Inside the Mental Game of a State Champion (a 5 part series)

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This year I had the pleasure to coach the Oregon 6A State boys soccer champions.  I served as an assistant coach and mental performance coach for both the varsity and JV teams.  As I write this, it’s exactly a month later, and I am still feeling the glow of the title. Friends and acquaintances I run into in the neighborhood stop me to say congratulations.  Most of them tell me just how fun the team was to watch, how much heart they played with.

Thinking back and reflecting on everything that went into it has been a really valuable experience.  Not just the outcome, but the journey we took to get there. It’s an experience that I want to share: How did we have so much success? How did a 14 seed make a run through the playoffs that included winning 3 overtime games?  How did we manage after losing our captain and leading scorer 2/3 of the way through the season and our next leading scorer for the semi and final matches?

I could come up with dozens of reasons, but here are the top 5:

1 – Talent

2 – Positive Culture/Positive Coaching

3 – Mental Training

4 – Facing Adversity

5 – Embodying the cliches

I will write 5 sections based on these. So, let’s start with #1: Talent

Let’s face it, without talent, coaching can only take you so far. Sport psychology and the mental game is great, but confidence can only take you so far… you have to have the skills, the sports IQ, and the athleticism to compete at the highest level. 

And we had an embarrassment of talent.  We knew this coming into the season. We were strong from player 1 through player 22, including arguably the best goalkeeper in the state, and 7 returning starters from a team that went 9-5 the year before.  Plus two extremely talented newcomers. Many of our players train at high level clubs like Eastside Timbers, River Plate, and Portland City United.

Not only that, but we had 6 JV players who trained with us fairly consistently, 4 of whom saw minutes on varsity in the playoffs.  That JV team went on to go 11-1-2 including 7 ½ straight games without giving up a goal. We knew we had the talent and depth to win the whole thing.

Some teams have a ton of talent, but lack the chemistry, drive and heart it takes to go all the way. Some teams have all the chemistry, drive and heart, but lack the talent to match.  This team had both. It takes more than talent to win. It’s what you do with that talent that makes the difference. It takes the right coaching, the right environment, and the right mindset.

Next time, I will talk about the Positive Culture within our program, and the Positive Coaching style that helped fuse the talent with the heart.

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