Growing up in the 90s my older sister enjoyed anything with a ying-yang on it, she had jewelry, t-shirts, she was very found of the design for whatever reason. I never knew what it meant until very recently when I stumbled upon a meme somewhere on social media that explained to me what the symbol meant. The white good and the black bad combine to make a circle with the white dot on the black side representing the good in the bad and the black dot on the white side representing the bad in the good. This balance between viewing the good and the bad is uniquely interrelated to soccer in almost every aspect. The sport requires a balanced approach to the topic at times. Preparation for the absolute worse and gambling on the chance that something good may happen is the ever raging battle going on through the elite players mind. Developing a healthy pessimistic and optimistic mindset in young players will drive them forwards towards success in the sport in the future by allowing them to prepare for the worse and take calculated chances in the attacking third.
Different areas of the field require different mindsets, if you break the field into thirds, the defensive third requires a heavy pessimistic mindset. Defenders must have the attitude that the whatever the worse thing that can happen, will happen and they will be punished if they are not prepared. Thus why there is such a responsibility on the defenders to be vocal and able to read the game for when dangerous scenarios may occur. Center backs and keepers at the highest levels are in constant communication with one another ensuring that every detail is managed to ensure they are prepared for the doomsday scenario that may unfold at any minute. Before the likes of John Stones or Gerard Pique came around, typical old school center backs would take no chances with the ball. If it wasn’t on to give it back to the keeper or make a pass with 100% certainty it will be successful, the ball would go 40 yards the opposite direction of their goal when any doubt was ever felt. A miserable glass half empty attitude, but an attitude great defenders possess as they are able to sense danger and prepare a resolution prior to the shit hitting the fan.
Midfielders have the complex dilemma of balancing the pessimistic attitude with an optimistic mindset at times. This was always something I struggled with as a midfielder, as I would sometimes let my very pessimistic attitude for defending dominate my optimistic attitude going forward. This lead to me not scoring as many goals as I should have from my #8 role. Keeping the midfield shape, tracking runners, and preparing defensively if the ball was lost were always large concerns of mine, rather than making runs into the box or in behind the defence. As midfielders develop, a sense for when to take chances and when to be conservative with the ball needs to be developed if they are to succeed. You see young players as they develop sometimes look to play home run through passes to strikers every time they get the ball, with very little success. You also find players who are afraid to play forward, who look to pass square and backwards more often than not in a very conservative approach to keeping possession. This healthy balance of expression and conservative decisions takes a long time to develop in some players, thus why elite midfielders may take longer in my opinion to develop than other positions. So much goes into the position positionally and decision making wise that it may take players sometimes until their late twenties or thirties to really figure out every aspect of the roles and develop this balanced mindset.
Strikers on the other hand must be willing to always take chances and have a very optimistic attitude that on every instance the ball is going to fall to them for an easy finish. They have to be the ones who always follow in for rebounds, gamble on the centerbacks missing header or play a bad back pass, and always put themselves in position to score goals. Shots should come more often than not from strikers as any ball going towards the goal has a chance to score. Close to 50% of goals are due to some sort of luck, an amazing statistic during the big data presentation I sat in last spring. Riding your luck and banking on good things happening is a true poachers mentality that is prevalent in the best strikers in the world. This mindset comes more naturally to some more than others, and is one that players can ride a very long way to the elite levels of the game.
Teaching players the importance of preparation for the bad is sometimes a difficult task to really drive into young players. Establishing principles and values defensively that must be abided by in order to avoid the punishment of not only the other team possibly scoring but something fun after the game may be one way to aide in the development of a pessimistic attitude towards defending. Certain players who come from religious or strict upbringings may find it easier to translate their attitudes they find in their home to life to the field in this aspect. They may feel large amounts of guilt or shame if they do not live up to the principles or values that are set by the coach, which is good but also not the most enjoyable way to view a game that is supposed to be in the end fun to play.
The optimistic point of view comes very naturally to some, the willingness to gamble and take chances is a very natural freedom that certain players possess. The hard aspect of this mindset is the consistency that is necessary for poachers to be successful. The one time they do not follow a rebound, gamble on a ball failing in the box, or run past the center backs in hopes they misjudge the header or back pass is the time that they could have capitalized on an opportunity. Strikers like Robbie Keane in his prime and Jamie Vardy will chase every lost cause and every back pass in hopes of the half chance coming their way and have made careers on this optimistic mindset. Frank Lampard would always arrive late in the box in hopes the winger would pick him out for a finish or something would fall his way that he could finish off on his way to his typical 20 goal a year season. All of this coming from consistently doing the work to get in goal scoring situations, playing the odds that one times out of ten you will hit the jackpot.
Soccer has the amazing ability to teach great life lessons to players as they grow as players and people through the game. Having the self belief that things will go your way if you put yourself in position to be successful is the optimistic point of view that gets a lot of us through life. If you keep persistently put effort towards a goal, sooner or later something will fall your way for you to capitalize on. To be naive to the fact that everything can be taken away from you in instantaneously is utterly nonsensical, and to not be prepared in life for a worse case scenario to happen is the root of a lot of hardships everyday people find themselves in. Soccer players should know from the painful experiences of the game that you will get punished if you are not prepared. Soccer will also teach you that you can do everything right and still get punished by a world class strike from 40 yards. Thus why players need to possess an optimistic belief that chances will come their way if they continue to work hard, despite the setbacks they may face. This balanced mindset is extremely important for any player who wants to be successful in this game.