“I’m on it” - The optimal training state

“I’m on it” - The optimal training state



For many years I associated having a good session with how much I was doing; how many situations I faced and how many of those were successful. So my self-reflection was largely associated with the amount of ‘load’ I faced in a given session. The main problem with this source of approval is that it was dependent on the session the coaches put on, which is completely out of my control. This developed inconsistent reflections and feelings around my trainings because on a day where the session favored me and I had a lot of work, I felt good about my training. However, on a day where I wasn’t as involved, I would walk off feeling dissatisfied and wanting more.

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This became more apparent to me when I joined San Antonio, as I would often find myself leaving the training field with that dissatisfied feeling. This is largely associated with the training methods being much different there then what I was previously accustom to. The technical staff based the sessions completely on tactical work and preparing the starting 11 for the weekend’s game. This is not a wrong way of doing it, I understand the benefits to it, but for the players it sucks; and I know every player reading this can relate. Even worse is when you are out of the starting 11 and basically have to be a mannequin for the first 11 to play through. This is a pessimistic point of view that I will shortly correct, but I just want the understanding of the situation to be clear… Finding myself in that situation had me leaving training more often with the feeling of wanting more, then the satisfying feeling of “I got the most out the day”. However, on some of the days where I felt dissatisfied, I actually had a higher success rate in my actions than a day where I had much more to do. Then there would also be days where I didn’t face as many situations, and got beat on the ones that I did, which would have me feeling like I got nothing out of the session at all, and I would try to make up for it with extra work at the end. We always want to leave training with a good feeling, which we can enjoy for the rest of the day so I had to look at my training mindset to see what I can do to change this, and how I can make the most of the session given without having to do more afterwards.

While looking at this flaw in my mindset, it brought a few others to the surface. One being when working with the GK coach we are doing 5+ reps of an action that we’ll probably face only once in a game, and we are satisfied with a successful 3/5 reps which leaves us with a 60% chance of making that save in a game. Then when we move to an 11v11 with the team and face that exact situation and get beat, we’ll try and rectify it afterwards with the GK coach by recreating the situation so that we can find peace in knowing we can deal with it.  However, when it mattered in the run of play we failed to do so. We need to continuously work on our techniques in ‘isolated’ training, but the application of these techniques in ‘live’ situations is much more important. Another example being, doing 4 reps of the ‘sweep’ technique with 2 to the right and 2 to left. Yes we are getting better at the technique, but the true application is in getting set, seeing the ball early and reacting using the sweep technique to make the save in proportion to the distance the shot is coming from. So once we have the technique down, would it not be more beneficial to train 3 reps, each one being random and having to react? Would this not better prepare us to make that one ‘sweep’ save in the game when it’s called upon?  If our training habits do not go in accordance with the responsibilities we face on a match day, are we really honoring the ‘train like you play, play like you train’ mentality? Not in the slightest.

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The undesirable situation I found myself in at SAFC forced me to readjust my mindset around training to one that is completely in my control and I can leave training every day with a satisfying feeling. It’s more to do with the parts of the session where we are incorporated with the team, but is just as applicable in isolated GK training. It is simply about taking your opportunities in the run of play and making a habit of executing; facing a random situation and using your technical abilities to respond with your best action. For example, if you are playing 11v11 and the first situation you face is a shot from the top of the box through bodies, you see it, take a step, take off, extend and tip the ball around the post; opportunity taken. If I don’t manage to save it and it goes in, I don’t make any excuses for it because I was fully committed and it beat me, which happens, so I let it go and I’m ready for my next action. My next action might be a cross that I dealt with much easier than the earlier shot, but regardless an opportunity to execute was presented and I made it count. We can only play the situations we are given, and we must embrace that reality to be in the optimal state of mind to best deal with the situations we face. This is nothing new or ground breaking, it’s simply being clear on what we want to do and then taking the opportunities presented to do it. The contrary would be my old mentality where I would face the same situation described above however this time I would see it late, get stuck to the ground and it goes in. I would shake it off by thinking I’ll get the next one and if that next situation never came, I would make up for it by asking for extra shots at the end and save a handful, thinking I rectified the situation that came in the game. Well really I didn’t, because when the opportunity for that save was there in the run of play, I missed it.

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Now we can’t count on facing that situation described in every training session. We might only face 3 easy situations on a given day, and might have tons of more difficult situations to face on another. That is outside our control, but what’s in our control is how we respond to the situations we face, as and when they happen. The result of this is we can build a trust in ourselves that when we face a situation in a game we will be on to it, because we’ve been training with a higher level of intensity making every opportunity count. We are fully committed to making our saves, securing our takes and completing our passes, regardless the level of difficulty or the context of the situation. When I’m fully committed to my actions and I’m dialed in on my training I remind myself through self-talk and associate this Optimal Training State with the phrase “I’m on it”. It’s the feeling of “I’m on it” that we are looking for. Because when “I’m on it”, I’m ready to deal with any situation I face, it doesn’t matter what it is or when it is. This is completely in my control and I might have a day where I face more difficult situations and executed and feel good for it, or I might have a day where I face relatively simple situations and executed them to my full capacity. Either way “I’m on it”, and I can take confidence from that inner knowing that whatever I face, I’ll respond to. In technical terms we are producing a higher output in a lesser load. Which is what we need to do in games. So now we are really training like we play. The knowing that “I’m on it”, accounts for the endless amount of possibilities that could of happened, but didn’t. However, if they did… I would be on to it. So a simple pass punched into my player’s path is worth the same as a 40m zing to my winger’s chest. A top hand extension save accounts for a simple smother. One accounts for the other, because when we have that “I’m on it” state flowing, we will respond to whatever is thrown at us. Our focus needs to be on finding that feeling, and letting the output flow from there.

This is the feeling we seek from every training, it’s in our control and by achieving it on a consistent basis it makes it easier to go in a game and put our best forth because we’ve been training like we play the whole week. The game performance becomes a heightened output of what we’ve been doing in training all week so every time we step out for training, let’s find that “I’m on it” state and go straight to work, making every rep count in our GK work, fully committing to that first shot we face in joining the team, making that last block when the coach yells out, “last ball”! Our energy and freshness is vital for the game on Saturday so we must make the most of every opportunity we have to put our best forth and consistently execute our technical abilities when they are tested.

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When we get to an elite level it is actually the feeling of needing to do more that is holding us back from truly being the best we can be. Once we’ve reached a certain level of technical ability, catching an extra 10 volleys at the end of training does nothing for you, it actually activates insecurity, that is where the need to do more is coming from. Our performances in the arena are where we test ourselves and see where we’re at. Mindset is more important than training hours. So how much we do is irrelevant if you can’t do it when it matters most. That is why I needed to break the habit of needing more shots at the end of training. This self-provoked requirement came from the insecurity that I might get exposed on a shot from distance in a game. But the only way to get rid of that insecurity is by making those saves on the shots that you fear, and by doing so on the one and only occasion that might be presented in a given session is what gives us the right to say “I’m saving this”, when we see that same shot in a game and that’s how we build a reliable and stern confidence we can call upon no matter what environment we are in.

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