29 May 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014

Adversity and the Mental Game

Thursday, May 29, 2014 0 Comment

In 2012 we walked into Victoria’s grand stadium for the CUC finals against Odyssee. Some have said that we weren’t hungry or prepared enough for that game, that we were just happy to be there. That was tough not to resent or be defensive about- we reviewed their plays and had a game plan, we were excited, and we had gold in our eyes.

The truth is, we weren’t prepared. We weren’t ready for their intensity, their pace, their precision, or their effort. And Jeremy Lin, who said “you don’t learn anything from winning”, would almost certainly say that the lessons we learned in that game propelled us in 2013.

As Andy mentioned, it was far from a done deal that we would even proceed in 2013 (in fact quite the opposite), but with a roster complete and a good returning core intact, we hit the season with a renewed sense of fire and more importantly, a clear vision of the minimum level we needed to achieve on the field.

During our rise, we needed to ride the careful line between getting too carried away with our success, or becoming too intimidated by old competitors and ghosts of games past. Our focal word in timeouts and pre-game huddles became RESET (a theme that, coincidentally, seems to have spawned from our previous year’s tagline #movinrightalong). RESET meant: don’t get too high, don’t get too low, embody a level-headed confidence, and go perform. It was a simple word pregnant with the firm reminder to put our faith in the method of our training and commit to the things that had brought us to success. It helped us to put behind a recent misstep or resist becoming clouded with the idea of future glory. With one foot driving down firmly in front of the other, we maintained both our pace and our focus.

Put simply, it was a message about clearing your mind of distracting thoughts, and doing the things that have brought us here. It was as the Zen saying, “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”

In 2014, we will start with two themes to increase the frequency, resilience, and effectiveness of the RESET. In the first, we will explore how to give voice and direction to our own personal reset buttons — instead of a blank slate, we will populate it with clear, defined, personal messages to ourselves to elicit superior performance. In the second, we will add tools and techniques to maintain or re-initiate this mental reset for ourselves and stay in a primed mental state — in the same way that we hit the gym or avoid chocolate-covered sugar bombs in order to keep our bodies performing in peak condition.

Like any skill, these techniques will need challenge in order to grow and mature. And as much as competition can generate adversity, if there is one other thing that CUC 2012 taught us, it is that sometimes the lessons we learn come too late. So just as we push each other to provide physical adversity in practice, we must ensure that we are also ready for mental adversity. And as the season progresses, we as captains need to force the team out of our comfort zone by presenting aytpically challenging situations for our mental focus to fight through and rise above.

These are skills that our WUCC opponents also will only have, at best, one opportunity every four years to develop. It’s the thought of our opponents, driving as hard as they can towards their unknown, that helps drive us more forcefully and passionately towards our own. But like the outcome of a game of ultimate, we can’t just imagine a final score and instantly make it a reality — the best thing we can do is to chop wood, and carry water.


*Many of inspirations & ideas come from or are echoed in two important books I’ve recently read — Phil Jackson’s biographical book “Eleven Rings” on his coaching NBA teams to 11 championships, and Dan Abraham’s “Soccer Tough”, a sports psychologists who contextualizes his theories with personal examples of working with elite soccer players. I highly recommend both.

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