There are many things that can be considered “unsporting behavior” within the game of soccer. However I believe that the one that encompasses them all most concisely is “Shows a lack of respect for the game.” Whether it is a reckless foul or attempting to deceive the referee, all situations that can be characterized as unsporting behavior show some level of disrespect toward the game. Generally speaking most people tend to respect the game at levels that allow for the game to move forward. If too many people disrespect the game, there is no continuity and possibly, not enough players left to make the game worth playing.
This situation almost never happens. Games are infrequently abandoned due to a high number of players being dismissed. It would be counterproductive. Players inherently want to play. So excessive disrespect to the game is not in their best interest. Even implementors of “anti-football” had to recognize that the more egregious their actions, the more they gambled with the tactic backfiring. Stifling the opposition can be a team’s undoing if they take it too far.
Taking a step back from the rectangular field with lines and focusing on the spherical one with continents. The same logic seems to fit. A lack of respect for the game is counterproductive and can stifle us all. The problem in the bigger game comes from the fact that not everyone is aimed at the same goals, each person has their own set of rules and mostly people referee themselves. So a lack of respect is even more subjective than in a soccer game. Playing within the rules can get frustrating when confronted with opponents who seemingly have no rules. Your goals and ambitions may be nothing more than trash to other players in the game. Therefore many people end up disillusioned or overwhelmed by the world. The game of life was never set up to be fair, equitable, convenient nor consistent. So as the player, it is important to decide how you are going to play the game and the rules that you’ll live by.
From time to time, it may be necessary to revamp your personal “laws of the game.” However you should not adopt someone else’s just because it’s popular, easier or more convenient. Your laws need to match who you are and where you want to go. The feeling of being aligned with these components is worth the difficulty of defining them. Playing the game in a fashion that makes you miserable is probably not ideal. So be as deliberate as you can defining your goals and laws of the game. That way you can hold yourself accountable for unsporting behavior. Almost no other referees are watching. So you need to be.
In light of the recent furor over the “Super League” and my own crusade to spread the fandom of my favorite team, Peterborough United, I thought it was worth taking the time to characterize my view of American interest in English clubs. It may not be 100% accurate nor complete in its description but it may be helpful. In order to make my points, a little imagination is needed. Rather than a club being an organization with a team, fanbase, a business structure and a history; I’d like to characterize a club as a child that can never grow up.
Due to the fact that this child is never going to grow up, someone needs to be put in charge of the child. The creators of the club were truly its “parents” but as those people passed away or moved onto other endeavors, someone new needed to “adopt” the club. For the longest time, these new adoptive parents did so out of genuine love for the club. Like any parent, the economics of care meant that at best they were going to break even. Then football became a business and many people with means saw it as an opportunity to get into the game. Some adopted a club with love for the sport or the club. Others recognized the ability to profit from the sheer number of people who love this “child.” It is a difficult balance to strike. Parents with pure love may not have the means to keep the child alive while people with money may not love the child.
On the periphery of the parent-child relationship are all of the other invested parties: siblings, uncles/aunts, cousins, friends that feel like family. Fans fall into one of these groups depending on their involvement. Like any familial structure, there are people who are more involved in a child’s life or less. A fan who has been raised with the club may have the affection of a sibling for it. It’s easy to squabble over the intricacies of fan legitimacy but I’m not sure that it serves much purpose.
For my part, I’d characterize myself and most American fans as distant cousins. You don’t see us very often but we’re out there in the ether. The upside to having a large “extended family” is that there are extra resources coming in from afar to care for the club. Generally the inconveniences of having this extended family are small. A few events may be moved up or back based on a desire for “everyone to be there.” Regardless, most of us distant cousins gain a great affinity for the club. We watch, we visit, we like to stay involved. Some of us despite our distance, eventually begin to truly “love” the club. Perhaps not the same love that someone who is there day in and day out might love it. However it is love nonetheless.
Therein lies the problem with the Super League and many of the owners who get into football, whether American or not. The key to this entire equation is that love should be a major component to the acquisition of a club. Because there are so many people who love this entity like a child, to treat it like a resource to exploit for profit is contrary to its entire existence. It is completely acceptable for an owner to profit from a club. Businessmen almost never intend to lose money. However if the profit was their only intention, then that eventually hurts the entire family because no one wants their child to be exploited.
