“We’re going there to win it. Many will label us crazy, but they did the same at the Olympic Games. I see myself as a world champion, it’s not crazy to say it.” -Diego Reyes
By Omar Figueroa
Growing up in a Latin household, I realized throughout my soccer career I had all the tools to become a great soccer player. But my parents missed a key element to my success; mental preparation. Every weekend I was expected to consistently perform and maintain on/off field performance solely based on my God given talents. Yes, there are a handful of soccer players who can naturally develop the mental toughness to achieve consistent peak performances. Though, most soccer players are not. Now I realize, it was not my family’s fault for not giving me the mental support I needed after I had two career-ending knee surgeries in two years. It was a cultural mindset which told me, “You are a Latino male who does not need mental help”. An instilled machismo. Then, we wonder why research consistently shows families of color are less likely to visit with mental health practitioners for mental issues (Fuentes-Mayorga & Burgos, 2017).
Soccer culture, in general, has been resistant to the help of Mental Conditioning coaches, especially the Latin soccer culture. The question, a majority of coaches and club/national team directors ask themselves, is what could a mental conditioning coach do for me? For the coaches and club/national team directors it is about providing the best strength conditioning and technical services to the soccer players, which then allows the soccer players to achieve consistent peak performance on/off the field. But it is often the soccer culture’s mindset that soccer is only played with the feet and not the mind. Then we have that cultural component, which does not practice mental performance approaches and becomes comfortable with mediocrity/status quo.
I know the media and daytime TV psychologists have not provided a positive representation as to why we all need mental performance support, especially our soccer players. But I want us all to consider that the evolution of soccer performance is constantly changing, and the mental conditioning is a revolution which is here to stay and has shown to be effective. We all need to embrace it as a singular global soccer community so that our club, teams, and players are better equipped and supported. The following are the 3 reasons why we need to change our mindset on mental conditioning.
We can’t expect the mental conditioning coaches to bring us our country’s next World Cup or team’s league championship
The human brain loves dramatic endings to a love story in a movie or tv show. The relationship that the brain of a soccer fan has with dramatic endings in the World Cup is unlike a love story from a movie or tv show; it usually ends with tears in their eyes. But during the World Cup this summer, any national team with a full-time mental conditioning coach on staff to support the team’s mental performance needs, does not guarantee a win but does support the players to navigate through the ups and downs. Even if the soccer players have been mentally conditioning their minds daily for their entire career, it is impossible to expect a mental conditioning coach to provide the team with the solution to all their on/off the field performance issues. Completely unrealistic from the mental conditioning perspective. For example, the Mexico National Team decided to hire a mental coach in the Fall of 2016 and the pressure the Mexican National team players have from the Mexican public and media is astronomical. Even if Mexico’s National Team has a mental coach it does not mean the team will finally win the crucial game five during this summer’s World Cup because the mental coach has been working with the team’s players on and off for short periods of time for the last two years. But the mental coach could provide the Mexico National Team with an increase mental toughness to deal with the daily challenges of what it means to be a Mexican National Team soccer player on and off the field.
Players and coaches are not going to be perfect, the mental conditioning coach could only provide the platform to foster the environment of mental growth
I believe every men and women’s soccer team in the world should have a mental conditioning coach which works with the teams and individual players daily to help the soccer players achieve consistent peak performances. In the dream world, a coaching staff and club/national team director feel comfortable providing a mental conditioning coach access to soccer players. Even if provided, we can’t expect the soccer players or coaching staffs to be perfect role models 24/7. Digest this, it will be the job of Mexico National team’s only mental coach to provide mental conditioning services to all 23 players and 4 coaching staff members for the upcoming opening match against Germany. We can’t expect one mental conditioning coach to be the only one who could prevent the players from partying on their night off. Those are unrealistic expectations for the mental conditioning coach and personally it’s not the job of the mental conditioning coach to be team’s babysitter during the World Cup preparation. It is the mental conditioning coach’s job to mentally prepare and condition Mexico National Team players to mentally grow and implement team cohesion components to achieve an optimal level of team functioning.
We need to be open and accept the way our soccer players deal with their performance issues; realizing that their self-dealing/coping is not the best practice for the player
We all want our team to win and it is the reason why we will all watch our favorite national teams at the World Cup. But the guarantee of playing any sport, especially playing at the World Cup is there will be winners and losers every day for the next month starting on June 14. How would the soccer player/teams who lose going to bounce back from defeat? How would the soccer player/teams retain the optimal mental state for the next game? How are the soccer player/teams who win going to maintain mental consistent peak performance state? When cognitive and physical energy of the soccer players are higher than usual, how do you prevent a lack of concentration for the next match? No matter who wins or loses there will always be a mental element which will need conditioning.
In conclusion, the soccer culture should seek to embrace the practice and importance of mental performance to support our soccer players, especially the World Cup soccer players who are starting their final week of preparation for the biggest sports party on earth. It will be unrealistic for our soccer players to be faster or quicker than their rivals, but it is realistic for our soccer players to be mentally conditioned to be motivated for one of the greatest challenges of their soccer careers.
There is change coming to soccer slowly, but teams and players realize the importance of a mental conditioning coach. Mental conditioning has been around in other sports for numerous years, as well as used by executive-level business leaders. The field is expanding and growing. On a personal side, I am happy to see too that the cultural mindset that I felt growing up is being challenged. In my own practice, I am on the phone weekly with some Latin American players making them stronger to cope with what life has to bring us.
Fuentes-Mayorga, N., & Burgos, G. (2017). Generation X and the Future Health of Latinos. Generations, 4(3), 58-67.
About the Author
Omar Figueroa is committed to helping people, from students to professional athletes of all ages and backgrounds. Omar’s areas of expertise are athletic counseling, mental performance, and higher education. For more information on Omar Figueroa please visit www.futbol-marketing.com.