Messi Magic: “Unstoppable” and Dominant

Messi added two goals against Bayern Munich as he made his 100th European appearance.(David Ramos/Getty Images Europe)

Messi added two goals against Bayern Munich as he made his 100th European appearance.(David Ramos/Getty Images Europe)

Pep Guardiola lauded Lionel Messi as “unstoppable.”

I don’t think many would disagree with the Bayern Munich manager. But, I’m sure Pep was hoping his backline could stop him in their upcoming champions league match against Barcelona. That was all before the game.

Turns out, Pep was right. In Messi’s 100th European appearance, he proved once again he could not be stopped.

He scored two late second half goals to lead the demolition of the German champions 3-0. His second goal was a hand over your mouth moment as he brought the Bayern defender Jerome Boateng to the ground with a devastating cut. Memes and videos flooded Instagram praising Messi.

Not that this is Messi’s first time or anything.

Messi’s skill and intuition for the game  supports Pep’s claim about Messi’s dominance. That is clear to see. But, I think Guardiola understands at a greater depth why he can’t be stopped. I think it is not only because of his skill but also because of his strong presence in the big moments of big games.

Barcelona’s champions league win was in no way as easy as the lofty score line indicates. For a long period of the night, Barcelona was being held scoreless by Bayern Munich. The German side would have been fine taking a 0-0 draw back for a second leg on their home soil. If that was the case, Barcelona would still maintain a chance in the second leg. But, that was not how it was to be written. Mostly, because Messi wouldn’t allow it.

He recognized that this was yet another big moment in his career. A big moment with a big opportunity to lead his team.

As we all know, there are two types of leaders in sports: the vocal and the lead-by-example. Messi, known to be a quiet and humble player, would fall into the lead-by-example.

In tonight’s match, he did just that. He produced for his team with two impactful goals in the 77′ and 80′ minute of the match. Two goals that flipped the entire two-leg series on its head. Now along with the late Neymar goal, the Catalans take an insurmountable lead to Germany for the second leg.

I think many soccer fans would argue that Messi’s ability to change games like that is because of his special soccer skills. I wont disagree. But, I will add that Messi possesses leadership qualities that make this performance even more impressive.

He shows time and time again the ability to recognize moments in games where his team needs him to change the game. It takes a truly dominant leader to see these moments and act on them.

This is what makes Messi unstoppable. Both his dominant skill and his fearless leadership.

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Posted in Leadership, Soccer

Bumgarner brings talent and concentration to the big stage

For sports fans, this is the best time of year. Sporting events for five major American sports leagues (MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, MLS) happened this week. For the MLS and MLB, the month of October is a pressure-filled time of year: the playoffs. The time in a sports season where the lights are the brightest and each play is magnified.

A time when select players emerge to the top, while others come up just short. San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner did more than just emerge. He shot up to the pinnacle of the sports world with his World Series MVP performance.

The heroic story was plastered all over sports media today. The pitcher defied logic in the MLB modern era to win two World Series games and earn a five inning save in Game 7. He also seemingly ignored typical human anatomy by performing at his highest level in the critical Game 7 on only two days of rest. The Giants pitcher finished with an ERA of 0.43 in the series. To put it simply, he won the Giants three games in the World Series.

Hence why he is now known as Mr. MVP Bumgarner.

Bumgarner celebrates his MVP performance after the Giants' Game 7 win. (PC: Matt Slocum, AP)

Bumgarner celebrates his MVP performance after the Giants’ Game 7 win.
(PC: Matt Slocum, AP)

Any semi-sports fan can tell you he has talent from the stat line alone. But, I care more about how he took that talent to a new level in a time when pressure was the highest.

I won’t lie and say I watched every pitch Bumgarner threw. Let alone, I didn’t even watch a whole game. I’m not the biggest baseball fan. But, the moments I did see told me everything I needed to know.

His performance reminded me so much of something I’ve heard often before: “aware of the significance, absorbed in the substance.” That’s the mentality athletes need to perform in these high pressure situations. His unwavering concentration gave him complete control of the high significance situation. While, his substance was some of the best pitching baseball has ever seen. A performance that appeared easy and fluid yet precise and skillful.