My personal crusade is to add more distant cousins to the POSH family. This is an opportunity for me to give back while paying it forward. I’ve enjoyed my time as a Peterborough United fan immensely! It is part of me at this point. The promotion to the Championship puts the club on a more visible platform. My hope is that 10,000 brothers and sisters show up each week in the stadium but 10,000 more distant cousins wouldn’t hurt. So I’m searching for people who are looking to love a club. There are no quick rewards here. It’s not the glamorous pick. The past eight years have been spent in a league that most Americans don’t know exists. Buckle up because it is a bumpy ride!
If you want an instant self-esteem boost from supporting a Champion’s League team, then support Man United. However you need to recognize that the adopted parent of the child that you care so much about doesn’t love it or the extended family. The only interest in keeping the golden goose alive is to walk away with as many eggs as possible. No doubt it is possible to love the club and hate the ownership but when everyone is aligned it feels different. Tears of joy from ownership upon promotion says nothing about return on investment and everything about commitment.
In the present footballing world, a longstanding tradition has been suspended due to COVID-19 concerns. Teams have been allowed to have five substitutes within a match rather than three. This has opened up the possibility for a manager to change almost have the team. For a squad that is deep in talent, this is a lifesaver because a compressed schedule has led to tired legs. Energy and desire can be thrust into the match in order to turn the tide of a game at that is going wrong. I’m sure that many traditionalists have hated this development while others see it as a great addition to a strange season. As I frequently do, I started to think about the overlap of this aspect of the game with life. And in life, there are NO SUBSTITUTES!
It’s harsh isn’t it? Especially at times like these where it might be nice to have someone else step into your life for a day or a week. All of your responsibilities and obligations taken care of by another person while you lounge on the bench, recouping your strength to give it a go in the future. This is not a call for cloning or AI to take our places (this already scares the bejeezus out of me). Just a thought exercise to bring to light the fact that no one gets to take time off from being themselves. It is your position on the field. A role that only you can fill. No doubt that you can surround yourself with teammates who will pick up the slack when you feel tired but there are NO SUBSTITUTES!
In some ways this could be daunting. A lifetime of one position without anyone to take it over when you get tired. However it is also a beautiful thought. No one gets to replace you. Even if you’re an identical twin, your sibling is not you and can never be. So now that you have this position on the field and no one can take it away from you, what are you going to do with it?
Many people lament their role. They see other players of the game with more of this or more of that. Inside their head, they think “I’ve gotten a raw deal.” It’s common but it doesn’t make much sense. The complaint doesn’t progress anything forward, especially the complainer. So it is energy wasted in hope that they might get to substitute someone else. As we know now, that’s just not happening.
So the only sensible action as far as I can see is to play. That’s right! Even if you’re in your 90s or older, play that starting position that you’ve been give with everything that you’ve got. No one can replace you and that’s a great thing! When you’re eventually taken off the field, be sure that your teammates miss you. Give them performances to remember, that inspire them to be a better version of themselves. They can never replace you but they can follow your lead. Sure you’re bound to get tired, bumped and bruised but there’s pride to be found in continuing on.
Regardless of how you decide to play the game, remember that there is NO SUBSTITUTE for you! The world is full of obstacles, difficulties and challenges and we need YOU. Put your hand in because it’s another opportunity for you to play your part.
With three matches remaining, the POSH are on the cusp of returning to the Championship. Three points is all that it will take to push them beyond the reach of Lincoln and Sunderland. Everyone can feel the excitement of possibility. Despite the desire to achieve promotion on Tuesday night, the players cannot go into the match trying to do that. Winning promotion will be a byproduct of their actions, not something they can force. It will be a sum total of quality actions leading up to and during the ninety minutes of the match. Keeping one’s nerve is much more difficult when the moment is inflated into something that it isn’t.
Anticipating the key moment to a match or someone’s life is almost impossible. So it is really not worth doing. Putting the extra pressure of anticipation or anxiety is not usually a recipe for success. A moment is just that, a moment. Its meaning will come clear to us after the fact. Most of our performance in life comes down to things that we’ve done hundreds, thousands or possibly millions of times. Freeing one’s self from the weight of expectation comes down to the knowledge that when given an opportunity, you won’t run from it. You will give the moment the attention that it deserves, no more, no less. Consistency is key.
