Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

First Touch Philosophy

A player’s first touch is crucial to their success as they progress to higher levels of playing. Although speed, a great shot, tactical knowledge, etc. may be desired, a quality first touch is a foundation that can enhance any skill stacked upon it and mask defects that would otherwise be apparent. Just like any other skill, a first touch requires physical practice but the skill in and of itself is heavily intertwined with being proactive. The ability to control the ball is not particularly a good first touch. It is the combination of control with the vision to see where it would be most advantageous to put the ball. Many players possess the skill to control the ball in open space. However amongst the chaos of small space, little time and huge pressure is the true proving ground for a quality first touch.

Although I would love for each of us to use this post as a catalyst for improving our first touch on the field, like always, I’m thinking to the bigger game of life. In life, the rules, skills and strategies are more subject to interpretation. That is why I put the word philosophy in the title. Each of us must develop our own stance on how we progress in life. Therefore it is not for me to say what is best for you, the philosophy part is up to you. However I am going to suggest some of the places where you might find opportunities to take great “first touches.” Below is a video of Frank Lampard (not my favorite player) scanning the field during his days with Chelsea (not my favorite team). Although I do not love the player, it’s easy to appreciate the preparedness. Being aware of your surroundings enough that you can make a better decision when the opportunity arises.

First Touch Opportunities

Here are some opportunities for you to set yourself up for success. The decision about how to approach these situations is up to you depending on your goals and strategy.

  • First thing in the morning. This is the truest of all “first touches.” What do you do when first wake up? Are you reactive to the way you feel? Proactive based on decisions made beforehand?
  • Meeting new people. This is another spot where you get to choose who it is that you want to be. This person doesn’t know you and no matter what you do, they will never know you 100%. They will only ever get a small percentage of who you are based on what you show them. Do you want to show them your BIG personality? Or are you sending the message that you are more interested in them? This may change based on the circumstances but is there a thought process behind your interactions?
  • Walking into a room. It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. However I am huge believer in the fact that you should not trust what people say, nor what they do, trust the pattern. So every time that you walk into a room, you have a new opportunity to be the version of yourself that you want on display. What is your pattern? How do you show up regularly?
  • After making a mistake. This is a crucial time where chaos may be upon you. Perhaps not external chaos but internal chaos. A first touch is all about control and setting yourself up for success. How do you react to mistakes? Do you tear yourself down internally? Externally? Do you relive it in your head? Do you evaluate it in order to prevent it from repeating? Worst case scenario, do you even see your mistakes? Amidst the chaos of life, it is easy to get turned around. If you’ve not defined which goal is yours, it is possible that you’re heading in the wrong direction and don’t know it.
  • After someone hurts you. Looking for retribution is easy! Sometimes it might be the right answer. More often than not, it isn’t! Usually the people that are given the power to hurt you, have it because you share a relationship. Two ends of a “ship” taking shots at one another almost guarantees that the “ship” is going down. Is it a mistake? Does hurting the other person make you feel better? Do you even need to be hurt by this? In the chaos of the moment, these are hard questions to ask. So it may be helpful to rehearse some situations inside your head before they happen. See yourself acting in a way that will help you.

Obviously this list is not complete. There are plenty of places in your life where you can employ control and a vision for where it is advantageous to go. Just like a first touch on the field, it takes practice before the chaos. Practice is something that starts when you are on your own. Meditation, visualization, journaling and self-talk are some of the best tools that you can use to develop control and vision. These skills need to be honed over time. Then much like Lampard in the video clip, you need to be scanning the field to make opportunities out of the openings that you see or avoid the hard tackle coming from your backside. Life is inherently “out of control”. The only thing that we can control is ourselves. Make the best of the touches that you get today.

Go for goal!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

How to be a superhero TODAY!

Superheroes vary in size, powers, intelligence many other factors. However there are some generalizations that we can make about superheroes. These will not be all encompassing but they are useful for a conversation.

  1. Superheroes (generally) put the good of the masses/others above their own.
  2. Superheroes are held in high esteem by people.
  3. Superheroes often have a secret identity that keeps them from getting “credit”.
  4. Superheroes have an origin story. It’s usually not a happy tale.
  5. Superheroes have flaws or something that undermines their power (kryptonite).
  6. Superheroes have a special power or powers.

So if you look up and down that list, it’s possible that you’ve already seen what I want you to see. The difference between a superhero and you is not radiation, toxic waste, better parents or anything of the sort. The difference comes down to basically two major ingredients: decisions and perspective.

Your decisions are the major difference between you and a superhero at this moment. Someone can choose to be more than halfway to superhero status simply by making a few changes.