His demeanor on the mound reflected an athlete in the “flow state.” A sign to the Royals, his opposition, that they had no chance. The “flow state” is a technical term for what most people would call being “in the zone.” I like to see it as talent enhanced with concentration meeting opportunity.

Bumgarner personified concentration. He threw a strike out and his body language looked like nothing happened. He threw a ball just outside and he looked the same. Nothing was throwing him. He had a calmness about him. It stuck out because few would expect him to be so composed in that situation.

Bumgarner delivered for his team. Even with the eyes of expectation on him at the brightest stage, he performed his best. He handed out a free lesson in performing in high pressure situations. It’s a great reminder that big occasions call out for more than talent alone.

Everyone has talent at that stage. It is more about concentration. The concentration to one play or pitch at a time.

It is a challenge to maintain this high concentration in big games. It is easy to become distracted by the prize laying ahead we want so badly. But, we can overcome this.

We will concentrate on the little moments, and trust that they will lead us to the prize we want.

“Aware of the significance, absorbed in the substance”

 

 

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Posted in Leadership

Performance Pentagon: Maryland Soccer’s Heartbeat

(Video Provided by Maryland Athletics)

This amazing video delves into the in’s and out’s of Maryland soccer. The action clips and behind-the-scenes shots are incredible. But, the video’s message is about a performance pentagon that makes the program’s heart beat.

Commitment. Concentration. Communication. Cooperation. Condition.

Principles that I have made a part of myself to try and be a leader on-and-off the field.

Principles that our 2013 team took to heart and reaped the benefits of in the 2013 ACC Tournament.

(Video Provided by ACC Digital Network)

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Posted in Leadership, Team Building

“That team does things the right way.”

“That team does things the right way.”

A statement that every soccer player has heard about a team. Most likely one they have said themselves. Everyone wants to be that team that does things the right way. But, it is much easier pointing it out than actually doing it.

A player who needs no introduction, David Beckham does things the right way. In his autobiography Beckham: Both Feet on the Ground, he talks about a club that does things the right way too. Ridgeway Rovers. A childhood club that influenced him as a player. He speaks about the club at great length.

Two things stuck out that made the club tick: standards and commitment.

Standards speak about the club. While, commitment speaks about the players.

Both are required of a team to do things the right way.

“If you didn’t turn up to training…then you didn’t play”

A club’s standards include both on and off the field interactions. Maryland soccer is no different. There are standards set for players and coaches. For instance, every player knows that before receiving a ball you must always check away.

A training session starts with technical work usually involving one and two touch passing. Prior to receiving a pass, Coach Sasho trains players to make a movement of deception before checking for the ball. He does this for two reasons: to make the drill game-like and to build habits of off-the-ball movement.

Off-the-ball movement becomes instinctual. Soccer simply put is: passing and moving. The standard of movement is set daily at Maryland. And if you aren’t doing it, you are going to hear about it. Sash has never been shy about keeping the program’s standards high.

Maryland has standards, and so did Ridgeway Rovers. Beckham talks in his book about the club’s emphasis on timeliness:

“One important rule was that if you didn’t turn up to training in the week, then you didn’t play on the weekend; it was as simple as that. It was a good habit to learn: I always made sure I was there and that I was there on time.” – Beckham: Both Feet on the Ground

Standards the club did not budge on. You miss practice. You don’t play. Simple as that. Many clubs set this standard, yet they don’t follow through with it. Rovers players saw the benefits of standards turning into good habits. Beckham is a clear example of that.

He admired the club’s willingness to set a standard and stick to it. A kid, who loved playing soccer (football), knew if he wasn’t at training on time he wasn’t going to play. It is easy to see how he learned and maintained habits of professionalism, even at such an early age.

The club set the standards. He bought in. He benefited.

Check out some of Beckham’s goals at Manchester United (Video Courtesy of CR9MercurialSpeed):

Commitment: A Matter of Choice

To Beckham’s credit, he had commitment. It took his willingness to embrace and act on standards. A willingness to buy into a club and their way of doing things. Sometimes, things you may not want to do.