The reason that the POSH are in this position is that they have consistently strung together enough moments to earn this opportunity. They do not need to be better than who they have been all season long. They simply need to be who they have been consistently without the weight of expectation. No one needs to score a hat-trick, a bicycle kick or a goal from a half field. A deflected ball off of any player’s butt will do.
So the key to winning promotion is simply winning the moments. Focusing on the things that are actually within one’s control: playing a ball to feet, being first to the ball, seeing the goal rather than the keeper, and getting back to neutral if anything goes awry. Winning the majority of the moments gives us the best chance and afterward, we’ll all be able to see which ones were the biggest. Those 7 minutes only become famous because the moment wasn’t bigger than the men.
It’s definitely an oversimplification but in essence there are two ways to play a game: playing to your strengths or stifling the strengths of your opponents. The beauty of this oversimplification is that it brings to light a few things. Stifling ones opponent takes the art out of the game and makes it a pragmatic results focused exercise. There is nothing particularly wrong with this. It is inherently a means to an end. However it does not inspire or capture the imagination.
I’ve written many times about the fact that sports are a metaphor for life. The question then becomes do we live with this same amount of pragmatism? How often? And why? What is a result that is worth subduing our natural talents? Perhaps I did oversimplify a bit too much because within a game it is possible to self-express and stifle. Eventually one becomes the dominant strategy though.
Make your life an inspired performance rather than stifled slog.
Ten years ago I created a very simplistic documentary film that I called “Identity Crisis: Where does soccer fit in the United States?” The goal was two-fold: enter a film in the Kicking and Screening Film Festival and answer my own question about where soccer was at the time. The film itself is a “no budget” first attempt that lacks polish and movie making chops. Despite all of its shortcomings, it does one thing relatively well. It represents the fact that at the time, soccer had a form of an identity crisis. This post is going to focus on the men’s side of the game because the women have well established world dominance already and I am looking to flashback to past struggles then flash-forward to the men’s world dominance. That’s right! I said it!
The following perspective on the past is my own and is not intended to be a 100% historical record of soccer’s last few decades in the US. Soccer could have been listed as deceased in many ways during the 1980’s. After the failure of the NASL, soccer had very little relevance at the professional level. The indoor and other professional leagues had their pockets of influence but largely it was the youth that had the greatest impact on keeping soccer in the national consciousness (very slightly). During the 1990’s, qualification for and then hosting the World Cup brought the “kids” game to the attention of the nation. The spectacle of the event and our strong performance in the competition brought a certain amount of pride and hope to the sport. With the introduction of Major League Soccer, it would seem that soccer was back in the US. The league did have a perception problem at the beginning. It felt slightly contrived as teams like Metrostars had no history and their names/logos seemed like they were developed by an ad agency rather than soccer people. Regardless, we had a professional league. Then in 1998, the hope and optimism were dashed by a dead last finish in the France World Cup.
The turn of the century did not bring an immediate turn of fate. MLS had to contract down to 10 teams and there was talk that it might not survive. At the 2002 World Cup, the USMNT did surprisingly well. The shock win against Portugal was an amazing start and the controversial loss to Germany was a gut-wrenching finish. A resurgence in MLS saw the league add teams and soccer specific stadiums. The 2006 World Cup was another disappointment with the US finishing at the bottom of their group. New MLS rules brought notable names to the league from abroad. Domestic stars were also being developed in Bradenton and elsewhere such as Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu. Expectations for these players and the sport overall was probably higher than either could withstand. As the decade finished, the USMNT confused its American fan base by beating Spain in the Confederations Cup in 2009. Then at the World Cup, they luckily advanced to the knockout round only to lose to Ghana.
My film “Identity Crisis” was documenting of where three groups of people thought that soccer were at the time. Sports talk radio hosts, professional players from abroad and an MLS executive were all asked for their thoughts on where soccer was and was going. The sports talk hosts generally regarded it as irrelevant in the sports landscape. Conversely, the international players were complimentary of the state of the sport at the moment. Dan Courtemanche, the MLS executive, was optimistic but reserved in his assessment of the state of soccer in the country. My personal conclusion was that soccer’s fate in the US was based largely on people like myself. Our desire to continue supporting, playing, coaching, etc. was a crucial component to where the sport would go. Although I used it as a catch title, “Identity Crisis” was truly what the general perception of soccer was at that moment. Depending on how someone evaluated the state of soccer at that moment, there could have been a variety of different opinions. Progressing because MLS was expanding. Stalled because the National Team hadn’t performed well in the World Cup. Irrelevant because it wasn’t a top 4 sport. Any one of these evaluations could have been right.
