Fagundez Seizes Opportunity Through Preparation and Deliberate Practice

Having lost to the LA Galaxy in last year’s MLS Cup final, players and coaches on the New England Revolution had been looking forward to Sunday’s rematch at home in Massachusetts. Unfortunately for the Revs, however, the club was missing two of its best midfielders – veterans Chris Tierney and Lee Nguyen – after both received red cards last week. Nguyen and Tierney are also the first options to take set pieces for New England, and so, when the Revs earned a free kick outside the 18-yard box in the 37th minute on Sunday, it was 20-year-old midfielder Diego Fagundez who stepped up to take it. With the Galaxy leading 2-1, Fagundez lined up and curled a ball over the wall and in, helping the Revs secure a 2-2 tie against the defending champions. According to New England head coach Jay Heaps, the ability to execute a rare set piece opportunity when it mattered most came down to the Fagundez’s preparation. “Diego does those in practice quite a bit,” said Heaps. “This week he’d been really good on set pieces and I think that was something that we were looking forward to.” Speaking to reporters after the game, Fagundez said he developed a comfort from repeatedly hitting balls from a similar distance, and after making one in Sunday’s pre-game warmup, he knew he’d be ready if the opportunity arose. “Yesterday [in training] I probably hit it, maybe 30 times right from that spot,” the midfielder said. “Then today, right before warmups I hit one and I stopped with that one.”

When it comes to improving their mental game, players often hear the phrase “focus on what you control,” whether this refers to how you handle playing in a new position, how you react to a mistake, or how you manage your emotions after a bad call. However, before facing any of this in competition, focusing on what you control starts, first and foremost, with your preparation during training sessions or on your own. One of the ways to get the most out of this preparation is to engage in something called “deliberate practice” when you train. Practicing deliberately means having a purpose when you step onto the training field. Rather than simply going through the motions on any given day, treat every moment you are on the field as an opportunity to become a better player. Start by setting process goals for yourself for each training session. Identify what you want to work on – perhaps one of your weaknesses or something you can improve on from the previous game – and more importantly, identify how you will go about working on it. Another way to practice deliberately is to actually visualize yourself performing in game-like situations. Many players perform better in training than they do in games because they put less pressure on themselves in training and, therefore, are naturally more composed and confident. But, when they get to the game, their training has not necessarily prepared them for the intensity of competition. Therefore, when you are training with your team or even on your own, try to imagine yourself in realistic game scenarios. For example, if you are practicing free kicks, imagine a wall of players in front of you, the goalkeeper moving along the goal line, and the noise of the crowd as you step back to take it. Finally, recognize that deliberate practice does not mean that you cannot enjoy yourself during training. Hold yourself to “game-like” standards when it comes to your effort and focus, but be sure to enjoy the opportunity you get to play. Doing this on a daily basis will help you carry the same intensity, passion, and enjoyment onto the field when it comes time to perform during games. For Fagundez, who has struggled for playing time this season, engaging in deliberate practice will help him be physically and mentally prepared to execute whenever the opportunities do arise.


High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Chicharito Seizes the Moment After Coping Through Limited Playing Time

On Wednesday night, Real Madrid joined Juventus, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona as the four teams left competing for this year’s Champions League title, with a 1-0 win over cross-town rival, Atlético Madrid. With Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema both sidelined due to injury, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández earned a rare opportunity to start, and scored the winner in the 88th minute off an assist from Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a typically opportunistic performance from Hernández, who, after being loaned to Real Madrid from Manchester United last September, has spent most of this season on the bench. Nevertheless, in only 421 minutes this year, Hernández has still managed to score four goals, and made the most of his opportunity again on Wednesday, after creating several scoring chances and problems for Atlético’s backline. After the game, Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti recognized that Hernández deserved the goal. “I have to congratulate him,” Ancelotti said. “He has had a difficult year, but he has fought and he has suffered. He deserves it.” During his time with United, Hernández received similar praise from Sir Alex Ferguson, who once said, “[Chicharito’s] such a great professional. He never complains.” And on Wednesday, despite scoring the goal that earned Real Madrid a spot in the Champions League semifinals, Hernández maintained his professionalism and humility in typical fashion: “It felt great to score but the goal is for the team and the fans.”

