With the Missouri Valley Conference title on the line, Yvonne Northover, a senior midfielder from Illinois State University, steps up to take a direct kick on the edge of the box. With the score 1-1 with 2 minutes remaining, and her team relying on her, she calmly steps up and places the ball in the top right hand corner of the net – bending it around the wall and far from the keepers grasp.
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As a player who set the record for game winning goals at Illinois State her senior season, Northover is no stranger to high-pressure situations such as this. “To me, mental toughness is the ability to take responsibility for difficult decisions under pressure while staying focused on a goal,“ Northover said. “It is pushing through the given task regardless of the obstacles in the way, including ones which are not in your control.”
Northover is the current captain of the Santa Clarita Blue Heat, a women’s professional team in the W league, and former captain of the Illinois State Redbirds. “Being able to compartmentalize – or leave the good and bad events and emotions from the day off the field, and visualizing certain plays helps me prepare for practices and games,” Northover states. “ At its simplest form, if you don’t believe you can do something, you won’t. “ She adds, “ Always, always stay positive with your thoughts and attitude. “
Drew Roff, current head soccer coach at Illinois State University, always praised Yvonne for her strong work ethic. He often talks about the intensity she brought to practice, and how it helped her perform during big games. In times of adversity, the team knew they could look to Yvonne to make the important play or lift the team up. Her composure and focus in tough situations is second to none.
Yvonne Northover has all the characteristics of a mentally tough athlete – self-belief, motivation, focus and composure. Having a pregame ritual, bringing intensity to every practice, and visualizing her goals, helped Northover to become one of the most successful players to pass through the Illinois State program.
For athletes who want to develop mental toughness, Yvonne believes that high quality practice is a must. She states, “If someone wants to improve their mental toughness, they have to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. They have to challenge themselves on a daily basis, set and achieve short and long term goals, and play at the highest level they are capable of.” Working on a specific goal each day and practicing with confidence is something every athlete should work on. When faced with adversity, Northover advises that it is important to, “ Stay focused and positive on the things you have control over and don’t get frustrated about things you don’t. Being mentally tough is mind over matter, and is often half the battle on the field and off.”
Note: In her collegiate career, Yvonne Northover was named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year (2007), and First Team All-Valley Selection (2007, 2005). She holds the record at Illinois State for most assists in a season (7), and scored 8 game winning goals during her time at Illinois State. From her sophomore year on, Yvonne started every game for the Redbirds and in her senior season led the team to its first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in over 4 years.
This article was contributed by Guest Writer: Katie Grill-Donovan