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NWSL's Rookie of the Year on conquering mistakes, elevating skills
By Greg Bach
During Raquel Rodriguez’s rise to soccer stardom – she played every minute of every match for Costa Rica during the 2015 Women’s World Cup – she learned difficult lessons that all athletes at all levels encounter.
It’s making those dreaded mistakes: the errant passes, the misplayed headers and the mental lapses.
And understanding how to move on from those miscues – quickly.
“It’s a tough aspect for athletes because we are competitive,” says Rodriguez, the mega talented midfielder for Sky Blue FC who was the Rookie of the Year in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) last season. “Our nature is we don’t like to make mistakes because it can cost a goal.”
But they happen.
And the more coaches can talk to their players about them, and be clear on how to handle them, the quicker youngsters can direct their focus to the current action rather than dwelling on the past miscue.
“It’s a process,” Rodriguez says. “I used to be very harsh on myself and think that it was unacceptable to make a mistake and it was literally torture inside of me. I would have in my head that I wasn’t good enough. But now I understand that that mindset of being a perfectionist is literally doing the opposite of what I would like to achieve, which is getting progressively better. So once I understood that now I am patient with myself.”
Let those words soak in, and think about that message, as you work with young players.
Mistakes will happen. And they’ll happen a lot.
But are you wasting too much time dissecting the mistake? Or are you using it to help youngsters learn from it and use them as opportunities to elevate their games like Rodriguez has done on her climb to being one of the league’s premier players?
“I always try to do my best,” Rodriguez says. “But when it doesn’t work you will grow as long as you learn your lesson. And I think that’s the key. We all make mistakes but the difference is whether you learn from them or not and how you respond to that mistake. Moving forward you are either going to get stuck on that mistake or get better from it.”
Besides being a potent playmaker, Rodriguez has developed into a strong leader.
During her senior season at Penn State she handled the role of captain. Plus, she scored the biggest goal in the history of Penn State soccer – a goal delivered in the 72nd minute of the NCAA Women’s College Cup final, to lead the Nittany Lions to a 1-0 win against Duke and it’s first-ever national championship.
“I don’t think there’s a set definition for a leader,” says Rodriguez, who was awarded the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy during her senior season, which goes to the best player in NCAA Division I soccer. “What I would tell younger athletes is not to try and be like any other leader or captains that they know. Of course, you can always learn good things from other people, and also learn from the bad. But the No. 1 thing is don’t try to be like someone else because you won’t be able to do that.”
And while kids who are named captains may naturally feel extra pressure to perform, and to play at higher levels, Rodriguez reminds young athletes that all players – even team captains – will make mistakes.
It’s all about learning to kick those negative thoughts to the sideline after making one and staying in the moment that ultimately matters.
“You don’t have to be perfect, you can make mistakes,” she says. “Just because you are the leader doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. All it means is that you were put in that position, perhaps by your team or your coaches, and it’s for a reason. So embrace it, own it and enjoy it. And like every aspect of it there are going to be ups and downs but that’s also why the team is there for you. It’s a two-way street. It’s a sport where it’s all about teamwork.”
BETTER THAN THE BOYS
Rodriguez was introduced to soccer at age 4 by her father, who played professionally in Costa Rica.
She immediately loved the sport. She loved competing in neighborhood and school games. And she enjoyed using her skills to frustrate – and outplay – the boys.
“Boys don’t like when girls beat them,” she says. “I don’t know if that’s because of the culture that we grew up in but I think the impact that that had on me was ‘Well, I’m actually good because I’m beating them and they’re getting mad at me.’ It was fun. I’m very competitive so I really enjoyed it.”
Sam Weinman spoke with celebrated public figures to learn how they overcame epic losses. Use their insights to help young athletes bounce back from heartbreak and understand the values that can be found in a loss.
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