Dealing with the Pressures of a new Environment
Attitude is everything. Your mentality and the way you approach situations is vitally important in everything you do. And though it is important to have a good attitude at all times, one of the most important times to have a positive mindset is when you begin a new adventure. Whether it's joining a club, team, or starting a new job, your mindset is the captain of your success. I will share with you my journey, the struggles and the successes, of entering a wildly different situation and forcing myself to have the best attitude possible.
Back in February when I first decided I was going to Brazil, I knew the most important factor I had to train for was not physical, technical, or tactical, it was mental. I was aware that I had the ability to play professional soccer, the true challenge was being able to enter a new and pressured environment and just relax and play my game. I would be competing with players who had spent their whole lives training in a youth club system, where they lived at a club since they were 13 years old and trained every day. I would be competing with professional players who took their living seriously and didn't want some random foreign player coming in and taking their spot. And, I would be dealing with a few people who were probably just plain rude and unwelcoming. You're bound to deal with all sorts of attitudes in high level sports.
5 months ago I knew all of this, and I was ready for the challenge. I understood that this coming test of character was critical for my development as a player, and more importantly as a person. I was prepared for the challenge, and honestly I wasn't all that nervous. I did a good job preparing for Brazil; I ate well, I trained every day, I studied soccer film, I gave myself my best physical chance at succeeding. You can read about my training here. I tried to prepare myself mentally, and I felt good. I was in my groove, and excited about my chances.
Yet sometimes uncontrollable factors step in. Those of you who have read my previous posts will know, I fractured my ankle 3 days after being in Brazil. It was scary and I was sad, but I've read enough books and had enough past incidents of my own to understand that I was fine. Lots of people have gone through far worse, and this was just a minor set back in my plans. The injury pushed my trials way back. Teams that I had been prepared to train with in June, went on vacation in July. I missed out on a critical 3 weeks of training, not so much for my physical development, but for my mental development. Those 3 weeks would have been great for adjusting mentally to Brazil and the soccer culture. Through those 3 weeks I had a positive attitude, and tried to mentally keep my soccer groove going.
When I came back, I was offered the chance to train with Gremio, Sao Carlos for a week before my official trials started. It didn't go as well as I would have liked. It wasn't a matter of my physical or technical capabilities, it was my mentality. I was too shy going into the training, and didn't have enough of a presence. Once a mistake happened, I would tense up for fear of committing another. Of course this is exactly what you don't want to happen, because it leads to more mistakes. I also let the language barrier interfere with my communication. I wasn't outgoing enough or vocal enough, and therefore wasn't able to show off my abilities to my full extent.
After the week of training I was a bit downtrodden, all of the craziness that had happened was starting to get to me. My ankle wasn't 100%, my fitness level wasn't 100% because of my weeks off, and my technical wasn't 100% after having an injured ankle. But one thing that had no excuse to be less than 100% was attitude. All of the negative things that had sprung from the injury had an effect on my mentality. But ultimately you are in charge of your own head, and I could still force myself to focus on the positives. I called my Dad after the week with Gremio and we had a really good talk. Even though training with Gremio hadn't been the greatest, I could still use that opportunity to further my knowledge and maturity in new situations. I ended up developing a list of what I would do before I played with the next team in order to get myself comfortable and ready to perform to the level I was capable of. Here is what I developed:
Immediately introduce yourself to the Brazilian players, talk with them and develop friendships.
Join in before warm ups and juggle and play keep away with the players.
Be mentally positive throughout the practice, always be upbeat.
Pretend you're playing with one of your old teams that you played completely comfortable and confident with in the US.
Play as fast and intense as possible, while still remaining mentally calm and relaxed.
Initially at Gremio I could have done a better job with the points listed above. Since I was more quiet, I didn't immediately introduce myself to the players and start kicking the ball around with them. I didn't instinctively hop into warm ups, I let myself be invited in. By the time we started playing, I hadn't adjusted and wasn't comfortable in my surroundings. This tenseness led to some mistakes, which in turn led my mind to think about those mistakes and perform worse. You can see how one factor affected another and creates a very difficult environment in which to succeed. However, if you initially approach the situation right, you can completely turn that around. I wrote those self made pointers down in my phone and reviewed them before my next training with Ferroviarias.
When I first arrived at Ferroviarias, I was greeted by the athletic director. He took me to the locker room where I got to meet the players on the under 20 team. I immediately introduced myself and began to form friendships with them. Just by doing such a simple thing as making an effort to be outgoing, I became more comfortable in the setting right away. They were all very interested in me being from America, and asked me questions the whole way to the practice fields. In fact, the language barrier wasn't even an issue because we did our best to speak in broken Portuguese and English, and they loved communicating with me. At the practice fields I started juggling and warming up with them right away, further increasing my confidence. The practice ended up going a lot better than with Gremio, even though the Ferroviarias players play at a higher level than Gremio, and are tougher competition. That goes to show how important it is to be mentally on track. Even competing against better players, I myself performed better because I was mentally engaged. Throughout the next couple days I did a good job of having a great attitude. It was a successful couple days of practice, and was very good training for me. Even though I still missed some of my old explosiveness and fitness levels because of my injury, it was a great training environment and perfect for my development. I had a completely different experience at the 2 clubs, solely because in one instance I mastered my mentality and had discipline.
Brazil has been a tough journey, but an inspirational one as well. It has taught me a lot about toughness and courage, and how important attitude is. By talking about my failures and successes, I am able to share strategies that worked for me on owning your own mentality. The toughest part about this adventure hasn't been a physical adjustment, it's purely been about mastering my emotions. I've always had a good attitude, but being put in this environment has put that mental strength to the test. It's a battle that all of us will fight no matter what we are doing in life. Winning that mental battle is vitally important for our current and future success. And even though it's not always easy, it should be fun to become a stronger and more intelligent person after each challenge you go through.
Feel free to share this article by clicking on the social icons at the bottom of the page, or the 3 vertical dots on the right side at the top of the page. My goal is that others going through their own challenges, can use this post as a learning platform and relate to it. Sharing will help me reach a bigger audience and effect more people. Attitude is everything.
I will continue to work on all areas of my game; physical, technical, tactical, and mental. This journey isn't always easy, but it's extremely rewarding in many ways. Everyday I learn more, and I hope that my readers can learn from my journey and incorporate certain keys into their own lives as well. Mastering attitude is important far beyond just soccer, it is what determines what kind of life you lead. I'm looking forward to consistently updating you guys with more content, tchau for now!
Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished." - 1 Chronicles 28:20