Developing Player Confidence
You may not have heard of Mark Parsons, but he keeps popping up prominently in articles I’m reading about some of the best women soccer players in the US. He coaches the Portland team in NWSL, which means he is mentoring and developing some of our best players.
The reason he keeps popping up–players credit him with helping them develop and maintain the confidence to excel on the biggest stage. That is significant.
Here is an article by Kaitlyn Best writing in Monthly Portland about Lindsay Horan.
“What Mark did for me after that was huge,” she says. “Like, no matter what I did on the field, he gave me the belief and the trust that I could continuously do it, and no matter how many mistakes I made, he would say, ‘Keep making the mistakes, keep trying things, keep taking those risks.’”
The making of the player Horan is now was gradual. But during the 2017 season, a time when Portland’s midfield was in flux in many ways (due in part to Henry being in and out for the European Championships), one fact crystallized for the Thorns coaching staff: Horan had to be on the ball as much as possible. “When we limit her qualities, or limit the amount of things she can do,” Parsons explains, “we’re not successful.” For Horan, it clicked: “For me as a player, the more I’m on the ball, the more confident I am, the more comfortable I am in the game,” she says.
Though Parsons is quick to give the credit to her (“it’s so easy for a group of staff, when a player turns up and gives their best every day,” he says), that persistent belief and encouragement is what enabled Horan’s transformation from good to transcendent—from a top American player to one of the best in the world.
And here’s one on Sonnett in OregonLive.com
During the 2017 season, Sonnett worked with Parsons to consciously target key aspects of her game. She and the club’s other defenders participated in extra training sessions throughout the season, which allowed her to focus on being cleaner on the ball and becoming more consistent playing out of the back.
But for now, she is focused on the process and continuing to prove herself each day with the Thorns.
“I just feel more just confident in myself as a player,” Sonnett said. “I now have the confidence to execute and there’s not even a question.”
And another by Richard Farley about Sonnett’s development at Portland when she was struggling to find her spot at the national team level. Mark Parsons gave her the great book The Inner Game of Tennis, but also took the time to work individually with her.
“When people ask me about the last year, the only thing that comes to mind is me not being in the national team and what I had to do to get back there,” she explains. “The Portland Thorns and the coaching staff, that was a big part of my development, addressing what needed to get better. This organization, this practice is what made me better in addressing those issues to get me back to where I am now.”
“[Parsons] really slowed it down, for me, and made me take it day-by-day to make me get those marginal gains to make me jump up to the next level.”
Both players will be competing for the USWNT who will be defending their World Cup this summer in France. Horan may be the US’s best midfielder and Sonnett will come off the bench for them in the defense.
Parsons also has the confidence as a coach to make bold decisions and shake things up when they are not working. Even when dealing with a team full of stars and even when following up a championship season. An article at fourfourtwo.com breaks down the changes Mark Parsons made and his rationale.
Parsons sensed that his team’s problems were more than temporal. They were real, and he had a solution. Look around the NWSL, and you don’t see many playoff-positioned coaches willing to make a major change to their team’s winning approach.
Confidence is a critical piece of achieving in sports. You need it to succeed on the field at game time, during training to push to the next level, while you are picturing your success, in the words you use and you need to see it on the sidelines.
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