As a forward, defending was never something I wanted to do. That is until I became a Maryland forward. I quickly learned that defending starts from the front. Defending isn’t just bypassed by the forwards. It starts with the forwards.

This was an adjustment for me. It was uncomfortable. But I knew if I wanted to be a contributing forward, I needed to raise my level of defending. I began to look at it as the quickest way to start attacking again.

I bought in. I brought a commitment to get better, and I did. My defending is anything but perfect. But, it has improved.

Commitment is the one thing I could control. Every player has those days where their touch isn’t where we want it, or we miss more chances than we convert. Even if we are not at our best, our commitment can be.

Accepting a Challenge of Commitment

Beckham brings commitment. As a young boy, he brought commitment to never be late for a practice. As a man, he brought commitment to the top clubs in the world like Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Beckham chases down a ball for Manchester United in the (Photo courtesy of Getty Images & ESPN Deportes)

Beckham chases down a ball for Manchester United in the (Photo courtesy of Getty Images & ESPN Deportes)

He is a person that seems to always do things the right way. This didn’t happen by chance. He surrounded himself with a good environment that upheld standards.

But, most importantly he had commitment.

Every player challenges themselves to bring commitment. It is a challenge. But, those that do reap the benefits. Whether, it is becoming a better defender or an international soccer superstar.

We can’t always control our surroundings, but we can control our commitment.

Be a player that does things the right way.

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Posted in Leadership, Soccer, Team Building

A Means to Justify an End

Machiavelli was Italian. Italians love to talk about soccer. Therefore, Machiavelli talks about soccer.

Whether, he knew it or not at the time.

In his book The Prince,the Italian philosopher spoke about leadership. The leadership required of a Prince to govern. He created a philosophy that as a leader there are certain situations where “the ends justify the means.” A philosophy still discussed in political terms today.

The philosophy’s actual interpretation is still under debate. I immediately related the principle to soccer terms. After all, players have goals (an end). We all strive to achieve these goals. However, contrary to Machiavelli’s principle, soccer players must focus on the process of achieving goals.

Goals are achieved by doing the right things during the process.

The process is the work put in by players to achieve a goal. Goals aren’t achieved by cheating the process. Players must view the process in terms of daily preparation. The preparation involves sharpening the mind, heart and body to be ready for competition.

During my college career, I have seen players exceed by respecting the process. Players that bring a mindset everyday to get better. Each one of them had their own unique way of bringing that mindset day-in and day-out.

Blue-Collar Mentality

Many players talk about putting in the work everyday, but few actually do it. Jason Herrick is one of the few.

Herrick was a senior captain during my freshman year at Maryland. He was a prolific goal-scoring machine. Every team he had ever been on, he scored goals. The scoring continued during that season as well as he recorded 11 goals.

Herrick was key to Maryland's run to the Elite 8 in 2010.

Herrick was key to Maryland’s run to the Elite 8 in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

But, that is not what is most impressive about Herrick. He has the best work rate I’ve ever seen. Many players have high work rates, but I have never seen a player bring it every day. Herrick does.

He didn’t care if it was a walk-through or an 11v11 scrimmage. He approached it the same. Every shot he took, every challenge he entered and every run he made, he did so with maximum effort.

I took notice. He provided an example to me of how I wanted to perform on a daily basis. Although, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. His dedication to a high work rate was contagious to the rest of the team.

Endless Energy All Day, Every Day

A high work rate is often a part of those players who bring an enthusiasm to the game. Another Maryland teammate proves these qualities go hand-in-hand. Jake Pace.

Playing a sport at a high level means countless days of training. Bringing the same attitude each day is a challenge for any player. Jake Pace is no different. He faces this same challenge. But, similar to most challenges he faces, he overcomes it.

