Tag: Professional Athletes

When is Enough Enough? The Costs of Playing Through Injuries

In the 1996 Olympics gymnast Kerri Strug sprained her ankle on her first vault landing. All she needed to earn a gold medal was a clean vault, which was exactly what she did after spraining her ankle: Strug performed a vault with an injury, landing on one foot. Competing or performing with an injury is common in world of athletics at any level. Strug’s story, as well as many other athletes who have overcome adversity, hold not only a special place in history but also in the eyes of society. The athletes are looked up to as heroes for sacrificing their bodies for the glory of a win. This mentality contributes to the pressure many athletes face to play through an injury at all costs, and negatively contributes to their bodies and mental health. Hiding injuries and/or playing through the pain is not only hurting the injury and prolonging it, but could also lead to more serious problems later on.

From athletes’ perspectives, they are training to control and master their bodies. When injuries occur they may view it as just another part of the body that needs to perform a certain way. An injury may also cause them to view their body as something to fight against. The injury may seem like a form of betrayal because their body is not cooperating with the demands, but in reality the body is telling the host that it needs a break.

Athletes tend to avoid their injuries because they do not want to take time off. For professional athletes, playing through injuries is the norm—their sport is their job, and if they have to take time off, many feel as though they aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities. This, as well as the threat of being replaced, factors in to playing while they are injured. It’s reasonable that they play through injuries; they have everything riding on their athletic abilities. As a result, if the injury is something that won’t end their career, they will risk their health for the reward. However, even though athletes play through the pain very often at this level, they are aware of potential risks. Athletes view those who can accept that they are injured as brave. Former NBA player Alvin Williams stated, “They’re the real courageous ones, because they’re the ones who are going to be able to come back. They’re setting an example that they’re more than an athlete. And, paradoxically, that’s what’s going to make the best athlete, the best organization, the best everything.” Athletes know that playing on an injury is not the best option yet this is not what they are taught or encouraged to do.

In a study of 3,000 athletes, coaches, and parents, 42% of youth athletes said that they have hidden injuries so they could play, which could lead to more serious complications as they grow up. Kate Carr, the president of Safe Kids Worldwide sums it up perfectly, “The awareness we have about injuries and the risk to our children is not matching the behavior that we’re seeing on the field.” Although winning is an important aspect of sports, it should not be something to risk children’s health for. The restriction requiring athletes to be pulled if they have a suspected concussion and the reduction of contact and checking in youth sports are both steps in the right direction for the reduction of injuries as a whole. Now the task is to create an atmosphere where it is the norm to report injuries.

In “Playing through the pain: Psychiatric risks among athletes,” Drs. Samantha O’Connell and Theo C. Manschreck look at the vulnerability in athletes regarding psychiatric health. One of the factors that drives this is how athletes express pain (which for many cases they don’t). Hiding physical injuries could be the gateway into athletes hiding other health issues as well, specifically related to mental health. Athletes may fear that seeking help will make them look weak and threaten their status as an athlete or with their team. This could lead to further problems with their mental health. O’Connell and Manschreck state that playing through pain may be influenced by pressures from coaches, scholarships or parents, but ultimately it has to do with the pressures the athletes puts on themselves to achieve.

When athletes view injury as a weakness both to their identity as an athlete and their performance, this can cause greater health issues regarding injury as well as mental health. Advise your athletes to sit it out if they are in doubt. While sitting out may not be fun for a game or two, it is better than never playing again or having it affect you or your athletes off the field. This view of injury in professional sports may not change soon, but you have the ability to change how you and/or your athletes view injury.

Alexa-Jane Hoidahl

In the Midst of the Stanley Cup, the Lightning’s Home Ice Advantage Should Not be Overlooked

By: Premier Intern Staff

In a comeback victory last night, the Chicago Blackhawks took Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals from the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1. The two teams will face off again Saturday night in Tampa for Game 2 of the seven game series. Both teams showed promise as the Lightning dominated for the first period and the Blackhawks controlled the third. The Cup could go either way, so we wanted to take a look at one advantage that is out of either team’s control: home field advantage (or, in the case of hockey, home ice advantage).

With 108 points in the regular season compared to Chicago’s 102, the Tampa Bay Lightning secured home ice advantage for the series, which will give them an upper hand if the series goes five or seven games. Playing at home can benefit players because it may make them more relaxed than if they were on the road. They are in a place that is comfortable and secure—players are able to sleep in their own homes and prepare in their own locker rooms and clubhouses.