  1. Choosing to put the good of others above your own is something that you can choose to do today. It does not have to be the world or a nation or a city. It could be your family or friends.
  2. By making that decision, it is highly probable that people will hold you in high esteem.
  3. It completely possible for you to do good for other people who will never know your name or possibly even ever see you act. Despite the fact that credit feels good, it is completely possible to feel good without the credit.
  4. Your story is good enough as it is. You can decide to do great things today. The radioactive spider or near death experience are not necessary. Start where you are and figure out the story later.
  5. Each of us has our flaws and most likely you’re judging yourself harshly for yours. Would you judge Superman for being weakened by Kryptonite? Even better for you is that you can work on your flaws.
  6. This final piece is one of perception. What do you perceive as special? Again, due to your proximity to yourself, you have most likely undervalued one or more of your abilities. My mother is an exceptional baker. That can be a super power when given the correct perspective and leverage. If you don’t have that thing yet, there is no reason why you can’t develop it.

Decisions and perspective are the obstacles between you and being a superhero. You can start your journey today! No one can stop you! The number of super villains in your world is probably pretty low. So get started today!

Have a super day!

Pete

Blogpost

Szmodics Can’t Outrun This Defender

Let me start by saying, that I am a huge Sammie Szmodics fan! Not just for his play on the field but the way he seems to conduct himself outside of the game. Last season he seemed to pop up in a variety fans’ Twitter or Instagram feeds, not just posing for a picture but also engaging on a personal level. It was great to see and I was ecstatic when it was announced that he was coming back. Thus far he has not lived up to the expectations that many people (including him) have had. While I’ve seen it suggested that he will be fine once he scores a few more goals, the ingredients are there for the goals to have gone in already. So I believe there is something more to cope with.

Last season Sammie came in as a breath of fresh air to replace the Maddison circus as it left town. Despite the high hopes for him, there was no pressure. It was a loan, not a long term signing. Ivan was scoring for fun and therefore he drew defenders’ attention. Sammie also had “something to prove” because he had been sitting on the bench for Bristol for the first half of the season. All of these circumstances gave him the perfect platform to be a smashing success with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This time around the situation is completely different and Sammie is struggling with the opponent inside at the moment. The pressure of being a highly sought after signing is a far cry from replacing a team cancer. Expectations from fans, management and especially Sammie himself have put an invisible cover on the goal. Obviously there is not a cover on the goal itself but rather an obstacle inside of his own head. The pressure of not scoring regularly causes him to overthink things that just flowed last season.

The thing is that he has probably scored hundreds maybe thousands of times in more difficult circumstances in the past. The myelin* is there to repeat past positive performances. His amygdala** is firing off fear signals in those crucial moments because this year means more. If he misses, then was Bristol right to let him go? Is he worth the investment? Was it all just Ivan’s influence last season? We all do this in pressure situations with our own personal story.

At this moment, Sammie and a few other players need to change the story that is going on inside of their head. The chances to score are not any more difficult. The money, outside pressures or situations do not change one’s ability to kick the ball in that moment. The narrative that we all tell ourselves affects how we perform and we can control that. Creating a new story inside of his own head about what he has to do in order to be “successful” is a key action. Separating himself from the expectation will give him the freedom to be exactly who he is. Rehearsing his future successes in his mind will open the pathway to better performance and remove the cover from the goal.

Whether he does these actions explicitly or time allows for the pressure to subside will eventually play itself out. Sammie is quality player who has had a small dip in form that will be worked out. He just can’t outrun this defender because it is the one that is matching him step for step everywhere he goes. I wish him nothing but the best in this battle. It is the one that we are all fighting and it’s never completely won!

Up the POSH

Pete

*Myelin is an insulating layer or covering that allows electrical impulses within the brain to travel more quickly and efficiently. The more times that an action or thought is repeated, the more that the myelin insulates that neural pathway.

**Amygdala is an almond shaped structure within the brain that produces several base emotions like fear and is linked with the “fight or flight” response.

Blogpost

Uninspired POSH Need Last Piece of Ferguson Puzzle

For almost two decades, I’ve been supporting Peterborough United from afar. Despite the inconvenience of supporting a team that I rarely get to watch, I’m comforted by the fact that I know what to expect from POSH. Our chairman (or el presidente) will be on Twitter or his podcast speaking his mind about POSH or anything else. Barry Fry will be working the deals, although much quieter than in the past. Finally whenever Darren Ferguson is our manager, we’ll be close to promotion.