That’s where I’m going to stop the retrospective and go in another direction by describing how soccer has a BOLD future. In their amazing book, BOLD, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler focus on how to leverage technology to create massive change. While I don’t believe they had soccer in mind when they wrote the book, I’m going to shoehorn some of the concepts in here because I truly believe that soccer is boldly moving forward here in the US. The authors discuss the “6 D’s of Exponential Organizations.” While soccer is not one organization and measuring the relative success of a sport using any one metric is extremely difficult, I am going to make my argument and leave it up to you the reader to decide for yourself. After that we need to watch and wait.
Digitized – While the sport itself has not become digitized, the access and consumption of the sport has largely been placed in the pockets of fans around the world. The World’s most popular sport used to available on a very limited basis here in the US. Now it as pervasive as any other sport, if not more so! The internationality of soccer gives the opportunity for a fan to be engaged 12 months per year by multiple leagues. The World Cup, UEFA Cup, Champions League and several other tournaments also mean that there is another big event on the horizon. The capability to take it all in has been DIGITIZED.
Deceptive – Soccer has been growing in a variety of ways that have gone largely unnoticed by people outside the game. The increase in the professional foothold within many regions of the country is happening more rapidly than many would recognize. The “kids” game has grown up and the adults who used to play it are now watching in greater numbers than in the past. The NFL, NBA and MLB may still boast big numbers but the gap is closing.
Disruptive – Although I’m following the Diamandis and Kotler model, the disruptive nature of exponential technologies is not the same as the disruption that I’m talking about. Soccer is not directly disrupting the more traditional sports in an overt way. However as the legacy of those sports have their own disruptions such as major concussion concern, the opportunity to break new ground exists. Also the cultural stigma of soccer being a “lesser” sport is all but gone. Nothing attracts a crowd, like a crowd.
Demonetized – Depending on the angle of view, this could be the hurdle that soccer is in the process of clearing. Soccer has been made expensive for participants. So the demonetization of soccer will take some work. HOWEVER, the pandemic has given many kids time to practice as an individual. The game has moved from the field to the basement, garage or backyard. In addition to that maneuver, kids have a phone and a social media account. Sharing their individual skills doesn’t cost them anything extra. Therefore the game is permeating parts of life that it didn’t before, sans cost. As we catch up to the rest of the world in our professional club infrastructure, more high level players are going to be training for free at academies while the general population will not pay high prices for recreation. Too many mothers and fathers will have experience with the game to keep ratchet of high priced trainers going.
Dematerialized – Although the physical game is not going anywhere, the way that it is consumed and engaged with will. The viewing experience is going to continue to improve as more leagues and teams will find ways to make their content available. Also the virtual reality space is going to give players and fans a different experience of the beautiful game. That might be a video game type experience or panoramic simulcasts of professional games where viewers at home can have the VR experience of being at the game.
Democratized – Even though it is the last step in this progression, it is actually the major advantage that most quality “footballing” nations have had over us. The game is one of the people. Almost anyone can play it because it is everyone and not expensive. In the US this last piece will be more of a perception and cultural progression. People will begin to view the sport as truly American rather than something that we need to have an inferiority complex about. Soccer can belong to anyone that wants it. It’s not just for the tall, the strong, or fast. Nor is it only for the people who grew up playing it. It can truly be for anyone.
After that long explanation of where we’ve been and the implications of the 6 D’s on the game, my suggestion is that soccer is about to explode. An exponential growth curve is not something that I can truly quantify. However I believe that all of the ingredients have been accumulating over the past decade or so. Perhaps the only metric that would convince people would be winning a World Cup. My assertion is still that 2026 will be our year. However I think that it is more likely to come in wave of realization. When the conversation about who the best player in the world is like happens with Messi vs. Ronaldo now, that at least one of those players will be in MLS. This and other milestones may get overlooked as they pass by but eventually will be seen as significant.
I’m sure many will disagree with what I’ve written here and that’s great! It’s one of the amazing things about this sport. The subjective nature of much of the action allows for many interpretations. Mine just happens to be that the US is going to dominate world soccer/football in the not so distant future.