Also, when at home, players are playing in front of their own fans. While this may not seem like it has a profound impact on players, think about 20,000 people cheering you on. Or, if you’re the away team, 20,000 people being so silent when you’ve just scored that you could hear a pin drop. With the Chicago win last night, if you’re a Blackhawks fan, you might scoff and say that the fans are unimportant and therefore the Lightning don’t have an edge, but not many of you have stood in front of thousands of people screaming for your success and against your opponent’s. To come back in the third period last night, Chicago used a significant amount of mental focus and determination in addition to the X’s and O’s to overcome the crowd atmosphere cheering against them and take Game 1 of the series.

Premier’s own Dr. Alexandra Wagener was on Minnesota’s local CBS station, WCCO, to discuss why fans are so crucial to a home team’s success:

“We know that we are more aggressive, we have more motivation and we are actually more confident when we’re at home,” she said. “There’s also research to show that when we have the crowd behind us it can influence referee calls to an extent. Be supportive, be excited, and be in the moment. When the players look up, see people on their feet, we see them chanting and cheering—it can provide that extra edge to skate a little stronger.”

In fact, the presence of fans is so important to the Lightning, that this year they are imposing a new rule: All fans sitting in “premium” areas are required to wear Lightning paraphernalia or neutral clothing—absolutely no Blackhawks apparel allowed. Bill Wicket, the Lightning’s Executive Vice President for Communications, told the New York Times that the team is trying to create a “hometown environment for the Lightning players and our season-ticket holders.”

The assistance that fans provide as Dr. Wagener has previously stated helps solidify this fact. The Lightning organization has recognized the fans’ importance, so they are trying to do whatever they can in order to give their team the best shot at winning the Cup. Teams are putting more stock into the mental game, not just one-on-one sessions or workshops with coaches, but trying to channel group mentality within the stadium as well.

What do you think? Should the Lightning restrict what fans wear, and what impact does this rule have on the players? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook!

 

 

 

 

The Fastest Woman In The World: Tatyana McFadden

Adversity Since Birth

We hear all about the sports figures that are in the limelight: Michael Phelps, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and Mia Hamm to name a few. But is it possible that there is a few that hold the same credence without getting the proper attention they deserve? Absolutely, and Tatyana McFadden may be at the top of that list.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tatyana grew up in an orphanage for the first six years of her life. Born with Spina Bifida, a disability caused by a hole in your back, she was paralyzed from her waist down. While the other kids ran around, Tatyana refused to fall behind so she learned how to walk using only her arms and hands. Without the funding to buy a wheelchair, she unknowingly began to develop arm strength that would aid her rise to stardom in the years to come. Her wheelchair did come with time however when she was introduced to Deborah McFadden, an American woman who was taking routine a business trip as the Commissioner of Disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health. The two instantly connected and the adoption process took place before Deborah returned home.

11 Medals And Counting

Tatyana was still volatile upon her arrival in America, and was given a timeline of a few months to two or three years maximum left to live. Hoping to build up her strength, Tatyana’s new parents introduced her to sports, an infatuation that would bring her international success and an amazing mindset that puts most to shame. She tried many sports, but absolutely loved wheelchair racing, and excelled at it in no time. She told her mother that she wanted to be an Olympian one day, that she wanted to feel what they (Olympic athletes) feel when standing on the winner’s podium. Sure enough, Tatyana would experience that feeling not once, not twice, but 11 times in the 10 years that followed. At the 2014 Paralympics, she received her first two medals in wheelchair racing at age 14, one silver and one bronze. Four years later in Beijing, she added 4 more medals which was then mimicked in the 2012 Paralympics in London when she tallied another 4, 3 of those being gold medals. Making her the fastest woman in the world in her sport. While most people would be satisfied with 10 Olympic medals, Tatyana was unenthused with only participating in one sport. In 2013 she decided to pick up cross-country skiing, and with less than one year of experience in the snow, you guessed it, she made the winter Paralympics. And while she was at it she amazingly enough out performed all but one, slightly missing the gold medal and receiving silver.

