Keeping Cool in the Heat of Battle

You remember Elizabeth Lambert, don’t you?  No?

Junior defender -New Mexico University Women’s Soccer team? Still nothing?

The female soccer play last seen on YouTube pulling that other player down by her pony-tail?

Oh – that – Elizabeth Lambert.

I’m not here to heap on another helping of the shock – shock! – at the sight of aggressive or unsportsmanlike conduct in soccer. Everyone’s reaction to the video highlights of Lambert’s play seemed to range from – suspend her indefinitely (which is what eventually happened) to tear down the University of New Mexico brick by brick.

My reaction was

She can play defense on my team.

Now, I’m not condoning the hair-pulling – to quote her coach at New Mexico, “she clearly crossed the line”.  But I’m going to guess that Elizabeth was frequently told throughout her soccer career, probably encouraged, to go right up to “the line”.  The reality is – aggressive or assertive play (whatever you want to call it) is frequently encouraged and rewarded. In soccer a hard challenge or a hard tackle, can get you noticed by coaches and solidify your reputation a hard-nose defender. Playing with passion and emotion are desirable qualities in soccer. The trick is knowing how harness this passion and balance the emotion with the physical nature of the sport. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to lose control of your actions in the heat of battle.

How do we help players stay in control during games?

Have players scout themselves. Have players create a scouting report detailing when, why, and where on the field do they have a tendency to lose control of their emotions. More importantly, help athletes to recognize the physical and mental signs that they’re beginning to lose control.

Have players develop a plan. Help players develop a plan for dealing with tense or stressful situations that may arise on the field. What’s the plan if that forward keeps elbowing you off the ball? What are effective, productive actions/thoughts that are going to keep you physically and mentally in the game?

Have players check in from time to time. The speed of play can often keep players from recognizing they’re not in control. Checking in is having players get feedback from themselves – is your focus where it needs to be? Are you thinking productive thoughts? Doing this allows players to recognize the need to make necessary mental adjustments.

So, yeah, minus the hair-pulling and a little mental skills training, Elizabeth Lambert can anchor my co-rec soccer team’s defense any day.


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