starting lineup for several years, boosted by an unprecedented scoring streak throughout World Cup qualifying, and an additional two goals in the USMNT’s final tune-up game before Brazil.

Altidore’s time on the field at the 2014 World Cup may or may not be over. However, his role as a member of the 23-man roster is just beginning this month. At 24 years old, he is already a leader on the USMNT. He has more international experience than many of the younger, and even older, players on the team. As such, he is needed, and expected, to remain a contributor in some form on or off the field through his communication and guidance of less-experienced players. As a player, there will be times when you are forced to the sideline – whether due to injury, sickness, or fulfilling the role of a substitute. When coping with limited playing time, it’s important to continue to find ways of fulfilling a role and making some impact in your team’s efforts. During longer spells away from the game due to injury, make the road back a process of reconditioning, rather than simply recovery. In other words, take time to focus on areas of your game or physical training that you can improve while also rehabbing your injury. Do everything you can to take care of your body and listen to doctors or team trainers in an effort to get back to 100% fitness as quickly as possible. However, also focus on areas of your game – mental or physical – that need improvement. With an ankle injury, this may mean that you spend extra time building upper body strength. Similarly, watch game film and talk with your coach on tactical adjustments you can make when you make it back to the field.

Communication also plays a significant role in these moments. As with any sort of adversity, it’s important to focus on everything that you can control during the reconditioning process. Communicate with your teammates before, during, and after trainings and games, providing encouragement after they do something well, and motivation or specific feedback or instruction when needed. If you are an older player, take the opportunity to support less experienced teammates, and those who earn playing time in your absence. As a leader on the team, Altidore must also play a role in guiding the younger teammates on the US roster. If players like DeAndre Yedlin or Julian Green are called upon to step onto the field in the next several games, Altidore can potentially play an important role in helping them cope with the pressure of this stage. Similarly, if you face a similar experience, take the opportunity to lead through your communication and by example. Maintain a positive attitude and a belief in your teammates and their efforts. While your dedication and performance may not require wearing shin guards and boots, it is no less important. Altidore undoubtedly played a major role in head coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s plans heading into the tournament. However, even though these plans may need to change, the striker will be called upon to fulfill an equally important role as a leader and role model for the other 22 players. With a daunting task ahead of them in Portugal and Germany, the United States will need a belief, energy, and commitment from those on and off the playing field.


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Steve Zakuani: Overcoming Injury

Injuries are regrettably common in soccer, and are often a difficult obstacle to overcome – both physically and mentally. The last two years have been long and agonizing for Steve Zakuani, midfielder for Seattle Sounders FC, as he has dealt with serious injuries. A nasty challenge in a match against the Colorado Rapids in 2011 resulted in a horrifying broken leg, and kept him off the pitch for over a year. After surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation period, Zakuani finally returned to MLS competition at the end of the 2012 season. However, less than a year later, groin pain led to sports hernia surgery and, thus far, another 18 consecutive games spent on the sideline.

Concerning the strenuous road to recovery in front of him, Zakuani notes that he will remain off the field until he is 100% ready to compete and help his team win. Have you ever felt pressure or the urge to return to your sport when you weren’t 100% ready? You might feel impatient, frustrated, and even fearful in the aftermath of an injury. However, under most circumstances, rushing back to the field can result in poor performance, repeated or additional injuries, and a lengthier time on the sideline, leading to further frustration. Instead, try to be patient and view your injury as a period of continual growth and reconditioning, rather than rehabilitation. Set incremental goals to break up the recovery period, allowing you to see steady improvement over time. For example, if you are recovering from a broken leg, your first goal might be to comfortably bear weight on that leg. Over time and with success, increase the difficulty of your goals until you can use your leg to run, pass, kick, and do the actions necessary to excel on the field. Throughout your reconditioning, remain involved and engaged with the team and the season. Help out your coach during training and use positive communication with teammates during practices and games. Consider sharing your recovery goals with coaches and teammates to help you hold yourself accountable and to allow your team to support you. This could help you stay focused on your recovery, avoid feelings of isolation, maintain motivation to get healthy and, like Zakuani, return to the field when you are ready.