“Life moves pretty fast! If you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it!” – Ferris Bueller
Points are definitely king of the table. There’s no denying that results are the thing that win championships and get promotions. However as the season progresses, it’s often possible to identify a “sleeper” team when their goal difference is greater than those around them in the table. Usually this is an indicator that the team has lost close games and blown out a few teams. It’s not as good as points in the pocket. BUT if a team doesn’t lose heart due to their present position, a promotion push could be around the corner.
Most of us are not particularly in the position that we want: socially, financially, mentally, emotionally, etc. Your present position is not predictive of the future. Although that’s easy to think because it feels accurate. You’ve been in this same spot for a while. The thing that you need to do is focus on your goal difference. When you lose, don’t let it be a blowout. If you win, make it a big win! What are you talking about?
The experiences of your life are not inherently positive or negative. We put that slant to the situation. So if each instance has no determined value, we get to add it. When you are evaluating the results that you are getting, don’t turn negative situations into catastrophes. Use language that will put it down as a smaller loss. We get disappointed, not devastated and this is an evaluation after the fact. Be professional as we lose. Shake hands and move on. Don’t say those negative things out-loud (Trevor Moawad).
When you do get a win, make it big! Even if it means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, turn it into winning the FA Cup (for a small club, cause the top clubs barely care). We tend to undervalue our accomplishments because they are ours. If we can do, then anyone can do it. BULLSHIT! Some people couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag! Give some credit but don’t sit back and relax. It’s onto the next contest. A big win in isolation is nothing. Form matters! So take that momentum into the next thing and believe that a string of positive results is on the horizon. It’s the only way to climb up the table!
Most likely you’re the only one who is keeping score in your life. Tip the table in your favor. Stack up some little wins and then go for that title that you’ve been hoping for! It’s within your reach. All it takes is time and persistence. That combination is almost completely undefeated.
My own anxiety is up a little having just listened to the Yellow Block Podcast. Matthew Kisby is being positive again and it’s a little scary. Although I must admit, he tempered his positivity with the word “chance” when he referred to POSH winning the league this time. Despite the nine points in three matches, it’s not time to get carried away yet. Tim mentioned that the Ipswich game was a “chess match.” Increasingly, that is what the matches are going to become. Strategy and the mental game will dominate the considerations for upcoming matches. One of the other similarities is what my father used to call “playing the other side of the board” in chess. Looking at the options of your opponent in order to determine the moves that they might make. Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury offer the potential of acting as a banana peel but with the right mentality could be easily sorted.
FEAR – That is the emotion that teams like Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury will have when facing POSH due to our offensive weapons. A heavy defeat is catastrophic to their hopes of avoiding the drop. A draw is a great result, especially for Bristol Rovers, who have lost three in a row. Fueled by fear, their options are: bunker down to withstand the POSH attack while hoping for a counter or press to keep POSH away from their goal. Since Shrewsbury have had positive results against teams near the top of the league recently, I would anticipate that they’ll play and look to impose their will on the game. Bristol will more than likely park the team bus in front of their goal.
FORM – Most of the players within the team have been in good form recently. This would suggest almost no changes to the lineup. While this would be the Kisby route, I’m going in the opposite direction due to the order of the games. Since the Bristol match is going to require breaking down a team that are going to be reluctant to give anything away, I would look for some changes in this match. With the five subs, there are too ways to go about this. The first is start the normal lineup and replace at half if we have the lead. The other is to give other players the chance to prove themselves from the beginning. My personal preference would be to rotate the squad for the Bristol Rovers match in order to give a boost to those fringe players while resting the normal starters. SQUAD is my buzz word for the POSH this season. Our form will only last as long as the legs of the players do. This is a balancing act to be sure. Eisa, Jones, Clarke, Broom, et al need a chance to prove their worth. The opportunity to break down a team that is probably going to bunker in their own end might be the right assignment. Shrewsbury represent a much greater threat to a tired POSH team than a fresh one.
FATE – In classical literature, people (like Oedipus) who try to avoid their fate end up falling directly into it. The opposite is usually true here in the real world. People who believe too strongly in the certainty of their objectives tend to falter. That is not calling for pessimism or fatalism. Quite the opposite. It is a call for pragmatism. All of the stars have aligned through the owners’ recruitment, a packed schedule, a strong SQUAD, and an unimpressive league. The path is written in the stars. However just like Morpheus told Neo in the Matrix, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” The belief that thing will just fall into place is fool-hearty. Yet the opposite end of the spectrum is also fraught with danger because forcing it to happen breeds tension and anxiety. Do that which is necessary and BELIEVE. Other teams should fear us as we are hitting that same type of stride from last season before the lockdown. They are not going to rollover and die though. There is “NO FATE but what we make” (Name that movie quote in the comments). So every day in training and all match days, it is on the SQUAD to show up and do their part. It’s only fate after the fact!
