I Think I Can’t, And Here’s Why… Pt II

In our last article, we looked at how just one sentence told a big story about why a youth soccer game ended the way it did. The sentence, said by a parent, was simply this:  “All [the other team] wanted to do was wear us out,” which indicated a level of learned helplessness.

The parent was completely right, her son’s team set up in such a way that it was easy for the other team to dominate. The team kept one player in front of the goal, essentially meaning they were playing the outfield game 3v2 relying on a lucky break to create an attack, which happened once. The rest of the game was the dominant team passing and waiting, making the 2 players chase, and passing until they had a clear shot on goal. However, they didn’t lose because the winning team wanted to wear them out, they lost because they failed to adapt and respond to the challenges. They allowed the winning team to create the environment.

There is no doubt that the parent who said this was trying to spare feelings, build their child up, and take away disappointment with the intended message being “Hey, you tried really hard, it’s not your fault the other team were doing things you couldn’t control.” However, what does this kid do in the next game, or when he has a difficult test and fails at school? “They put really hard questions in there, there’s nothing you can do about that.”

The reality is that the losing team approached the game badly. They had already been beaten easily earlier in the day by one of the finalists, and they lost this game to the eventual winners of the tournament. They didn’t adapt their play all day, didn’t learn from their previous games, failed to adapt, and experienced the same thing over and over. We do it as adults as well, this isn’t reserved for kids.

There was a difference between the mindset of these teams. In their club teams the approach was different. While one team was coached to win, the other was coached to perform. One team wanted to beat their opponent, the other wanted to be the best they could be. Both teams independently agreed that the outcome was dependent on the performance of one team, and that is how the game was won and lost.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Adapting, changing approach, and being able to make decisions on the go is critical to  success.

2 – There will be times when we are working on damage limitation rather than victory. We can, and should, learn from these experiences.

3 – When we focus on winning we are working towards a goal that includes any number of external factors. When we focus on performance we are focusing on only the things we can control.

Building a strong mental toughness, and being bold enough to accept that defeats will litter the path to success is no easy thing. It takes boldness and courage to admit that on the day we just didn’t perform at our best and we can do better. In the next article we’ll look at how we can turn the frown upside down, and take ownership of the results.

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