Soccer provides a platform of duality which makes it both challenging and amusing. The world we live in today is full of duality, you cannot escape it. You can’t have good without bad, you can’t have rich without poor and you definitely can’t have winning without losing.
Soccer like any other sport has a positive and a negative side. Our competitive nature which strives for perfection can be seen as a positive. But for every positive, there must be a negative. While players strive to become the best (positive), many players that don’t succeed will start to show negative attributes. These attributes come in the form of cheating, becoming a bad loser, fighting amongst team mates and if left unattended will manifest into provocation, verbal and physical abuse. Have you ever seen a player spit on his direct opponent?
So how do we use our competitive nature to our advantage? Do we focus our competitiveness towards our opposition? This is clearly better than competing amongst your team mates isn’t?
The only problem with directing your competitiveness towards your opposition is that your opponent or opposition will dictate how you feel. This is not a good thing! Let’s use a few scenarios to illustrate this.
Your playing the bottom team and your team is clearly superior. You end up winning the match 3-0 and your individual performance was sensational. How do you feel? The chances are you feel fantastic, full of confidence and you start to dream of winning the league. Sound familiar? But what happens when the team you are playing is superior? You feel a sense of defeat and become deflated while simultaneously losing all your confidence and self-esteem as the score board reads 3-0 at half time. Surely this one sounds familiar? So how do we deal with defeat?
If the score board reads 3-0 at half time this will inevitably take your mind off what you are trying to achieve in Soccer or simply why you play the game. The score line will also make you fear your opponent, create anxiety and create an avalanche of pressure that will eventually break you. Remaining focused and relaxed is impossible as you continually chase your opponents shadow.
Can you see the problem? When you direct your competitiveness towards your direct opponent or opposition, the way you feel and perform is dictated by your opponent. Why would you ever want to do this? If you continue to direct your competitiveness towards your opponent guess what will happen in the long run? You will start to select your opponents at training and even line up against the weaker players in a match. Why? The answer is simple, you want to ensure that you finish the match a winner. You want to feel confident and you would like to place another secure layer around your ego.
Choosing opponents or becoming the “Big Fish in a small pond” is the best way to guarantee failure. If you are guilty of doing this, stop it right now. Don’t play against weaker opponents if you have a choice. Test yourself, stretch yourself and try to play against better players. Playing against better players is the only way to significantly improve your soccer performance. If you spent a year training at Arsenal with Arsene Wegner you would become a better player than if you were the best player in your local team. Even if you were the worst player at Arsenal the benefits would easily surpass that of the local team. Can you see the bigger picture?
Winners or players that have set soccer goals avoid the pain associated with poor performance and defeat. They use performance and defeat as a challenge and a way of keeping themselves motivated. They push themselves and create new, higher levels of soccer performance. Don’t be afraid of someone that is better than you, learn from them and compete against them. Eventually you will become just like them. You can only improve by playing against better players even if you suffer more defeats than victories.
The best bit of advice I can offer is this, enjoy the challenge and really test your capabilities. Enjoy the challenge of seeing how good YOU CAN BE! Always compete against yourself in order to be the best you can be. By doing this you eliminate any negative pressure and allow yourself to play freely. When you suffer defeat, you will be gracious and will be grateful as your opponent provides you with a measuring tool to study your own progress.
At the end of the day all pressure is Self Imposed. Taking a penalty kick in the park is exactly the same as taking a penalty kick in the world cup. Same distance, same goal dimension and the same ball dynamics. The pressure is in your mind, you create it.
Next time you’re at training, take your competitive nature and apply it. Step up and mark the best player, take responsibility and have self belief in your own playing ability. If you do not improve, build confidence and practice against the best, you’ll never win anything.