My friends at the Yellow Block are right to be optimistic but we need to keep it in check. I give Matt Kisby a hard time but I actually enjoy listening to him. As an almost pure optimist, I enjoy hearing about the other side of the coin. So I get worried when pessimists start seeing things as rosy. It usually precedes a correction to the balance of the universe. So let’s keep everything in perspective. One game at a time, we can climb the table and leave everyone else behind.
London Road has largely been a “fortress” since the return of Darren Ferguson. This is not particularly surprising considering his successful teams tend to lean heavily on their home form. This season is different than any other that these players or this manager have ever encountered. So, it may be the perfect time to buck the trend of away fixture results being in question. It’s time to take the home form “on the road.”
The home team advantage in normal seasons is far more pronounced. Crowd noise and atmosphere tend to be the major contributors to “unnerving” players on away days. Long bus (coach) trips and unfamiliar surroundings are a few of the other factors that add to the worries of the visiting team. The comfort of home is usually a combination of variables despite the fact that the crowd tends to get the focus. Parking, changing room, food, etc. can all influence the comfort level of players at home and cause worry in those away. Most of these subtle changes in the lead up to the game should be relatively inconsequential. However, they tend to stack up and cause anxiety that doesn’t exist when in familiar surroundings.
So far this season, Ferguson has done well with switching the mentality of the players in necessary ways. The first half lull has been replaced with energy and intent. The balance of certainty vs. uncertainty about places in the team also seems to have been sorted. The next hurdle is the away fixture mentality. London Road is a “fortress” and that is spectacular. The advantage is obviously not the crowd or the pitch. It is the mentality that the players bring to that empty stadium with a dodgy pitch (for the moment). Their comfort levels are higher at home that difference doesn’t need to be so pronounced. I’d love to follow the team around for a few matches in order to do a study on the differences in approach to away days. However without that ability, here’s a few simple ideas. Remember there are two things you should never worry about: things that you can control and things you can’t. Things that you can control shouldn’t get your worry/anxiety because you can control them, do something about it. While the things that you can’t control shouldn’t be worried about because you can’t control them. It’s wasted energy.
The players need to “compress the penalty area” which is my personal way of saying reduce anxiety. There are plenty of ways to do this but regarding an away fixture here are a few suggestions.
Cold shower! – Now I am a huge proponent of cold showers in general. It’s a part of my daily routine and many people think that’s crazy. However it has a grounding effect that I can’t fully explain. I’ve been taking 45 second – 2 minute cold shower (after hot for cleaning) for about 2 years now. It works almost like a physical mental reset button. For someone who doesn’t do this regularly, it could be a priming mechanism to add to a pregame ritual. It will engage the “fight, flight or freeze (haha)” instinct. Being able to stay calm through that experience trains the body to go to that state less readily. Anxiety is a state of being. Some people train themselves to get to that state easily. Others train their way out. (physiology)
The Island – The game is played between the lines, not in the stands. Think of the field as an island. At the moment, there are no fans to contend with. So the building that surrounds the pitch should not matter much at all. The pitch itself is a factor but even our own is in shambles at the moment. Our players have the ability to move past that issue. Now is the time to develop an absolute focus on only the things that happen on “The Island.” By developing that island based focus, it removes the crowd and the opposing manager as obstacles. They do not need to matter if you don’t let them. It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words. The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.” While I am not a Buddhist, there is wisdom to be taken here. The opposing crowd is going to dislike you based on your jersey. Don’t allow their expected vitriol to become a burden that you carry. If it feeds you, great! Use it! If not, leave it. You’ve tuned out your teacher, father, mother, girlfriend, etc. before. It just takes practice and an indifference toward the message. (focus)
Phone a Friend! – The voice of the manager may not always be a supportive one and sometimes the worst voice to hear is your own inside of your head. It’s probably not possible nor practical to phone someone during the pregame or the game itself. However it is possible to have that message prerecorded on your phone or available inside your head. Choose the voice of someone who supports and believes in you almost unconditionally. Have their words of encouragement playing in your ear before the game or during. There is a reason why knights would “dedicate” their battles to ladies. Fighting for something more than ourselves adds another level of importance to the moment. (Internal Dialogue)
These are far from the only options for changing away form. The match does not start at the first whistle, nor is it only played in the stadium. A variety of forces contribute to the result of each match. The key is to take control of as many of those forces as possible. Flip obstacles upside down and use them as stepping stones in order to climb to higher heights. The same humans are playing regardless of the geographical location. Don’t let something that should be incidental stand between you and that which you want most. No one can take away your ability to play at your best without your consent. Don’t stand in your own way and don’t let anyone else either!