In a game with countless egos and many players who complain when things don’t go their way, Chicharito provides an outstanding example of someone who remains patient for individual opportunities and puts his club first. What does it take to embody this type of professionalism during frustrating times, while also being opportunistic and seizing the moment when it arises? There’s no denying that spending a lot of time on the bench can be incredibly frustrating for anyone. At times, it may even seem unfair given the effort and dedication you are putting in on a daily basis. But circumstances like this come down to acknowledging what you can’t control, and focusing on what you can. Professionalism during these moments means continuing to put forth your best effort during training, and to maintain respect for your teammates and coaches on and off the field. Players who complain publicly under these circumstances accomplish nothing, and often trigger conflict within a team. As a player, instead focus your energy on whatever role you are asked to fulfill. On the training ground, continue to strengthen your weaknesses and build on your strengths. On and off the field, support the teammates who are getting playing time, and encourage those who, like you, are dealing with the frustration of time on the bench. Being a leader during these times, maintaining a positive attitude and high levels of effort and focus in training, and continuing to focus on what you can control are the best ways to ensure that you are ready when opportunities do arise. When you do earn the opportunity to play, recognize your role in the upcoming game, the strengths you bring to the field, and the steps you need to take to physically and mentally prepare to perform your best. While Hernández has never been known to stand out in games like a Ronaldo, Benzema, or Bale, he consistently gets himself into the right spots. And when the moment arises, his hunger, preparation, and hard work allow him to capitalize. Along with his individual success, earning this type of praise and recognition from the likes of Ancelotti and Ferguson shows that good things often come to those who are patient and maintain the highest standards of professionalism.



High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement

Loic Remy: Opportunistic and Hungry to Prove More

With Diego Costa suspended for Chelsea’s Wednesday night match against Tottenham due to yellow card accumulation, head coach Jose Mourinho turned to Didier Drogba and Loic Remy to fill in for the Premier League’s second highest scorer. While there were concerns that Chelsea would struggle in Costa’s absence, both Drogba and Remy scored and guided the club to a 3-0 win. Remy’s response to this opportunity was particularly impressive, as the 27-year-old has only played 160 minutes this season, due to a groin injury and Costa’s goal-scoring form. While Drogba started the game, Remy took his place in the 67th minute and scored Chelsea’s third goal to secure the win. “For me it’s important. I took my chance and scored this goal,” Remy said. “I feel really proud to be on the bench but of course I want to play, that is why I work hard during training sessions…I try to increase my level and improve and it is really good to work with them, and every time the manager wants to use me, I try to do my best. The opportunity was there because Diego wasn’t involved…it was good for the confidence for me to come in and score.

Remy’s ability to deliver when he was called upon provides an excellent example of a player who has remained patient, opportunistic, and hungry, even though he has struggled for playing time. As a player, it is not easy to continue working hard in training, only to have to watch from the sidelines during games. This experience can be frustrating and, in some cases, may even seem unfair. However, the opportunistic players are the ones who remain patient in the face of this challenge. They continue working hard in training and wait for the chance to prove they belong on the field. Opportunities for playing time can arise at any time and for any number of reasons, and as a reserve, it is important to be ready when this happens. Above all, focus on what you can control throughout this process. Arrive early to practices, mentally and physically prepared to put in the work and improve your game. Identify ways to dedicate yourself even further to your development, by improving your nutrition, your sleep habits, or your fitness outside of training. It can also help to ask your coach about things you can do to earn more opportunities in games. When he or she gives you information, receive it as feedback and make a specific plan for yourself concerning how you will use the information to your advantage. Whether in training or on the sideline in games, provide effective communication and support to your teammates to help them perform to their best. Finally, when you do get the opportunity to contribute, focus on playing to your strengths. Often, the players who are given more opportunities in the future are the ones who step onto the field and do the simple things consistently well, demonstrating to the coach that he or she can rely on them. Chelsea faces a full schedule of upcoming games this winter, because the club remains in the running to win several trophies. With his continued patience, hunger, and hard work, Remy will likely play an important role in his team’s attempts to claim these titles.



High Performance Sports provides sport psychology services to athletes for performance enhancement