Jake Pace shields a defender from the ball. (Photo courtesy of The Diamondback)

Jake Pace shields a defender from the ball. (Photo courtesy of The Diamondback Online)

I’ve played along Pace for almost four years. Every day, he brings energy. Energy to score goals, energy to win small-sided games and energy to help his teammates get better. An energy that is easy to see.

The energy doesn’t end after training. His energy translates into results on the field as well. Pace scored key goals last year on our run to the Final Four. (Check out his best goal, which is No. 3 on our Top 10 Goal List) Beyond his stats, he always provided our team with energy, and made our team better.

Pace respects the process of achieving a goal by bringing enthusiasm day-in and day-out. The attitude he brings on a daily basis makes our team better. We would not be the same without his presence. Ultimately, that’s what leadership is.

Keeping It Fun

Countless workouts and training sessions make many players just want to get to the games already. But, Jordan Cyrus embraces the daily grind by making it fun. He always has a smile on his face. From the moment he enters the locker room, the smile rarely leaves his face.

The senior defender doesn’t see coming to training as a chore. He enjoys coming to training. He isn’t the only one smiling when he enters the locker room either. Every players’ mood is lifted with his entrance. Probably because they eagerly await their handshake with Jordan.

Cyrus serves a cross in a game last year. (Courtesy of The Diamondback)

Cyrus serves a cross in a game last year. (Courtesy of The Diamondback Online)

Hard to imagine a day in the locker room without a Jordan Cyrus handshake. Jordan has a special handshake with each player on our team. Every time he greets one of us, a handshake is performed. From the fist pounding to the imaginary pot-stirring, they are some of the most elaborate handshakes I’ve ever seen.

Cyrus’ strong relationship with each of his teammates translates to the field. Everyone enjoys playing with him. It’s inevitable not to. He brings a joy to playing that makes everyone enjoy coming to train.

He respects the process by enjoying the work he puts in every day. Without even realizing it, he makes it easier for us to embrace the daily grind by just remembering what we do is fun.

Set A Goal and Work Toward It

Although, Machiavelli’s philosophy of “the ends justify the means” may apply at times in the political world. It does not in the soccer world. As players, we must concentrate on the process of improving our skills to achieve our goal.

I have played with successful players that have valued the process along the way. They each had their own way of going about it. But, they all respected the process.

This is not easy. But these three players provide examples of dedicated players respecting the work and time it takes to get better. Every player has the potential to do the same. The challenge is finding ways to turn potential into performance.

We can turn our potential into performance by mastering the process. Once we master that, all of our goals are at our fingertips. No goal is beyond reach.

PM

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Posted in Leadership

Risk it all to gain everything

Successful people are risk takers. When faced with a challenge they seize it. Successful soccer players are risk takers. When faced with a challenge they seize it.

Taking a risk can come in many forms and at any moment. Anything from a player stepping up to address a team problem that has been overlooked to a player signing for a team to pursue a new challenge. In my soccer career, I have encountered risk takers. One player stands out most. Alex Shinsky.

Alex Shinsky is fearless. My University of Maryland teammate has been through just about every soccer experience imaginable for a player his age. In 2009, he was on top of the United States youth soccer world. He was a member of the U17 United States National Team Residency Program in Bradenton, FL. His national team stint culminated with a trip to the 2009 U17 World Cup in Nigeria. Not only did he play in all of the team’s games but he scored a memorable goal against Malawi. Although, his robot celebration needed a little work.

Shinsky celebrates a goal in the 2009 U17 World Cup match. (Phot courtesy of US Soccer)

Shinsky celebrates a goal in the 2009 U17 World Cup match. (Phot courtesy of US Soccer)

One of his most memorable years was quickly followed by one of his worst. He suffered one of the worst sports injuries. Not once, not twice but three times.

Shinsky tore his meniscus in his left knee. Following six months of rehabilitation, he re-injured the same meniscus. Later that year, he tore the meniscus in his right knee. This was the most injury unfortunate year of any player I have ever known.

A player faced with an insurmountable challenge. He could begin rehabilitation and risk never being the same player again or worse further injuring himself. He also could choose to end his career. Many players would’ve given up. But Shinsky is a risk taker. No challenge is too great for him. He showed his fearless colors and chose the long road of recovery.

