Perez using her head and feet at Uruguay 2018
Mexico were involved in a frustrating draw with South Africa
Captain Nicole Perez is already looking ahead to the matches with Brazil and Japan
She and her team-mates will prepare with the help of a sport psychologist
For a 17-year-old captain, whose team had laid siege to the opposition goal without making a breakthrough, it would be understandable to face the press – who might be quick to remind her of her team’s deficiencies – with tired eyes focused on the floor and a visible desire to be somewhere else.
But Nicole Perez is not the type to evade her responsibilities or to get discouraged after a setback like Mexico’s opening 0-0 stalemate versus South Africa at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Uruguay 2018 on Tuesday, during which she and her compatriots missed several clear-cut chances.
“We don’t feel disappointed as such, just frustrated at not having won the match,” said the influential No8. “We didn’t expect that outcome, but I’m convinced that we’ll win our next two matches and put this one behind us.”
Over the course of the game in Maldonado, El Tri showed they were a superior team to the Africans in almost every department except for finishing. Perez and Co will now have to regroup in order to bounce back effectively against Brazil in three days’ time, before taking on the daunting challenge of Japan in their final Group B fixture.
And while Mexico coach Monica Vergara will certainly have some important things to say in the meantime, she will also be able to draw on support from a respected sport psychologist.
“We’ve been working together for a year, preparing for this event,” explained Abril Cantu Berrueto, who stresses the importance of providing tailored solutions to players, based on their personality and role. “Every training session, every moment with the squad constitutes another step in the process of getting the players into the best possible condition.”
She continued: “I try to build a relationship of trust with all 21 of them by attempting to give them specific tools that will help them to be ready for matches. The most important thing is for them to be able to relax, which is often achieved by listening to music beforehand, before they gradually turn their mental focus to the game from the moment they enter the dressing room.”
Perez, standing alongside Berrueto, confirmed that the feeling of trust is mutual. “We feel comfortable with her,” she said. “Each time we need her help, we know she’s there.”
Showing the way “I try to be present as much as possible to get to know them, observe them and show them that I’m there to offer continuous support, even though I’m not really directly involved, like during training sessions,” explained Berrueto, whose calm and determined attitude is symbolic of the mindset she has been trying to instil in the Mexico squad.
Perez did not have to ponder long for an example of how sport psychology has helped her game. “I prepared for our match with South Africa by visualising all my moves and runs, and it worked well,” said the midfield fulcrum, whose duties include imparting her composure and confidence to her team-mates.
“We work on that during individual sessions. I try to set a good example on the pitch by holding on to possession at vital moments, like we did today. Everything clicked nicely, and we weren’t far away from getting the win in the end.”
Under the protective eye of her psychologist colleague, the Chivas Guadalajara player concluded: “I’m really looking forward to facing Brazil and Japan, whose styles are similar to ours. I prefer to play against teams that are fast and skilful like us, especially when they’re regarded as powerhouses of the women’s game.”