My name is Connor Hartley. I’m a mental performance consultant from Tacoma, Washington. I teach mental skills to athletes, musicians, students, and other types of performers, including elite athletes in soccer, basketball and golf. I have a master’s degree in mental health counseling with a focus in sport psychology from Boston University, and a bachelor’s in psychology from Loyola Marymount University. I’m a former player at Norpoint FC and Washington Premier FC, and stay involved in the game through coaching and adult leagues. You can reach me on Facebook on my page, Hartley Performance, or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Power of Yet
by Connor Hartley
Two fifteen year old boys attend a tryout for a top soccer club, a team and level that neither had played with before. Though both compete hard, neither makes the team. The first player is frustrated and disappointed with his performance. He feels that the tryout was an indictment on his ability, and he will never be as good as the players who made the team. He decides to take soccer less seriously, joins a rec team, and loses much of his interest in the game.
The second player is frustrated and disappointed with his performance, as well. He asks the coach where he can improve, and takes the advice to heart. He joins a different team and works hard on his weaknesses. The next year, he returns to the top club’s tryouts; his obvious improvement impresses the coaches, and he makes the team. What was the difference between these two players, both at a legitimate crossroads in their soccer careers? The first player believed he wasn’t good enough. The second player believed he wasn’t good enough…yet.
A loss…to an opportunity
Though the concept seems basic, the power of “yet” cannot be underestimated. Simply put, using “yet” means that when you feel that you cannot do something, or are not good enough for something, you remind yourself that you cannot do it yet, not that you will never be able to do it. Yet turns a negative into a teaching moment, a loss into an opportunity. This turn of phrase changes soccer careers, and takes an intentional effort to master. In fact, you might not be very good at using it…yet.
It’s easy to consider certain skills unobtainable, or let a bad performance define us. Soccer players are incredibly hard on themselves, and tend to think in absolute terms. Ever heard the term “you’re only as good as your last game?” What does that say about you if your last game ended poorly? Not much positive. Some players take it even further, and think they’re only as good as their last mistake. Unfortunately, thinking this way only makes one more likely to make another mistake. I have a different idea – you’re not defined by one moment, one performance. Rather, you’re defined by your body of work, and your progress made over time.
You can always get better
When you acknowledge the “yet” of a situation, you’re embracing growth and learning. It is a challenge to embrace yet when you have always struggled with your first touch, or your sprint speed, or your tactical awareness. But remember that Steph Curry spent a summer reworking his jump shot when he struggled to shoot quickly enough as a teen, and both Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have changed their positions partway through their careers after mastering new skills. Steph Curry couldn’t get shots off…yet. Cristiano didn’t know how to play as a pure striker…yet, and Messi was a winger who didn’t have great hold-up play…yet. You can always get better at something, from the lowest to the highest level, but it takes bravery to get better. It takes admitting not only that you have a weakness, but that you can get better.
Finally, yet often defines a player’s mindset in approaching challenges and mistakes. Embracing “yet” means embracing your own weaknesses, but also your ability to improve them. Weaknesses are never permanent, because you can always get better. When you can recognize that you can’t do something yet, but that you can improve, you’ll feel the motivation and hopefulness associated that feeling. You’ll need to put in hard work, but knowing the “yet” is on the way will make the work worthwhile.
Homework for the soccer brain
Exercise for players: Make a list of things you “can’t do” in soccer, or recently felt like you can’t do. Ask yourself what’s preventing you from doing them. You might be surprised to find things you believe you’ll never be good at. Pick one item on your list, and write “yet” after it. Now, create a game plan for getting better at that item. How can you believe you can improve? How will you work on it, specifically? What drills? How often? Spend some time working on something that you thought you couldn’t do, and find a way to track your improvement. You can ask friends/family to help you track it.
Second Exercise: This is a simple one. Remind yourself to say “yet” when you think you can’t do something. If you’re constantly thinking you can’t do something before a game, write it on your cleats. If you walk off after a game feeling bad, have a note in your bag with the word “yet” on it. Do whatever it takes to remind you that not being able to do something now does not mean you’ll never be able to do it. You just aren’t great at it yet.
Application for coaches: Praise/teach process instead of results during practices. When you give feedback on process, you give a player a roadmap for improvement. On the other hand, if you only comment on results, you neglect the way a player does improve. For example, let’s say a center mid receives the ball in the middle of the field, turns, and attempts to spray a ball wide to her right mid, but instead hoofs it long out of bounds. You might tell your player to “take care of the ball”, “that’s a bad pass”, or “keep it simple”. While any/all of these could be correct, they also convey “you aren’t good enough to play that pass”. No yet involved there. Instead, offer feedback that relates to the process. “Good idea, but take some off it”, “remember the game plan (if the strategy involves low risk passing)”, or “you’ll get the next one”. Follow up with more specific instructions in practice or after the game, but leave the door open for “you’ll be able to play that pass eventually”.
Idea for parents: When talking to your athlete, encourage them to be learners by asking them what they can learn from mistakes. Refrain from immediately telling them what they could have done better, after good, neutral, or bad games, and allow them to explore the lessons and opportunities for improvements first. Remind them about “yet” when they feel hopeless. Of course, don’t forget to point out the good, as well!