Shinsky enrolled at the University of Maryland a semester early to receive the best rehabilitation. He endured long days in the athletic training room. Days filled with monotonous but necessary recovery and strength training. This training relies on a player’s motivation. Shinsky was motivated.

This was a time of uncertainty in his career. Now four years after his injuries, Shinsky is still motivated. But not on recovering, on emerging as an integral player on our team. He is stronger than ever. He is fitter than ever. He is sharper than ever. Shinsky took a risk and never looked back and is now wreaking the benefits.

Shinsky serves a ball in a game last year against Georgia State. (Photo courtesy of The Diamondback Online)

Shinsky serves a ball in a game last year against Georgia State. (Photo courtesy of The Diamondback Online)

Like Shinsky, we all face challenges in our soccer careers. We all encounter opportunities to propel our game to a higher level. The difference between Shinsky and most players is that he isn’t afraid to take a risk. He has the fearlessness and self-belief to take on any challenge. Not only take on a challenge but know he will succeed.

We can’t control the challenges that come our way. But we can control how we respond to those challenges. Our responses must be decisive. So be bold in these moments. Be fearless. But most importantly embrace taking a risk.

PM

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Posted in Leadership, Soccer

Finding creativity in the summer heat

The heat of summer gives players two options: 1) stay in cooler places or 2) face the outside heat. A dilemma all players face, but few relish. At first glance, the benefits of staying cool outweigh the heat. But in the long run, the benefits of facing the heat far outweigh the cool. This decision separates the good from the great.

Summer is a time for individual improvement. I have seen this improvement in college teammates such as: John Stertzer, London Woodberry and Jordan Cyrus. Now, Sterter and Woodberry are professionals and Cyrus is a fixture in our starting XI at Maryland. They put their potential into performance through hard work during this college off-season.

Players spend this time sharpening their game. One particular area of focus is technique. This like any other improvement requires time. The time required can become challenging for players. Technique only improves through repetition. In other words, performing the same drills over and over again until we can do them in our sleep.

Some players lose interest and give up. Others have such a love for the game that they savor the repetition. Clearly, as a player you must embrace the grind in becoming the best player you can be. However, we can make technical training more dynamic and spontaneous by practicing not just the simple skills but the extravagant skills as well.

I have spent countless extra hours on the field by myself to improve my technique. I have spent the beginning of this summer training back home. Many days the New Orleans humidity has soaked my shirt full of sweat. But, my passion ignores anything from holding me back. I have been training basic techniques such as: shooting, passing and touch.

My favorite technique is shooting by far. As a goal-thirsty forward, I am drawn to practice shooting and volleying from impossible angles. I love the feeling of finishing from a difficult angle. I spend time shooting from positions other players would never even think about. I spend time training these shots to not be afraid to take the same shots in a game.

In particular, I constantly work on shooting from tight angles on my left foot. Low and hard far post, high and hard near post or through the goalie’s legs are all different shooting techniques I practice. I even work on flicking the ball up to myself to set up a volley. Being creative with out-of-the-box drills excites me during training sessions that can at times be repetitive. Creativity in training translates to magic in games. In particular as a forward, I must improvise quickly to score goals anywhere and anyway possible.

Two forwards exemplify the ability to think quickly on their feet. Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie are two of the most dynamic finishers in the game today. Their highlight reels are full of goals that make fans across the world wonder ‘how the heck did he do that’. They are two of the most innovative minds of the current soccer era. Their highlight videos below demonstrate this:

Henry currently scores goals for the New York Red Bulls but here are some of his best from his time at Arsenal.

(Video courtesy of Adam Todes)

Van Persie scored 30 goals in his first season with Manchester United

(Video courtesy of Javier Nathaniel)

Soccer is a simple game but difficult to master. The skills necessary take time to master. Players must sacrifice their time. But, this sacrifice should not be a chore. We should be excited to put in the work to improve as players. The work is not always fun, but we also must make time to work on the skills that make training exciting.