If you are not too busy picking up your jaw that has rightfully dropped, the most incredible thing to consider is that she has accomplished all of this before graduating from college. As 2014 eventually rolled around, Tatyana finished her education at the University of Illinois with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, she plans to pursue graduate studies which is another thing that should not seem surprising at this point. She carries a precedence and demand for excellence in all facets of her life. She says that through her life she has “wanted to prove that with training and hard work and dedication you can be the best. And if you don’t train you wont be the best.” Plain and simply, hard work is her mantra. This mentality has been most recently rewarded when she received the 2015 Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award for her accomplishments in both track and field and cross-country skiing. And when asked about her “disability” she responds by saying “I hate that word, disability, because there is nothing disabled about us (those that are disabled), we have accomplished much more than the average person.” She is absolutely right, and maybe her words and actions will one day inspire the Laureus award to be renamed to the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Sports Ability Award. Tatyana McFadden demonstrates the mental toughness and resilience that we should all seek, and shows us that “disability” is simply a limitation that we put on ourselves.

To read more about her story check out this website and this video.

Bethany Brausen

What Is The Story Behind Superstitions?

If you look at any sport team, you will likely find many athletes that incorporate superstitions into their pre-game routines. Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every game of his professional career, insisting that they brought him luck. As a five-time MVP and six-time NBA Champion, it seems there may have been some method to his madness. Crossing borders onto the ice rink, Patrick Roy, one of the best goalies in NHL history, would skate backward toward his net and turn around at the last minute before every game. He believed this would “shrink the net”. (If that’s not interesting enough, he would talk to his goal posts and thank them when the puck would ring off them!) New York Mets reliever Turk Wendell would brush his teeth in between every inning and requested a contract of $9,999,999.99 to compliment his uniform number 99. So what is the real story behind superstitions? Why do they develop? And the biggest question: do they help?

How do Superstitions Start?

Superstitions are generally developed in retrospect when athletes begin to correlate performance with unrelated events/actions during the day. When an athlete performs particularly well (or conversely, when they perform poorly) they may look back at their day and point to specific events that could have caused the outlier performance. This can be anything from a song they heard to the type of undergarments they were wearing. It is not unusual to see superstitions that involve something with little, if any, connection to performance. Things like a haircut or shaving ones legs become carefully planned out to either “help” or avoid “hurting” performance. When athletes create this “cause and effect” between events and performance they chalk up their best performances to the events preceding the competition, and try to recreate it before competition. And you guessed it; they avoid any events that happened before terrible performances.

The Downfalls of Superstitions

While many superstitions are harmless, getting too consumed by them may cause problems in preparing. When developed superstitions begin to become all-consuming and athletes “need” them to be mentally prepared it can become stressful and produce fear and anxiety. An athlete may forget to recreate the superstition or not get to it before competition and lead themselves to believe that the way they perform is then out of their control. Giving power to these events/things can be very dangerous. Severe obsessions with superstitions can start to look like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and can mentally block an athlete’s ability to perform, when in reality the superstition cannot change the outcome of competition. The way an athlete prepares, and later performs, is almost entirely in their control. Outside factors such as weather and time delays may present challenges, but it is the athlete themselves who can work through that adversity and push themselves to reach optimal perform.

The Benefits of Superstitions

When superstitions are simply habits, quirks, or pregame routines they can actually be beneficial for some athletes. Having small things that are incorporated into preparation for competition can give an athlete a sense of control and confidence. Superstitions such as eating a good meal before a game, warming up the same, or listening to a favorite song can get your mind focused and remind your body that you are preparing for competition. You may have heard the phrase that humans are “creatures of habit” and as long as the habits are healthy, who is to say they won’t help you perform better? In fact, psychology has shown over and over that if you believe a specific action or behavior will help you perform better, then you probably will perform better! This is commonly known as the placebo effect. Sport psychology encourages the use of mental preparation strategies such as visualization and imagery to help athletes prepare mentally for competition. NFL quarterback Russell Wilson uses these techniques along with mindfulness to bring his game to the next level. Zack Parise of the Minnesota Wild uses visualization before every NHL game. By imagining yourself in a high competition setting, and performing successfully, you are preparing not only your mind for competition, but your body as well.

So can superstitions really be lucky? Depending on the type of superstition and dependence on it, it seems that things that stimulate mental preparation can increase performance. Outside of that… never washing your lucky socks cannot make or break your performance, unless you believe it can. It certainly will however make for a smelly locker. You need to step back and assess what meaning the superstition has in connection with your performance. And if that meaning can propel you to the top of your game then by all means use it to your advantage. Just remember that Louis Pasteur once said “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” So prepare properly, and you will get predictable performance. Strong mental preparation will provide you the luck you are searching for.