Grittiness Plays a Role in Stuart Holden’s Return to the Men’s National Soccer Team

Stuart Holden, age 27, has endured a series of freak injuries: a broken eye socket, a broken leg, and a knee injury. After nearly three years of grueling rehab, the USA midfielder is ready to take the field for the Men’s National Team. Many athletes would struggle with the physical and emotional stress of such injuries, but Holden has the character to fight back, the character that is necessary to play at the World Cup. Leander Schaerlaeckens of Fox Soccer describes why Holden has become a fan favorite and inspiration to his teammates: “[Between] all of that hurt, all of those monotonous rehab stints in the basement of a Jewish community center in Wilmington, Delaware, Holden exhibited something quite precious: a rare blend of technique, vision, grit and a lust for labor.” Despite the setbacks Holden has faced in his career, he aspires to be on the World Cup roster for 2014; it is likely that his grit will give him the strength to earn a spot.

Grit can be described as a person’s ability to persevere and stay strong despite setbacks. Gritty athletes firmly believe that failure is a temporary condition and that, with effort and discipline, it can be overcome. They put tremendous amounts of effort into their physical and mental preparation. They are steadfast workers, even when tasks are challenging or tedious.

Some strategies to develop your grit include:

Goal Setting: You may already set goals for yourself, but perhaps you’re giving yourself an unrealistic time-frame to achieve your goals or you’re finding it tough to stay committed. When you set goals, make sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, and time-bound. In order to reach your long-term goals, it is important to break down these goals into smaller short-term, process goals. Create a goals chart with your long-term goal at the top and your smaller process goals below. This will help you develop a road map with instructions for how you can get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.

Self-Talk: Self-talk is anything you say to yourself – out loud or in your head – before, during, or after an activity. It is likely that you use self-talk already, but you may not be aware of how you use it, or how you can use it as a strategy for improving your grit. There are many types of self-talk, including motivational self-talk and instructional self-talk. Motivational self-talk refers to phrases or words that make you feel energized or psyched-up. For example, “I can do this!” or “Keep pushing.” Motivational self-talk can be particularly helpful for boosting your confidence and pushing you to endure strenuous tasks, both physical and mental. Instructional self-talk is used mainly for giving yourself directions, such as “Stay on my toes.” These short cue words or phrases could help you maintain focus or regain focus during competition. If you have never tried this strategy, consider practicing it. Try a few different cue words in order to see which ones work best for you.

Kevin Ware: Rebounding from Injury

On Sunday, March 31st, during the Louisville-Duke NCAA tournament game, Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffered one of the most dramatic injuries ever seen in a basketball game. As he lay on the ground with a compound fracture in his leg, everyone in the stadium seemed to be affected by what they witnessed. Players sunk to the floor and cried, and there were tears and anguish on the faces of the coaches and fans. The trauma for Kevin Ware, however, is just beginning, as he will now have to deal with both the physical and emotional impacts of his injury.

Anyone who has experienced an injury that takes them out of their sport knows how devastating it is. Whether the injury is career-ending or one that removes you from a season or a stretch of games, an injury presents a variety of psychological challenges. Feelings of loss are common and manifest in three areas: loss of identity, loss of self-esteem, and loss of coping strategies for stress. With these losses, it is common for athletes to feel isolated and alienated from their teammates.

One strategy athletes can use to deal with an injury is to seek out support from others. They should talk to people about how they are feeling instead of trying to tough it out for fear of appearing weak. It can also be helpful for athletes to continue to participate in team activities in order to combat feelings of isolation. This can include doing rehabilitation exercises on the sideline of team training sessions and continuing to travel with the team to competitions. Viewing recovery training as reconditioning rather than rehabilitation could also help athletes deal with their injuries, viewing recovery time as time off from playing their sport, but not from developing and conditioning. Finally, it is important for athletes to set new, realistic goals for their rehabilitation. This can help athletes measure successes in new ways and help them stay positive, motivated, and focused on getting healthy and returning to play.