This strengthens our passion for the game. Along with, self-confidence to show our creativity in games when it matters most. I can’t say for certain how Henry or van Persie gained their fearless creativity. But,  it stems from a belief that they can perform the unthinkable. A belief that we instill in ourselves through confidence gained from practice.

Don’t just go through the motions of the same drills session after session. Be bold. Be fearless and try the unthinkable. This attitude puts our potential into performance. One shot, one training session at a time.

PM

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Posted in Soccer

Entering a new team

Being the new player on a team is hard. But, first impressions on a team are important. From the first handshake, a team’s direction is decided. From the first eye contact, a team’s mentality emerges. From the first team meeting, a team’s character forms. All of this happens before a single ball is kicked.

Team-building is an on-going process, but the importance of first impressions is often overlooked. I have been a part of teams that believed becoming a team takes time. I agree with this in principle. But often, players just wait for team chemistry to happen. When in fact, all it takes is one person to initiate the start of team cohesion.

I remember seeing a teammate taking the initiative on my first Premier Development League (PDL) team, the Baton Rouge Capitals.

A Learning Experience

I was 15 years old in an old-white-paneled locker room. I sat on a wooden stool with bent legs that felt like they would collapse any second. A chalkboard, which belonged in a second grade classroom, hung on the wall displaying our tactics for the first game. This was the first time our team was all together. It was obvious. Not a word was being spoken. Only the shuffling of shin guards and clanking of cleats on the floor could be heard. There was a sense of uneasiness in the air.

Lapira_mac_275

Lapira, on the left, poses with the MAC Herman Trophy. Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune.

Until, one player walked in. Joseph Lapira walked in and changed everything. Lapira, a Notre Dame forward, had just won the MAC Hermann trophy, which is awarded to the top college player. His hair was long and uncombed. He was average in height but had a presence that everyone felt when he entered the room.

Our unsettled team waited to see what Lapira would do. He did something we were all thinking but didn’t have the confidence to do. One at a time, he looked each of us in the eye, shook our hands and introduced himself. Now, the tension in the locker room was replaced with team-belief. We were more comfortable and began chatting it up.

One player entered the room and completely changed the team dynamic. As a young player, I learned from Lapira that one player can take the initiative to start building a team’s chemistry.

Team chemistry is built on trust, commitment and hard work. These are all established from first impressions. A player can initiate team cohesion by: establishing eye contact, remembering new names and admiring soccer heroes.

Eye Contact

Eye contact builds a connection among teammates. A connection that translates from relationships off the field to relationships on the field. Positive relationships on the field results in team achieving their goals. Simple eye contact triggers positive beginnings for a team.

Lapira valued eye contact. He never broke eye contact when talking with a teammate. This demonstrated his sincerity in building relationships with each of us. Lapira was key to our team’s success that season. Not only with the goals he scored, but the way he brought our team closer together.

Eye contact is awkward for some people. I used to feel the same way. However, Lapira made me realize the importance of eye contact. From that point on, I strived to make eye contact a part of my persona. I gave myself confidence to maintain eye contact by reminding myself daily about the positive effects Lapira’s eye contact had on our team. One situation at a time, I made eye contact a normal thing.

I have found that eye contact has made teammates more comfortable with me. They know that I am paying attention to them and have a genuine interest in what they are saying. Eye contact has helped me initiate team chemistry.

Remembering Names

A start to positive team chemistry begins with remembering your teammates’ names after hearing them once. A soccer team consists from anywhere between 18 to 24 players. That is a lot of new names to remember; however, the importance of learning names quickly can’t be overstated.

Entering a new team, each player must make an effort to learn names quickly. Remembering someone’s name seems like a no brainer, but I have been on many teams where this process takes too long to happen. Not only is it embarrassing not remembering a teammate’s name, it can damage player-to-player relationships. It shows a lack of sincerity toward a teammate. More importantly, it shows a lack of sincerity toward the team as a whole.

The damaging effects of not knowing a teammate’s name transfers to the field. On-field communication happens in a matter of seconds. You must be clear, concise and constructive in those few seconds. If you don’t know a teammate’s name this communication process fails. How would your teammate even know you were talking to him or her? He or she wouldn’t.