Whether you’re Christian Pulisic breaking through the lines at Stamford Bridge to score or a U9 goalkeeper defending a corner, the penalty area or 18 yard box can be a place of high anxiety. That’s why the best strikers are worth their weight in gold at the highest levels and goalkeepers who are consistently good play until they’re almost 40 years old. Proximity to the thing that you want or that which you want to defend raises the stakes of the moment. The people who cope with that pressure well are considered special or talented. The truth is that like almost anything else it is a skill that can be trained. Also, the players who cope well have just compressed the penalty area.
A few weeks back I blogged about the relationship between the lines on the field and daily life. There’s also a video but more people read than watched. I guess I need to hire an actor or an editor. Regardless of my video issues, the 18 yard box at each end represents anxiety. At the defensive end, the anxiety linked to something that is going to hurt your self-esteem. It could be anything from fretting about a poor grade on a test, denial of college admission, the negative opinion of a boss or a multitude of other situations that might cause a dip in your self-esteem. Recognize, this isn’t the thing actually happening. It is just the anticipation of it. At the other end it is a similar situation. The 18 yard box represents anxiety around something that you want, a goal of some importance. Again the examples are numerous but a few might be college acceptance, a date with a special someone, a promotion and the list goes on. Notice at both ends, the goal represents the actual event happening. The box just represents the anxiety around it. So I suggest that you compress the box.
The idea that I’m suggesting is that you develop that same skill that world class strikers and keepers have mastered: being calm under pressure. This is not easy!!!! However it is also not impossible. Each of us have a different sized penalty area of anxiety. For some it is the tradition 18 yards. For others, it reaches all the way to the center circle (read about it) or beyond. The people who are best at dealing with their anxiety compress it down to 6 yards or less. How? Like any other time when dealing with emotions, I go back to the triad.
Physiology – The way that you use your body is going to influence how you feel immensely. Breathing is a great place to start. Building a breath practice into your day can be a game changer. Habitual movement patterns are another place where huge changes can be made. Your body sends signals to your brain and vice versa. It is possible to move yourself in and out of emotions. If you’re feeling anxious, how are you using your body? You can train “calm states” into your brain by doing particular movements. It just takes practice. Don’t expect it to just happen.
Focus – The things that you focus on become your reality. In this particular case, I suggest trading anxiety for excitement. It’s not a huge step. Each emotion has the same basic component pieces of anticipation, desire, uncertainty, etc. but excitement drops the negative connotation around the possibilities. I can hear you now, “That’s great when going to goal (a positive) but what about when I’m anxious about something bad about to happen.” Excitement can still work because just like the field, being under life pressure allows for acres of space to move forward after the crisis. Once this attack has subsided, the event will have happened or not. At that point, you can move forward with renewed possibility. There is also value in reframing the situation. It is more than likely that you are not going to die from this situation. So actually deal with the worst case scenario mentally. If this bad thing happened, how could you get past it with letting it damage your self-esteem?
Inner Dialogue – The words that we say to ourselves inside of our own head are extremely important. I just finished Trevor Moawad’s book “It Takes What It Takes” and his points about neutral thinking could be game changing for many people. However one of the key things that he talks about is not saying negative things out loud. Although I suggest working on your focus, everyone has messed up thoughts from time to time. It is crucial that you don’t say those things out loud because saying it amplifies the message to your brain by 7 to 10 times. Keep those negative thoughts out of your mouth!
None of these things are easy but they can be practiced and therefore improved. Compress your penalty area as small as you can. That way no matter what comes at you, the ability to stay calm will be at your fingertips. The astronauts who are thrust into space go through all kinds of training on keeping their wits about them in pressure situations. Their lives truly do depend on keeping an even keel. Most likely you’re dealing with something that you’ve seen in the past and you can handle it!