Union GK Andre Blake Recovers from Injury and Manages Nerves in Debut Game

On Saturday, Philadelphia Union goalkeeper, Andre Blake, made his season debut in Saputo Stadium against Montreal Impact. After suffering a torn meniscus twice throughout this season, he finally had his opportunity to take the field. Besides being his first game of this season, it was only his second start as a professional player. Blake stated, “I once learned that if you don’t have nerves going into a game, the game doesn’t mean anything to you. So, I definitely had some nerves, you just have to learn how to control it.” He seemed to be able to manage those nerves because he played a solid game, and with the help of his team, earned a clean sheet. Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin, praised his young goalkeeper, saying, “We gave up four shots on goal and Andre did a great job being clean with them.” He continued. “It’s a huge confidence builder for him… He’s been very patient and I thought he deserved an opportunity and he stepped up and kept a clean sheet.”

Dealing with injuries is never easy, particularly recovering from two difficult injuries back-to-back within one season. Along with the necessary physical training and reconditioning, it is important to continue working on your mental skills while you recover from injury. Staying focused on the process of your recovery, setting small goals, and leaning on teammates, family, and friends for support can be very helpful. Another strategy to help you feel prepared for your first game back is to start practicing how you’ll manage any nerves you might experience well in advance. While you’re going through your recovery process, try using visualization to envision what your experience will be like when you can play again. To do this effectively, try to engage many of your senses. For example, picture what the field will look like and what kit you’ll be wearing, how the grass will smell, what the crowd will sound like, and how you anticipate your body will feel. Then, train yourself to visualize your effective response to this situation. You could visualize yourself using centering breathing and self-talk to manage your nerves, and you could visualize yourself communicating with teammates and staying focused to start the game off strong. Make an effort to make this mental training a consistent part of your recovery plan.

Then, on the day of your first game back, keep that mental practice in mind. That time you spent training yourself mentally can be a big source of confidence. Further, in order to manage your nerves as you step into the game, try using self-talk that helps you feel confident and focused. Saying things like, “I prepared for this” or “I can do this” could help. Think about what might work for you. As Blake mentioned, there is nothing wrong with feeling nervous before a game, particularly before you first game of the season. Your job is to manage those nerves, and you choose how you want to do it.


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Carli Lloyd’s Mental Preparation Culminates in World Cup Title and Golden Boot

Four years ago, when Carli Lloyd stepped up for the second penalty kick in a shootout to decide the 2011 World Cup final against Japan, she was visibly nervous. The pressure of the moment seemed to overcome the U.S. midfielder, who watched her shot sail high over the crossbar. In the four years since then, Lloyd has focused on better preparing herself for those moments, and has developed a rigorous mental routine leading up to games, consisting of meditation, visualization, and music. Fans around the world got to enjoy the result of that preparation on Sunday: a 16-minute hat trick by Lloyd that sparked a dominating 5-2 win over Japan, earning the U.S. its third World Cup title. “Over the years and definitely over the last four years, I’ve taken that visualization part to another level,” Lloyd told reporters last week prior to the final. “I’ve basically visualized so many different things on the field, making these big plays, scoring goals.” Lloyd’s six goals throughout the tournament seem to suggest that this preparation has paid off. “I basically zoned out the entire world except for the net, the ball, and myself,” she said, referring to her game-winning penalty kick in last Tuesday’s semifinal win over Germany. This mental preparation has also helped Lloyd develop an appreciation for the big moments. “I think there’s a switch that kinda goes off inside of me when there’s a big match, when there’s something big on the line…those are the moments that I live for…everything that goes into my training, it’s for those big moments…it’s for the final when everyone is tired and I’m still able to continue to empty that tank.”