Once again, Lapira inspired our team’s cohesion by remembering everyone’s name after only hearing it once. I was amazed by this. He simply cared about getting to know each of us. He showed his teammates respect by remembering a name the first time he heard it. The respect showed on the field too as he was the leading goal scorer on our team. But, how could he remember all the names so quickly?

I don’t know Lapira’s way of remembering names, but I have found a way that helps me. When I meet a new teammate, I immediately introduce myself. After he introduces himself, I immediately pause. I take that pause to repeat the name three times to myself. This allows me to associate his name with his face. I then continue the conversation to learn more about him. Taking the time to pause and repeat has helped me learn new names quicker.

Lapira demonstrated how learning new teammates’ names quickly forges team building. I saw the importance in learning names quickly, so I found a way to help me make it easier. All players must find a way that works for them to learn new names. Although often overlooked, remembering names is the start to positive team building.

Admiring Soccer Heroes

A great way to become closer with new teammates is by admiring their soccer heroes. We all have players that we admire and emulate in our own play. The players we look up to show how we view soccer. A player who admires Roy Keane, a defensive midfielder for Manchester United from 1993 to 2005, clearly shows an appreciation to toughness and the defensive side of the game. While a player who admires Cristiano Ronaldo, a forward for Real Madrid, values creativity and the attacking side of the game.

By finding out whom your teammates admire, you can pick up on their style of play before ever playing with them. You can adjust your game to blend with each of your teammate’s styles. This contributes to quicker team unity on the field.

Even if you don’t like one of your teammate’s heroes, you can still strengthen the relationship by respecting their heroes. This is a quick way of getting to know your teammates.

Lapira did not straight up ask me about my soccer heroes. Rather, he figured them out by just talking soccer with me. We just met and knew nothing about each other. But, we did have the common bond of soccer. He used casual soccer conversation to build a deeper connection with not only me but the whole team.

By Lapira taking the time to find out about my soccer heroes, he strengthened our relationship and initiated team chemistry.

Putting the Pieces Together

I had an opportunity recently to use my strategies of joining a new team. A week ago, I joined a new team in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) called the New Orleans Jesters. I met the boys for the first time an hour before the team’s second game and my first game of the season.

I settled the ball for a shot in our game against the Knoxville Force. Photo courtesy of Michael Democker, Nola.com/ The Times-Picayune.

I entered the locker room of a football stadium converted soccer field in Ocean Springs, MS. It was a humid southern-summer day. The locker room had an old high school gym fan instead of an air-conditioning unit. The problem was that it didn’t work. A wave of heat smacked my face as I entered the locker room.

20 fresh faces looked at me. My new teammates already had a couple weeks to get to know each other. They barely noticed me walk in. Many of them were talking about practices the previous week or about some funny story that I had no clue about. I was an outsider walking into a team that had already had built some team chemistry.

I approached my first new teammate, looked him in the eye and introduced myself. He told me his name and I paused to take a moment to repeat it back to myself. I wasn’t forgetting his name. I repeated this process until I had met everyone. After I knew all the boys, I felt comfortable in the team.

Entering the team was easier by holding eye contact, remembering new names and admiring soccer heroes. The result of the game showed a team coming together quickly as we won 3 to 1. I scored one of the three coming in as a substitute. My effort becoming a part of the team before the game translated into positive results for me and the team on the field.

Any player can become part of a team quickly like I did. I have offered some ways that I have found to work well when entering a new team. They may not work for all players, but they do work for me. It is important for players to find a way that works for them to become comfortable with a new team quickly. Soccer players are on many teams throughout their career. So, it is important for players to focus on team cohesion quickly because it will produce desirable results on the field for the player and the team.

All it takes is one player to start team building. Don’t be the player to wait for team cohesion to happen. Be the player who stands up and speaks up to start the chemistry. First impressions are everything. Make a lasting one.