With the disappointment of last season fresh in POSH fans minds, the recognition that we need to amass as many points as soon as possible is plain for all to see. With the backing of the owners and other fortunate circumstances, most of the pieces are in place for us to withstand this marathon of a season near the automatic promotion places. The squad is made up of players who can replace one another with minimal dips in ability. Therefore the tight schedule will affect us less than other squads. The lack of crowds at the moment works slightly to our favor because our away form is usually a factor in keeping us from promotion. By the time that crowds are allowed back, our position in the league and the novelty of being at games bring great support to home matches rather than a fickle POSH crowd. Ferguson’s calculated approach will continue to produce consistent results that will have us in the playoff or automatic places as the season comes to a close. Despite the unique circumstances, this sounds like a pretty typical season under Darren Ferguson. Selfishly though, I’m looking for more.

As I’ve stated prior, I am a huge Ferguson supporter. He has been the manager for a good portion of my time as a POSH fan and enjoy watching his teams play and the way that he conducts himself. However it seems that he is missing one piece from his managerial arsenal. Based on my observation, POSH teams tend to start games slow and only “turn it on” in the second half. There could be many reasons for this but as a person who believes heavily in the emotional side of the game, I think it is due to a lack of emotional priming.

Most of my coaching career has been spent at the high school and college where the tactics and techniques are important but usually in close matches, the emotional side of the game wins. The professional level definitely requires a more steady approach to the management of players’ emotions. However that does not mean that it is not important. As the son of Sir Alex, I’m sure that the halftime resurgence of POSH teams is partially due to a few “hairdryer” treatments. While this has its place, training players on how to manage themselves and especially to “prime” themselves for a peak emotional state at game time is crucial.

This is the last piece to Ferguson’s puzzle. His tactical awareness and man management on a longitudinal basis seem to be spot on. The place where POSH fizzle at times is their ability to start the game on the emotional front foot. A combination of confidence and desire to do what it necessary. The difference between last season’s team that looked like a juggernaut going into the late part of the season and this season is the lack of an emotional focal point. Ivan Toney (the only thing I’ll give Steve Evans credit for getting right) allowed the players around him to play with confidence and joy because he was going to give them a chance to win regardless of how they played. None of the players at the moment has that power. So it needs to be taught to all of them. The POSH team of this year will only dominate this league if each and every player comes to the field with his best mindset available. Expecting 25+ goals out of Clarke-Harris, Dembele or Eisa seems unlikely. So the squad must do it and cannot continually take the first half at half capacity.

Developing a system of emotional priming is not outside of Ferguson’s skillset, he did it beautifully leading into the promotion push from years ago using the video with the Adele song. However this work needs to be done a much more individualized basis. This work cannot be done to the players, it must be done with the players. Dan Abrahams, who has worked with several teams and individual athletes, has players create a persona to bring out their best attributes at the crucial moments. His work is not the only possibility for priming athletes but having heard him speak a few times, I’m a fan of his work.

So the question is not whether or not POSH have it in them to win this league, they do. The question is whether or not they can consistently demand more from themselves physically, mentally and emotionally than their opponents. The difference between this and any other POSH year may come down to the players being trained on how to turn on their own fire without the “hairdryer”.

Up the POSH!

Pete

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Hand Stitched Soccer Balls

There was a point in the past where the mark of a “good” soccer ball was that it was “hand stitched.” Unfortunately most of that stitching was probably done by children in another part of the world but we’re going to put the geo-political implications aside for the moment. Quality was associated with human labor. Someone putting in an effort to create. Doing it with intention that lead to a better result. While technology has improved enough that a machine can make a better soccer ball than a kid in a sweat shop. Some tasks are better done by hand and maybe even by children.

While I have no desire to make a better soccer ball, I do have an explicit interest in helping to make better people. It is nowhere near as simple as manufacturing because the material is inconsistent. The methods are various and not always effective or efficient. However there is one that I am more sure of than ever as we cope with this pandemic. Better people are made by hand. This does not mean that they are stitched together by a low wage worker in another country. It simply means that contact is key. Our ability to become a better version of ourselves depends heavily on the influence of people. While the position of influencer seems to have been reduced to someone who has a lot of followers, it truly is the people that we allow to nudge us in one direction or another. Those little pieces of other people that we pick up can be stitched together into something beautifully functional. Much like the panels of a soccer ball, we have a patchwork design that fits together in a way that no machine could predict. So we need to be “hand-stitched” and at some point we need to do it to ourselves.

There is a societal push toward perfection. Clearer pictures on TV, faster Wifi, smarter automobiles… These improvements seem to positively impact lives. However that same expectation around human existence is more dangerous than anything else. We are born through difficulty and struggle. Usually that is what makes us better as well. We need to be hand-stitched because from time to time, life tears us apart. It’s a skill that needs to be developed, picking up the pieces. Even though we want to protect our kids from anything harmful, they need to learn how to sew. Otherwise they’ll be dependent upon other things or people to make them feel put together.

Get back to work!

Pete