Bethany Brausen

Learn to Listen to Yourself

By: Premier Intern Staff

NPR radio recently broadcast a segment called “Why Saying is Believing – The Science of Self-Talk”.  If you think it sounds like a waste of your time, you might need to change your self-talk. Laura Starecheski investigates the messages we send ourselves and the implications these messages have on our daily lives. While it may seem like a simple feat, the ability to use positive self-talk on a consistent basis is easier said than done. However, this skill–when mastered–can have major benefits on our well-being and can lead us to feeling “sexier, more successful, have better relationships, and even help start a money making business and chase dreams [we] didn’t even know [we] had.” Starecheski investigates these claims by finding leading researchers in their fields and picking their brains on…well, how we pick on our brains. David Sarwer from the University of Pennsylvania specializes in research on eating disorders and immediately places a mirror in front of patients when he begins working with them. He encourages them to stray away from using harsh, critical vocabulary when describing themselves, and instead incorporate more neutral references that help them reframe their negative thoughts. While listening to the program, I began thinking, “Yes, I see the value in this… However, they are still just thoughts…and how harmful can thoughts truly be?” 

Shortly after, my question was answered.

A study conducted in the Netherlands analyzed anorexic subjects, and noticed that while women walked though doorways they turned their shoulders and squeezed sideways even though they had plenty of room.  This was an indicator that their internal representation of themselves was that they were much bigger than they were in reality.  Studies like this (i.e., those that show the tremendous effects self-talk can have on our physical world) are not uncommon. So how do we overcome these small thoughts that can become big problems? Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan suggests that the use of third person self-talk may be a trick to help “rewire” our brains.  Cross uses Lebron James as an example of using third person self-talk.  n an exit interview in 2010, Lebron James talked about leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat:

“One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. And I wanted to do what was best for Lebron James, and what I could do to make Lebron James happy.”

In this instance, he was able to distance himself from his emotions and look at a situation from a more neutral, logical standpoint. Cross furthered this idea with research of his own, confirming what he had already hypothesized. When people used third person self-talk and referred to themselves by name rather than “me” or “I”, subjects were significantly more rational, less emotional and were able to provide themselves with encouragement and advice.

Our self-talk shapes not only our internal world but our external world as well.  More often than you may think, the internal representations we create of ourselves are vastly different than reality. The skill of developing healthy, positive self-talk is not only beneficial, but also vital for our well-being and success. If you think otherwise, ironically you may just be the perfect candidate for strengthening your self-talk.

 

 

 

 

Teddy “GUMP”

By: Premier Intern Staff

If you happened to catch any of the Vikings-Falcons game on Sunday, you had the chance to see Teddy “Two Gloves” Bridgewater make his NFL debut. You also had a chance to see him throw for over 300 yards, score a rushing touchdown, and lead the Vikings to a hard-fought and well-earned home victory over a dangerous Atlanta Falcons teams.

So what’s the one word to describe Bridgewater’s brilliant debut? If you asked him, it would be GUMP.

GUMP is a nickname that Bridgewater first adopted in high school, given to him by his teammates after the copious amounts of Forrest Gump jokes and references he would make. But GUMP quickly became more than just a nickname for Bridgewater; those four letters are now a life motto that motivates Teddy each and every day.

It stands for Great Under Major Pressure and helped guide Bridgewater first through a spectacular career at the University of Louisville, where he saw tremendous on-field success. Arguably even more importantly, though, was the implication it has had on his life following his time as a collegiate star.

Heralded as one of the best available quarterbacks in the 2014 Draft Class, Bridgewater watched the big board move along farther and farther without hearing his name. To make it even worse, he had to sit by and watch other high profile QB’s, namely Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, get drafted to teams in need of relief at the position. It was not until the Vikings made a trade and picked up Bridgewater with the 31st overall pick that his NFL dreams become a reality, and with them even more major pressure than he had ever faced in his young life.

Stepping into an organization with quarterback troubles and a lot of questions floating around about whether or not Ponder and Cassel would be able to perform, all eyes turned to Bridgewater. Here’s this first-rounder that’s coming in with the expectation that he’ll come in and help turn the franchise around. Think that’s a little bit of pressure? Chalk it up for major pressure count number one.

It was right around that point that the Vikings’ coaches formally announced that Bridgewater was going to be properly coached and was going to be given lots of time to acclimate to the culture of the NFL before seeing the field. So now not only was the weight of ‘franchise savior’ on his shoulders, but when he does finally see the field there would be no excuses for anything short of perfection. Add that to the major pressure count, number two.