Many players fail to devote sufficient time towards building their mental game before competition. Like any physical, technical, or tactical aspect of your game, mental preparation requires commitment and repetition. You can begin building an effective pre-performance routine by testing out different techniques to determine which ones work for you, and then engaging in them consistently on game day. An effective routine can incorporate any number of mental strategies, including self-talk, centered breathing, body scans to promote a state of relaxed alertness, meditation, yoga, visualization, and listening to music. The use of visualization, or imagery, for example, involves creating mental pictures of different scenarios you’ll face during competition, and imagining yourself performing well in those situations. In order to use imagery most effectively, try to incorporate as many different senses as possible (i.e., sight, sound, smell, etc.) into the mental picture to make the experience vivid and game-like. Like Lloyd, many players also include music in their pre-game routine, to help them manage their arousal or activation level before a performance. As for your choice in music, like most aspects of your preparation, it’s important to find what works for you, depending on whether you prefer to be pumped up or more relaxed (Lloyd revealed last week that she listens to Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran before games). Regardless of the strategies that go into your routine, remember to be flexible and adaptable. Unlike rituals or superstitions, routines are designed to help you prepare mentally to perform at a high level – they do not cause you to perform well, nor does having to change part of your routine cause you to perform poorly. Above all, mental preparation should involve focusing on what you can control, and staying in the present moment (rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about a future outcome). With a regular commitment to developing the mental side of her game, Lloyd has gradually turned the big moments into the ones she “lives for”, and as a result, has helped the USWNT earn its third World Cup trophy.



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NYRB Remain Objective: Need Better “Mentality From the Kickoff”

With a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night, the New York Red Bulls maintained an undefeated start to the 2015 MLS season. Despite the strong start, however, many of the players are not satisfied with the team’s performance at times over the past few weeks. For the fourth time this season, New York conceded the game’s first goal, after Colorado forward Gabriel Torres scored in the 25th minute. While the Red Bulls were able to salvage a point with a penalty kick before halftime, the early deficit forced the team to change its tactics and dig itself out of a hole. Midfielder Lloyd Sam acknowledged that this has been an issue for the team in recent years. “I remember we’ve had this problem in the past at this club…we’re giving ourselves a mini mountain to climb. We normally get a goal back but it’s too much to get another goal…one of these days it’s going to be too much to bounce back.” Fellow midfielder Sacha Kljestan says that breaking this habit starts with the team’s mentality from the first whistle. “It’s getting annoying,” Kljestan said to reporters after the game. “It’s not the way we want to start games. I think it just comes down to a little bit of focus. Our mentality has been so good to come back, but it’s like ‘Why are we putting ourselves in those positions?’ Sometimes it comes down to individual plays, sometimes it comes down to just having a good mentality from the kickoff.”

It might be surprising to hear members of the New York Red Bulls express dissatisfaction over the team’s form, given that they are the only undefeated MLS club at this point in the season. However, it demonstrates how to remain objective about your performance as a team or an individual player, no matter how much success you are having. Being objective as a player means that you take time to reflect on what has been going well for you, as well as what parts of your game still need improvement.
Through his evaluation, Kljestan recognized the importance of having a strong start to a game, in order to avoid digging a hole and having to fight back. In order for a team to do this, all players need to be physically and mentally tuned in when the first whistle blows. Start by recognizing how you like to feel in order to perform at your best when you step onto the field. Some players like to be calm and relaxed, while others prefer to be pumped up and excited to perform well. Pre-performance routines, including skills such as self-talk or mental imagery, can be effective ways to consistently get your mind and body to a state at which you are prepared to perform at your best when the game starts. Self-talk involves your inner dialogue with yourself. It can be instructional (e.g., “I need to force my opponent to her left because she is right-footed”) or motivational (e.g., “I’ve prepared for this game, and I’m going to shut my opponent down”). Also, imagery involves creating a mental picture of your upcoming performance. You can use imagery before competition by visualizing your role, the teammates you’ll need to communicate with throughout the game, and your plan for recovering quickly from mistakes. Visualize yourself starting the game confident and focused on what you need to do to be successful. In order for imagery to be most effective, use as many different senses as possible to create a vivid mental image. Having identified a part of their game that needs improvement, players on the New York Red Bulls now have an opportunity to figure out how they will individually and collectively prepare for games in the future in order to allow them to be as physically and mentally ready to perform as possible from the very beginning.


