The Vancouver Whitecaps, who have only lost twice in their last 17 games, currently occupy fifth place in the Western Conference table – good enough for an MLS playoff spot if they can hold onto it until the end of October. Despite only four losses this season, Vancouver have largely struggled to collect points, as they are tied with two other clubs for the second most draws in the league thus far. With only a third of the season remaining to solidify a postseason spot, the coaches’ and players’ focus is largely on finding a way to get three points, instead of one, out of each of the remaining games. As a result of the late-season push, players are bringing a noticeably higher level of effort and intensity to training, and the shift in focus was not lost on midfielder Russell Teibert. “I think if you’re content, you’re not pushing for the top,” Teibert noted on Wednesday. “Today was an intense training session. It’s competitive but once we leave the field, everyone forgets about it and we go back to being a family in the locker room… We haven’t plateaued and we’re going to keep going forward and we’re going to keep pushing.” In fact, this ‘pushing’ has, at times, gone overboard. The intensity of recent training sessions has been so high that head coach Carl Robinson had to speak with the players after training one day about the difference between training hard or pushing each other, and being reckless and overly-aggressive in their approach. “We’ve got to stick together as a team and sticking together means getting the best out of each other but in a respectable way,” Robinson said to the media.
These statements shed light on two important mental topics for younger players. First, complacency and contentment are often significant obstacles to continued growth and development as a player. In other words, becoming too satisfied in your achievement and failing to set new goals and new challenges for yourself will often eventually result in a drop in form, if effective habits and preparation are not maintained. This is not to say that you should not take time to value your triumphs. A goal should be celebrated. A win should be enjoyed. A long run of success should make you feel proud. However, the best competitors in the world know that resting on these achievements and failing to continue to exercise good habits will often result in a lack of further progress. As a player, continue to raise the bar higher for yourself. Continue to set new standards so that your improvement and growth do not plateau or become stagnant. Ask yourself on a regular basis if you are engaging in the effective habits that have earned you success in the past. Are you bringing a high level of effort and focus to each training session? Are you taking care of your body through proper stretching, sleep, and nutrition?
Second, while it is important to push yourself and set new challenges for yourself on a daily basis, it is equally important to avoid letting this intensity boil over and result in an injury – to yourself or a teammate. Cohesion can play a significant role in a team’s success, and this chemistry can occasionally be fragile; however, it can be maintained while you are simultaneously pushing players around you to perform to the best of their abilities. There is often a fine line between pushing yourself and your teammates to constantly get better on the field, and letting your effort and intensity get out of control. On the other side of this, if you feel that a teammate was reckless with a challenge during training (on you or another player), it is okay to address it with him or her. However, have the composure and awareness to recognize the appropriate timing in doing so, and the tone you take in communicating. Immediately yelling at another player after he or she goes in late on a tackle will likely not help the situation, as adrenaline levels and intensity are exceptionally high in the moment. Instead, allow for some time to pass, or even wait until after training to address the incident and acknowledge your appreciation for your teammate’s hard work, while also noting the importance of keeping players safe. As Vancouver goes into its final 11 games, a roster full of players eager to prove themselves must continue to avoid complacency through their intensity and effort, while also maintaining a respectful training environment and sticking together.
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