Then suddenly, what seemed like all at once, the face of the franchise and the team’s best player, Adrian Peterson, was no longer a member of the team. Then, Matt Cassel seemed to flop against the New England Patriots. The packed house at TCF Bank Stadium chanted, “Teddy! Teddy!” begging for him to come save the day. Not only did Bridgewater need to come save the day, but in doing so he was being asked to become the face of a franchise in need of a hero on and off the field. We’ll call that major pressures three, four, and five.

Yet, despite it all, Bridgewater came out and led the Vikings to the victory everyone was asking for. He dominated the game on the field, and went on to handle himself as professionally and humbly as could be asked for off the field following the victory. He took every expectation of him–gathered every bit of major pressure that had been placed on him–and he was good. No, he was better than good: on Sunday, September 28th, Teddy Bridgewater was GUMP.

There are any number questions one might ask for crediting Bridgewater’s success. Did he prepare himself physically to be able to perform on the field? Undoubtedly. Did he study his playbook until he knew it like the back of his gloved hand? It sure seemed that way on the field. But what was the most important piece of the Bridgewater puzzle? It seems to be a state of mind that he has been practicing, normalizing, and optimizing since he was just a teenager; the real key to Bridgewater’s success seems to be that he believed he would be successful.

And maybe that’s the most profound lesson to learn of all. Something as simple as a mindset and a firmly held belief helped to mold Bridgewater into the NFL phenom he showed he can be. We’ve seen sport psychology techniques such as this prove to be successful already in professional football after Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks took their mindfulness all the way to the top, winning Super Bowl XLVIII. I’m sure Minnesota fans across the country will be hoping so–especially with the new stadium en route and the opportunity to host the contest in 2018.

Our advice: hop on the bandwagon now! Teddy Bridgewater has proven to be great, and has all the mental tools to be great for years to come. Where some might say the pressure will be too great to get to and win a Super Bowl in a team’s home stadium, we say to them this: If Bridgewater has been this successful already, just imagine how capable he will be faced with all of that.

 

 

The Social Stigma about Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

As world views alter, acceptance for those who contrast our own appearance and ideologies steadily increases. Why is it then, that the thought of being mentally unhealthy is so frightening? The mind is undoubtedly complex. Complications with the organ that is responsible for so many aspects of our body should not be a monumental bombshell. Perfection is impossible, resulting with everyone’s brain being slightly different. Of course, some people pose a greater risk in developing a mental illness – not excluding athletes. The vulnerability that mental illness creates is not an image anyone wants to elicit – especially not an athlete whose whole being is to be stronger than their competitors.

Mental illnesses in sport are often overlooked. Part of that is a result of societal expectations. “Mental health has a stigma that is tied into weakness and is absolutely the antithesis of what athletes want to portray.” Stated by Dr. Thelma Dye Holmes, it shows that many athletes are idealized for their work and are placed into positions as role models; they are people who physically go above and beyond what others would do (Vickers). To be labeled as anything less than the perfection they aspire to be is damaging. But why does seeking help have to be viewed in this way? Sport psychology is tailored to athletes – even those who are no longer competing. At every level, athletes should understand the fundamentals of mental health and know how to implement coping strategies when necessary.

Stress, anxiety, and depression are all felt to some degree by athletes, particularly during competition. When they are put in high pressure scenarios and then expected to perform at their peak each time, relying on the physical aspects of the body is not enough. Training the mind and body together gives a competitive edge that is more powerful than the body alone. Four-time Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington discusses with CNN how her mind is the greatest tool in her arsenal. “The brain is the master computer of the body. Even when we are working on the efficiency of the peripheral components – the legs, the arms, the butt cheeks – we can recruit the seat of all power to enhance the effectiveness of our work.” (Wellington). She goes on to say that there is an obsession with log books and data, to track how far the athlete has come, but the body can only handle so much discomfort until the brain has to take over. When it becomes overbearing, a sick mind won’t be help the athlete strive to their peak. Doubt will be created, and with that, the athlete will falter.

In addition, when the body is under stress, so is the mind. Fatigue, depression, and anxiety stem from this stress, which in turn increases cortisol levels. Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkley have found that chronic stress and cortisol lead to damage within the brain. Their research has uncovered that the fatty tissue surrounding axons, known as white matter, increases in number the more exposed a person is to stress. The severity of this phenomenon is not fully understood, although it is agreed that an increase in white matter decreases the efficiency for communication in the brain leading to problems with memory, decision making, and emotions. They are now looking into how white matter affects such brain disorders as schizophrenia, autism, depression, ADHD, and PTSD (Bergland). A future goal for psychologists and scientists alike is not just to treat these disorders, but to provide information to the public on how to prevent them. Despite opinions of mental illness, getting help when needed is without a doubt the best option for improvement.

The stigma society afflicts on seeking help, whether it’s from professionals or a trusted person, prevent people from reaching their full athletic and mental potential. A sound body needs a sound mind to operate it; avoiding treatment will never fix the problem. There are resources out there to help those in need. Utilizing them doesn’t lessen a person’s worth or abilities, it simply helps strengthen them.

 

References:

  1. Bergland, C., (2014, February 12). Chronic Stress can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity
  2. Vickers, E., (2013, December 19). The Stigma of Mental Health; is it Increased for Athletes?. Retrieved from http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/the-stigma-of-mental-health-is-it-increased-for-athletes/
  3. Wellington, C., (2012, July 13). Ironman Champ: Your Mind Matters More. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/13/health/mind-over-matter-wellington/index.html

 

 

World Cup Confidence

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

With one of the greatest spectacles in all of sport – the FIFA World Cup – set to begin just around the corner, there is undoubtedly one question on every soccer fan’s mind: Who will win it all? There are a few obvious favorites, such as the host country Brazil and international powerhouse Spain, but if the history of international competition has taught us all anything it is this: Anything can happen on any given day.

Take, for example, the United States’ victory over favored Colombia in 1994, or their triumph over soccer great England in 1950. In both of these games, the United States entered a significant underdog – their game against England had them at 500:1 odds to win the World Cup while England boasted 3:1 odds – yet when the final whistle sounded our own American team found themselves victorious.

There could be any number of reasons for these outcomes (e.g. influence of weather, particular game strategies that prove particularly useful against certain opponents), but no matter the case the United States’ national team was, needless to say, fortunate. In all reality, they had little reason to be competitive in those games, let alone victorious. That is not to say that they didn’t still earn those wins, but it’s clear that something happened on those days to allow the United States to get that extra edge they needed to propel them to victory.

Looking at this year’s World Cup team, it may be apparent just what this USA team’s X-factor is: Confidence. Coming off a string of three international wins over Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria, the United States is heading off to Brazil on a high horse they have never ridden before, having never swept their World Cup send-off series before.

“This game gives us confidence, but the whole send-off series should give us confidence,” defender Matt Besler said following the 2-1 victory over Nigeria. “It’s been a grind but at the end of the day we’ve accomplished everything we set out to do, and that’s to get three wins. That’s really all that matters.”

Confidence they’re likely going to need, if they’re going to advance past the Group Stage. Playing against two of the top five seeds in the world, Germany (2) and Portugal (4), and against the team that has eliminated them from the last two World Cups, Ghana (37), this year’s U.S. team certainly has their hands full. But while such a task may seem daunting, the United States players and coaches are doing exactly what they should be when faced with this kind of adversity: staying poised, collected, and continuing to play their game.

In this year’s case, that is going to mean sticking with their guns. Playing against some of the best players in the world, such as Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Mesut Ozil of Germany, the United States will be leaning heavily on their stars. This year, with the recent dismissal of long-time star Landon Donovan, that’s going to mean forward Jozy Altidore.

“He’s our horse. It’s no secret,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said of Altidore. “We have to ride him. He has to put us on his back and score some goals for us.”

Though the task seems near impossible, there is still reason to have confidence in the boys wearing the stars and stripes. Between the upsets previously mentioned, Rulon Gardner’s gold medal wrestling performance over Alexander “Siberian Bear” Karelin in the 2000 Summer Olympics, and of course the United States’ men’s hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics, U.S. national teams have taught the world two very valuable lessons: 1) Never count out the men wearing red, white, and blue, and 2) There is no limit to what you can achieve when you are confident in what you are doing.

So say what you will about this year’s United States men’s soccer team, and make your own choices when filling out your World Cup bracket. Just remember that confidence can take you places no one believes you can reach, and this year’s U.S. team has a lot of it.

 

References:

Associated Press. (2014, June 8). World cup 2014: U.S. heads to Brazil with boosted confidence. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/world-cup-2014-u-s-heads-to-brazil-with-boosted-confidence/

Staff. (2010, June 20). Greatest upsets in World Cup history. Fox Sports. Retrieved    from http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/worldcup/lists/Greatest-upsets-ever-in-World-Cup#photo-title=U.S.+over+England%252C+1950&photo=11232455