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Rooney Uses Visualization to Stay “One Percent Sharper”

28-year old Manchester United player Wayne Rooney has, for some time, been considered one of the best strikers in the world. In ten seasons with United, he has scored over 200 goals across competitions. He began his professional career with Everton at the age of 16, and after moving to Manchester, has since collected five Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy. When questioned about his typical pre-performance preparation, Rooney has noted the importance of visualization in his routine:

I always like to picture the game the night before: I’ll ask the kitman what kit we’re wearing, so I can visualize it. It’s something I’ve always done, from when I was a young boy. It helps to train your mind to situations that might happen the following day. I think about it as I’m lying in bed. What will I do if the ball gets crossed in the box this way? What movement will I have to make to get on the end of it? Just different things that might make you one percent sharper.

Wayne Rooney has established himself as one of the top players in the world, and is known for scoring big goals in big moments. The use of mental skills such as visualization to prepare for competition is arguably a large contributor to his success, and can be an essential tool in a player’s arsenal. Young soccer players aspiring to reach the heights of their professional heroes often look for ways to model the playing style and behavior of these players. Professional and amateur athletes use visualization to mentally prepare for situations they could encounter during competition by imagining themselves responding well and excelling on the field. Before a game (i.e., the night before, the morning of, or on the bus en route to the field), try integrating visualization into your pre-performance routine. Run through various circumstances or specific actions in your head that could arise during competition, paying attention to the sights, sounds, emotions, and even smells associated with these images. This is a way for you to mentally prepare for physical tasks and challenges you may encounter. Using visualization can be a great way to ensure that you are focused and ready to play, and to maintain a mental edge over your opponent.

Staying composed in pressure situations

To those who are not soccer savvy, it may seem easy to score a penalty kick from only 12 yards away. But, even the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo have missed from the penalty spot. On April 23rd, 2008, Ronaldo missed a PK against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League. Rather than being a judge of talent alone, the history of soccer demonstrates that PKs are also a judge of mental strength and the ability to maintain composure in high-pressure situations.

So, what specific mental skills are key components for success in high-pressure situations, such as PKs? Composure is one of the most important skills to have in order to be successful. This skill allows players to have self-control in tense situations by decreasing their anxiety and helping them focus on the present. It also allows players to trust their preparation and routine; when composed, players can focus on their training. This is important because if you cannot control yourself and your arousal, nervousness could emerge. Being nervous could correlate with a lack of concentration on the ball, and without excellent concentration, a player might strike the ball wrong when he/she is at the penalty spot. Some players play best when they are calm, whereas others play best when they are pumped up. What’s important is to find your optimal arousal level and get yourself there. What works for one person may not work for another.

Two techniques that can help you improve your composure are visualization and mindfulness. Visualization is simply creating an image in your mind, and it can help you prepare for an upcoming competition. Prior to the competition, you can visualize things going right, and things goings wrong, and then plan and prepare for how those situations will feel; you can practice your ideal responses. Mindfulness, on the other hand, can help you increase your self-awareness and learn to be attentive to what is happening in the present so that you’re able to focus on the task at hand. These tips may seem very simple, but with daily practice, they can help you to become more composed in high-pressure situations.

Releasing emotions

Emotions are “powerful forms of live, potent energy, and they have the greatest impact upon the harmony of the whole self” states Christopher Andersonn in his book, Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win? If you keep this emotional energy bottled up, or if you release it in an unproductive way, it could potentially have a negative affect on you.

Often children involved in sports experience a lot of emotional stress, due to the pressure to win and/or meet expectations and they are not sure how to deal with it properly. So, instead of dealing with it they just ignore it. This stress could cause them to loose interest in their sport. Fear, shame, humiliation, rejection, control, and emotional abuse in regard to their sport build up inside them until they are at a point of exploding. Generally, because parents are important role models for their children, the way parents deal with their emotions is the way the child will deal with his/her emotions.

