Michael Bradley’s success is built on the mastery of his emotions

How often do you make the decision you actually want to make? How many times do you just do what you think should actually be done to be the person you want to be, rather than letting fear or pride or ambition cloud your judgment? It’s not easy, is it?

Michael Bradley is clearly the best player on the U.S. men’s national team. He just beasted two of the best teams in the world. He’s a clean passer, hard working and intelligent. I think, though, his most defining attribute, the one that helps him the most, is one that you can’t measure: his emotional stability on the field.

There’s a lot of ways to mess up in soccer. But too often we do it because of our own emotions and motivations.

When I watch guys play, including myself and my teammates, I can usually apply an emotion to every action. When a center back plays a long ball to the empty channel, he lost his nerve; when a center mid plays a diagonal pass across the field, he got flustered; when a player forces a difficult ball forward, he got anxious. My personal pet peeve is when a guy tries a complicated play to look good, rather than playing the simple pass.

Players have a lot of thoughts racing through their minds. We want to make a great play to stick out. We want to avoid a bad play to keep our place in the team. We want to make a great play to make up for a bad play. We want to avoid a terrible play to keep from the public embarrassment. We want to shine to get recognized by others.

You can’t blame the players. We train so hard to be intelligent, and then the game happens. It’s flying a million miles an hour and the fans are screaming and teammates are yelling and coaches are making hand gestures. When your heart rate’s up and your blood’s flowing and your mind’s racing, logic isn’t ruling. And so a lot of intelligent players that lose the plot.

It’s often not necessarily even the wrong play that gets made, but it’s not usually the best one. The spurt of emotion pushes them towards an action. It blinds them to the logical decision.

But when I watch Michael Bradley, I can never sense a raw emotion. Yes, sometimes raw emotion is good. It can certainly create moments of magic. But more often than not it clouds your judgement, especially in a center mid that controls the game. Michael is always stable, logical.

Some people call it his soccer brain. It’s true, Bradley has a wonderful soccer brain. He’s a soccer junky. But like anything, there’s two parts: theory and practice. There’s a lot of people that can outline the X’s and O’s and proper shifts and movements and use all the jargon. The difficult part is executing the thoughts when there’s a storm around you.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Michael Bradley of the United States looks on after being defeated 2-1 by Belgium in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)Getty Images

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01: Michael Bradley of the United States looks on after being defeated 2-1 by Belgium in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Michael doesn’t seem to let those emotions overcome him. He always does what his logical mind would want him to do. He never lets emotion push him in the wrong direction. When he goes for a chipped pass, I don’t sense it stems from vanity. When he plays a long ball, I don’t get the feeling it’s selfish. When he needs to make short passes in tough situations, he doesn’t let fear stop him. He can let his intelligence take control.

He plays the game in the right frame of mind. And as a result, he analyzes the game the way it should be seen. He doesn’t get in his own way.

Soccer is a tough game in itself, but the mind can often over-complicate things. Players are human, and players get nervous and scared and ambitious like everyone else. The emotions set our mind running in different directions and our body follows suit.

There’s a lot of players that can pass and run. It takes something else to be special. What sets Michael apart is that he doesn’t let the extraneous emotions affect him. Selfishness and fear don’t creep in.

I can’t imagine a life where I have control over my emotions. But I bet it’d be pretty nice.

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