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Posted in Leadership, Team Building

Lampard finds competitive advantage

Lampard scores his 203rd Chelsea goal to become club’s top scorer

Lampard celebrates his record-breaking goal against Aston Villa. Photo courtesy of Sky Sports.

“I remember my ears pricking up when I heard about him doing yoga. At Chelsea we’ve got a great fella who’s available at all times. I started using him when I was injured and felt the benefits of it. I had to fight myself to do it. I like training outside, shooting and sprinting. It’s a different mindset but I’ll try to keep incorporating it.”- Frank Lampard (on Ryan Giggs playing into mid 30s and his mindset of doing anything to be at top of his game)

Yoga is not why Frank Lampard is still at the top of his game at 34 years old. He scores goals. He works box-to-box. He has led Chelsea to a Champions League spot. This is why Lampard remains a valuable fixture in the Blues starting 11. Certainly not because of a few yoga classes.

His success may not be a result of yoga classes, but it is a direct result of his hunger to hunt down an edge. In a sport like soccer, every advantage counts. Lampard would not let an opportunity slip away even if it led him onto a yoga mat, a place he clearly wasn’t comfortable with.

Lampard’s desire to gain a competitive advantage puts him at the top of his game. A desire that doesn’t settle for just good enough. That is why he scored his 203rd Chelsea goal this past weekend. That is why he is now the club’s all-time leading scorer. That is why he is one of the greatest goal-scoring midfielders of all time.

His desire is something all players strive for. The trouble is sustaining this mentality is not natural. I am not at Frank Lampard’s level yet, but I have created an attitude to never settle for just good enough within me. Creating it was not hard, but making it a permanent part of my personality is a completely different story.

Last season, I played for a Maryland team that made it to the College Cup. A team that will go down in Maryland history for having the highest winning percentage of any team all time. How do you do any better than that?

Frank Lampard does not think like that. I wouldn’t allow myself to think like that either. I returned back this spring eager to improve on key areas of my game. One of those areas was my body. I haven’t started up yoga like Lampard, but I have completely changed my diet to gain an advantage on the field.

I began the spring semester by visiting our new team nutritionist. We sketched out my usual daily nutritional intake. She said my diet was pretty good, but that it could be better. Those words brought out the competitor in me. I didn’t want it to be pretty good; I want it to be the best.

Our nutritionist gave me a list of snacks to incorporate into my diet.

Our nutritionist gave me a list of snacks to incorporate into my diet. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mullins.

She mapped out a daily routine and diet for me to have more energy on the field, which I took to heart. My diet is now all about replacing the carbohydrates and proteins lost during workouts and practices. A regular day now means eating a minimum of six times. That includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner with snacks between each.

My girlfriend, Meggie, did not see how this was a big deal. As she put it, “all you have to do is remember to eat.” The actual eating isn’t difficult but preparing the proper meals and snacks is. With busy days filled with classes, this takes some planning ahead. Each night, I plan my meals for the next day. I don’t know how many PB&J sandwiches I’ve made this semester. I’ve lost count.

But, all the PB&J’s have been worth it. I have maintained higher energy levels on the field for practices and games. The improvements have shown in my fitness test scores at the end of the semester. I shattered my personal best on our 300’s testing by four seconds, which is a direct result of the extra attention I am paying to my body.

I found an area of my game that needed improvement and made it better. That is what gaining a competitive advantage is all about: identifying an opportunity for improvement and attacking it with ferocity. The opportunity was not easy to see. Opportunity requires vision to recognize. Vision is what separates the leaders, who seize a competitive advantage, from others who just let opportunities pass by.

All players have the ability to see an opportunity, but not all players have the vision to act on it. Not all players grasp the impact of an opportunity in the long run. Not all players are leaders, but we all have the capacity to be leaders. Lampard is a shining example for us all to emulate; however, we must help ourselves by accepting the opportunities in our own lives. Once we accept an opportunity, we must embrace the challenge of those opportunities each day.

Frank Lampard is a leader. Opportunity appeared in front of him in the form of a yoga mat, yet he knew it was more than that and never looked back.

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Posted in Leadership, Soccer