In our never ending search to maximize performance, the coaching staff at UC met with our sports psychologist Peter Ganshirt last Thursday. Peter was kind enough to stop by the office and have an informal chat about how the season was progressing and what challenges we were facing. The conversation moved towards the importance of momentum and confidence in a season where so much importance is placed on results. Peter’s advice was to keep focusing on the process rather than the result. When you define yourself by your results rather than the process, Peter explained, you put yourself at an immediate disadvantage. However, in a world where results matter, this can become a skill in itself. So how do we do it?
The most important commodity in soccer, for players and teams alike, is confidence. But confidence and winning are inextricably linked – confidence breeds winning, and winning breeds confidence. So can you get confidence without necessarily winning? The answer lies in how you approach performance. Instead of focusing on the result, our attention is directed towards the purpose and process that creates the outcome. In soccer terms, we do this by maximizing the things we control: our work rate, our movement, how well we pass the ball, and our commitment to defend as a team. All of these expectations are clearly defined by Neil during our team meeting in the morning of the game. What we can expect from the opposition and how we can break them down – process, process, process. If we can produce in these areas, it should lead to a good performance, which can then increase our chances of winning. The quality of opposition plays a huge role also. I have been involved with teams before where we won and did not gain any confidence, but also experienced the other end of the spectrum, losing to a top side but igniting confidence levels because of the manner of our performance. Our schedule at the early part of the season has seen us take on some of the best teams in the nation, so we have drawn a lot of positives from those performances.
Another area that Neil, Nate, and I are attentive to is the relation between confidence and work. If our team is honestly convinced that they worked harder and smarter than the opposition, they can also be convinced that they deserve to win. A wise man once said, “Confidence glances back up the road to acknowledge preparation” and this is so true. I believe that top players want two things: to be challenged and to be prepared. They also have a sixth sense that tells them when they have put in sufficient work on the practice field in the lead up to a game. This challenges the coaches to develop exercises and sessions that will directly affect the next performance. Not all hard work is smart work however, and there is no correlation between how long you spend on the practice field and what you accomplish on it. Therefore, sessions must be effective and energy must be managed throughout the week. Because of this, we have focused on intensity rather than volume in our practice sessions. To have top quality training sessions that drive and support your performance both physically and mentally, the players must be fresh in mind and body. Ice baths are mandatory after each practice, the importance of sleep is stressed, our strength and conditioning program compliments our soccer training, and the players physical condition are managed individually by our Athletic Training staff,
The focus on preparation and process has seen us experience winning ways over the past two weekends which we want to continue as we enter Conference play. But wishing for wins and working for wins are two different things entirely. With good preparation and focusing in what leads to a good performance in games, our chances of victory increases. There are also elements of our program where we do focus on winning: the daily battles between positives versus negatives and our ambition levels against our comfort zone. These are non-negotiable fights that must be won every day in order for us to be successful. You have to earn the right to be confident and gain momentum, and if we keep doing this, the results will continue to arrive also.