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Mentality and Attitude: Their Importance and How Far They Will Take You

Interviewing Justin Neerhof

Credentials: USSF Licensed, NSCAA Licensed, Former Region IV ODP Staff Coach, Former Region IV ODP Director of Goalkeeping, Former Division I Coach (Men & Women), Former Division II Coach (Women), Former NCAA All-American First Team, Former Two Time WCC Conference First Team, Former WCC Defender of the Year, Former Professional Soccer Player.

What is your definition of mentality? Attitude? For me, mentality and attitude are mutually exclusive, but they both work hand-in-hand. The mentality is at the forefront of everything an athlete does, says, and is. It is really the baseline of everything. It is the standard. If an athlete has a professional mentality, that will affect that athlete’s attitude. The mentality is really the driving force of what an athlete wants to be and where he/she wants to go. An athlete’s mentality (should) never change regardless of extraneous variables. When things go well or not so well, that will always affect an athlete’s attitude, because I feel that attitude is based much more on current mood/feelings. Athletes hear their coaches say all the time to have a good attitude when things don’t go well. However, I believe that in times of adversity, it is next to impossible to have a good attitude without the proper mentality.

What kind of mentality and attitude are coaches across the boards looking for? This is simply a question that can’t be answered. It can only be answered on a case-by-case basis. I believe the reason for this is because of the discrepancies of coaches’ mentalities and attitudes. I have played for some of the best coaches in the country with impeccable mentalities and an absolute desire to be the best. Unfortunately, I have also played for coaches (at high levels, nonetheless) with abhorrent mentalities who were anything but professional. In those circumstances (especially at higher levels), it is up to the athlete to decide what sort of mentality he/she will possess, and that cannot/should not waiver.

Can you describe what an athlete with great mentality looks like? An athlete with a great mentality is one who refuses to conform to negative social norms, sets his/her own personal standards of conduct, and has a clear vision of where he/she wants to go.

Describe what an athlete with great attitude looks like. The only way that an athlete can have a truly great attitude is if he/she has a good mentality. An athlete with a good attitude will respond positively to both positive and negative circumstance. I also don’t believe that having a good attitude requires someone to have to ‘fart rainbows.’ Rather, a good attitude is responsible for have athletes respond to various circumstances. A good attitude can still allow a player to exhibit negative emotions.

What does an athlete with poor attitude look like, and what kind of image do they give off to a coach? Unfortunately, this is way too common an occurrance in sports today…athletes with bad attitudes. This, I believe, is for two reasons. 1) Athletes don’t have a solid foundation of a good mentality, hence, they let emotions get the best of them. 2) Not nearly enough emphasis is put on coaching proper mentality and attitude. Coaches let their athletes get away with anything, take shortcuts, and compromise standards. This is simply because many coaches lack the proper mentality.

How important is the mental side of the game for athletes? I believe the mental side of the game is of the utmost importance. It drives everything. Without the appropriate mentality, an athlete will compromise their technical, tactical, and physical development. However, just like the aforementioned components, mentality has to be developed, coached, and trained as well.

How important is it to have a good attitude? It certainly carries importance, but attitude is tied much closer to emotions. It is impossible to have a good attitude without proper mentality.

Describe the importance of a good work-rate. For me, this is way too broad of a question. There are many, many athletes who possess all the skill in the world, have crap work-rates, and still make it to the highest levels of their respective sport. That being said, that athlete will never reach his/her full potential without a tremendous work-rate. On the contrary, there are many athletes who do not possess the greatest raw talent and abilities, therefore need to make up for this shortcoming with the highest work-rate. These are the athletes that I respect the most.

How far can mentality get an athlete in their sports career? Mentality, like anything else, will only take an athlete so far. There are simply too many variables that determine how far an athlete goes in his/her career. And at some point, opportunities simply run out for an athlete to extend his/her career. That being said, though, I believe learning how to have the appropriate mentality is the single most important characteristic that an athlete can take with them once their playing days are done. A good mentality translates to all aspects of life beyond the athletic lines.

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Andrew Zarudnyi
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