Parents should learn to release their emotions in a healthy way and actively help their children do the same. A very helpful technique for release is visualization. Andersonn believes that visualization is the most important form of release. Visualization is the act of imagining situations so that you are able to plan your ideal reaction. An instance in which one can use visualization is to practice emotional release. Using visualization allows you to imagine instances where you have not released, or at least not properly released, your emotions and practice the proper release in your mind. The first step is to relax and imagine the event that is causing the emotional stress. Play it back in your mind like a movie, only change the scene so that you are releasing all the emotions you feel. Playing these situations in your mind like a movie allows you to practice your ideal responses; over time, these visualized responses could become actual responses. If you use visualization as a tool to practice the proper release of emotions, it can be an incredible asset that helps you become a stellar role model for you child and teach your child how to release stressful emotions and cope appropriately. The ability to release emotions and cope with stress can be valuable to a player’s ability to perform at his/her best.

Andersonn, C. & Andersonn, B. (2000). Will You Still Love Me If I Don’t Win? Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company.

Visualizing yourself to success

Visualization is a skill that can be tricky to learn, but helpful once you do. Picture this: You’re walking out onto the field before a big game. You can feel the ground give as you take each step. You can smell the freshly cut grass. You can hear parents, coaches, and other players talking all around you. You can see your teammates starting to arrive, as well as the players from the other team. You can taste the water you brought with you as you take a sip. Now you start to warm up with a teammate. You feel your leg moving back and your cleat making contact with the ball. You see your teammate moving to stop the ball. You smell the grass in the air as the ball rolls around on it. You can hear your team talking and warming up together.

This is an example of visualization. This could be the first part of a routine you develop about visualizing your next big game. You could continue with it and visualize any nerves or excitement you might feel and your ideal way of dealing with it.

Visualizing your performance can help you feel more prepared and composed come competition time. It helps put your thoughts and actions on automatic pilot: you don’t think, you just do.

Visualization is something that you can do before a training session or a game to go over how you want the day to go. The night before your next training session or game, set some time aside laying in bed to visualize the next day. How will the training session go? What will you see, feel, hear, taste, and touch? You want to visualize it as if you’re doing it, not as if you’re watching yourself do it. Be the star of your own movie.

Dedication, determination, and desire

Arnold Schwarzenegger is known for being one of the world’s most successful male bodybuilders. Throughout his career in bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger won Mr. Universe once and the title of Mr. Olympia seven times. Despite his many successes, Schwarzenegger’s journey to bodybuilding stardom was a result of incredible determination, intrinsic motivation, and extreme focus.

Growing up in a small town in Austria, Schwarzenegger developed a passion for bodybuilding, although all of those closest to him told him that a career in bodybuilding was a wasted dream. He entered the military in his late teens, as many boys in his town did, but did not give up on his dream. While he found it difficult during his military training to train the extra three hours a day to get properly conditioned for bodybuilding, he told himself, “here’s the goal, and whatever it takes to get there, I will do.” He constantly reminded himself that he had an ultimate goal, a vision, of being a world champion. During his military time, Schwarzenegger won the Junior Mr. Europe competition. At that point, he told himself that bodybuilding success was not just a dream; he could really accomplish his goal. After winning that competition, the officers and soldiers at the base supported his efforts to train extra hours and follow a good nutrition plan and the officers used him as an example of exemplary discipline. With this collective support and his unwavering desire to achieve his goal, he launched his training to the next level, allowing himself to compete at higher and higher ranks. He went on to earn himself a spot in history as one of the most famous bodybuilders in the world.

When everyone around Schwarzenegger told him that his dream was a waste, he set an outcome goal of being world champion and never let that goal out of his sight. His outcome goal motivated him and helped him focus on his daily process goals. He said that he visualized himself competing on stage, just like the successful bodybuilders he saw in magazines. He stayed focused on his ultimate goal, and learned what he needed to do each and every day to help him reach his ultimate goal. He put in extra time running and lifting weights and made sure he ate proper meals; these were his smaller, process goals that helped him achieve his ultimate goal of being a world champion bodybuilder. He said that this dedication, determination, and focus set the blueprint for the rest of his life. Schwarzenegger’s story is a great example of the power of dedication, self-motivation, and effective goal setting.

If you are interested in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s story, watch this short documentary for further information: