Tag: World Cup

Six Traits of Mentally Tough Athletes — Including the U.S. Soccer Team

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

All eyes will be on Vancouver this Sunday as the U.S. Women’s soccer team takes on Japan in their second consecutive World Cup Championship game. In order to reach the finals for two straight tournaments, we know the athletes have not only incredible physical strength, but also extraordinary mental strength. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke with NPR before the World Cup began about what distinguishes the U.S. team: “I think traditionally, we’ve always been very fit and fast and physical, and we have that sort of physical element that we can just outlast teams,” she said. “And we have that grit and that mentality that we’re never going to quit.” That grit is an integral part of what has led to the team’s success—and is also an integral part of being mentally tough.

In their book, The Mental Game Plan: Getting Psyched for Sport, Drs. Stephen J. Bull, John G. Albinson, and Christopher J. Shambrook outline six characteristics of mentally tough athletes:

Strong desire to succeed

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Control the controllables

High commitment with a balanced attitude

High level of self-belief

Positive body language

From Rapinoe’s quote alone, it is easy to see that the U.S. team embodies these characteristics. The team’s determination and refusal to quit aligns with characteristics 1-5 (and if you look at pictures of the team in action, you’ll see No. 6 as well).

So how can you embrace these six skills and be mentally tough like the U.S. women? What do they really mean?

Strong desire to succeed – Why are you playing your sport? We imagine it’s because you love it and have fun while playing! Your No. 1 priority should be to enjoy what you’re doing. Then, that love for the game will transfer over to your desire to keep getting better. “Succeeding” does not necessarily mean winning the championship or being the best player on the team; rather, it’s about setting your mind to a few, tangible goals and working hard to attain them. These are progress-oriented goals—like taking a few deep breaths before you make your next pitch or becoming 5% stronger over the next two weeks. The real success is when you achieve these progress-goals throughout the year!

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure – Athletes of any sport, especially at high levels of competition, endure a lot of stress. Making excuses and complaining won’t help you get any better. Mentally tough athletes challenge stress head on by staying positive throughout their competition.

Control the controllables – In order to be mentally tough, you need to recognize that there are some things you can’t do anything about. The refs, the weather, the past—recognizing that there are aspects of the game out of your control will help you become more aware of what you can control. You can control your effort in practice, your attitude when you miss a rebound, and what you’re doing at the current moment, to name a few. When you focus on what you can control, you put more conscious effort into making those aspects of your game better instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

High commitment with a balanced attitude – Having a balanced attitude means that you need to be dedicated to your sport while also being dedicated to other aspects of your life like school, family, and friends. Enjoy your sport while you’re playing, but if something bad happens during a game or practice, don’t let that negatively affect your mood when you leave the field. Mentally tough athletes recognize that they need to focus on sports while training, but they need to be engaged with other parts of their life as well.

High level of self-belief – We all know that we won’t make every basket or catch every pass from the quarterback, but that’s ok! If you stay focused on the present moment—on the basket you’re about to shoot or the pass the quarterback is throwing right now and you say to yourself over and over that you can do this and you will make the basket/pass, then more often than not you will make the shot. If you believe in yourself, you will be able to turn those thoughts into actions.

Positive body language – When you swing at a pitch outside of the zone, do you slam your bat down in frustration or do you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ll get it next time? Standing upright with confidence will in fact make you more confident. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s those who realize that they can be better next time that are mentally tough and successful.

Mental training takes time just as physical training—you can’t get better overnight. Next time when you’re skating around the rink, take a few deep breaths, remember what you can and cannot control, and believe in yourself. Those quick mental skills will put you steps above your opponent—as evident by the U.S. women’s soccer team only one step away from a World Cup Championship!

 

The World Cup: Psychology Behind Penalty Kicks

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

The game of soccer is one of the most physically demanding in all of sport. With physical demands of the whole body and players traveling, on average, seven miles in a game, there is no doubt that soccer athletes have to be some of the most physically fit in the world. But what comes, then, when regulation and extra time have passed and players must engage in game-deciding penalty kicks? What physical skill is required there? The ball is centered, only 12 yards away from the goal, with the keeper completely at the taker’s mercy in regards to where the shot will go, when it will be taken, etc. So why at the World Cup – soccer’s greatest stage – is the conversion rate for penalty kicks only .71?

The answer is one of the most beautiful ironies in all of sport: the simplest of physical tasks becomes the most difficult because of how mentally challenging it is.

The one-on-one nature is naturally going to elicit some nerves. Coupled with the pressure of the moment, the implications of the result, and the apparent ease of the situation, those nerves can make a player far from their best. Some factors are beyond the player’s control: who shoots first and who shoots second, and consequently who shoots for gain and who shoots to recover, is determined entirely by a coin flip. For some, the pressure is next to none; goalkeepers are seen as heroes if they save a penalty kick, and receive next to no blame for allowing a goal. However, for the players taking the penalty kicks, it can be said for certain that mental strength is the key.

Confidence, strength of will, and physical ability–these are all the pieces to the penalty kick puzzle. All are ever-present with the USA National Team. Just consider the team’s slogan through the tournament thus far: I Believe. Klinsmann, the team’s coach, just told his players to change their flights until after the World Cup final. Think Team USA has confidence? While we hope the game for the Americans doesn’t end up coming to penalty kicks – hopefully we have the win secured long before they become necessary – don’t be surprised to see the team shine if it comes to that. The mental strength is there, and the whole country can’t be wrong when they say, “I believe that we will win!”

 

References:

Hatokie, A. (2014, July 1). The psychology of penalty shootouts. – Football. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.aljazeera.com/sport/brazil2014/2014/07/psychology-penalty- shootouts-20147182438644251.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