Sports Psychology & Lifelong Success

sports psychology

Sports Psychology and Lifelong Success

By Joe Ulm

sports psychologyOur mission at PSU is to help players be successful. However they define success, we want to help them get there. The mission was created based on two beliefs:

  1. Sports teach. Kids who play sports are constantly learning important lessons – teamwork, communication, sportsmanship, effort, hard work, leadership, etc.
  2. If we create the right environment, we can help kids learn and apply these lessons within a framework of their own success. (link to article I wrote on 12/7 – attached)

Throughout this past year, we’ve implemented various programs to support our mission, and many of those programs have gone well. It’s confirmed our belief that we truly can help each player understand and apply principles of success to all areas of their lives – academics, soccer, and whatever other interests they have. Yet, there’s one piece that has been missing. You. 

The greatest influence in the life of a child is almost always their parents. So next week, we’ll be running our first video series for parents. The series is from an interview I did with Dr. Patric Mattek, Sports Psychologist and owner of PKM Clinical Solutions where we discussed a variety of topics including:

  • What Sports Psychology is (and how it works)
  • How anxiety is often the factor that limits on-field performance
  • How parents can best support their son or daughter’s sports experience – and the one thing parents should never do     

It was a fascinating discussion, and it’s one I think many of you will enjoy. I’m lining up other interviews now, so if there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, e-mail me at:

Until then, stay safe, stay United…

Individual Practice Is Old School

Individual Practice is Old School
By Joe Ulm

When I was growing up, practicing on your own or with friends was the way to get better. If you wanted the starting spot on the team you were a gifted athlete or you figured out a way to practice on your own. That often included being creative with what you had and talking siblings and friends into practicing with you. Whatever it was, it was up to you – you took the initiative and figured out ways to get better. I still think there’s enormous value in that type of creative, self-initiated effort, but I also see why it’s rare today.

For most grade school kids today, parents actively participate in the activity with their kids, whether playing or practicing, instead of leaving it to them to figure out the best way to practice. Additionally, parents often help organize time with friends for their kids.  In this way, parents have largely replaced “friends and siblings.” High Schools have their own programs for older kids (many of which now provide options for middle school kids) and, of course, clubs play a huge role throughout. And let’s not forget the nearly endless entertainment options kids have today. All told, it’s a fundamentally different environment than it was when I grew up. The question is… is that a good thing? I think it is. Mostly.

When I look back at the way I grew up, the creativity and initiative needed to get better taught me some essential lessons – lessons which are still valuable even now. Yet, I wonder how much more I could have learned if I had the type of dedicated, knowledgeable, instruction available to kids today. Or how much better I could have been if I hadn’t spent time practicing the wrong things or practicing the right things the wrong way. The most poignant example of this dichotomy between structured practice and self-initiated practice is the way Lati grew up. It’s a story I can’t do justice to here, but I can tell you that our Street Soccer program was born from his experiences growing up. Literally.

Ultimately, I believe that today’s environment can be better for kids. It can provide the structured, knowledgeable instruction kids need to reach their potential. But only if we surround them with coaches and people who care about them, who are knowledgeable in what they’re teaching, and who teach in a way that helps players learn the sport AND the underlying lesson. Simply put, even though the structure of youth sports – and the world our kids are growing up in – have both changed, the lessons are still as valuable as they were all those years ago when I grew up. 

So, individual practice is old school. I get it. I guess we’ll just have to create an environment that provides both great coaching and opportunities for players to learn those valuable lessons. Easy stuff. Because it’s all doable when we do it together. United.

New Year, New Opportunities

New Year, New Opportunities

By Joe Ulm

For many of us, the New Year is a time to look ahead and hope for good things for the next year. The start of a new year often feels fresh and full of opportunity, and it’s fun to see ourselves through the lens of our hopes and expectations fulfilled. This has never been more true than this year as so many of us look to leave 2020 and all the challenges that came with it behind. However, at the risk of being a bit contrarian, I’d like to suggest another approach.

Last year when I was given the privilege of becoming the President of our Club, I sent out an e-mail. In that e-mail, I shared some information about me, and I talked about the future success of the Club. Two months later, COVID-19* hit, and a month after that our spring season was cancelled. It definitely wasn’t the start I was hoping for. However, as I look back on 2020 and all the challenges we faced as a Club throughout the year, I firmly believe that each challenge also provided us with an opportunity; an opportunity to learn and grow, to try new ideas, and to share and communicate in ways we never would have considered without those challenges. 

It’s with this in mind that I would like to reaffirm my belief in the success of our Club. Together, we’ve done much more than weather the COVID* storm – we’ve grown – and if a world-wide pandemic can’t slow us down, it’s hard to believe much else will. In this way, I’m choosing to be thankful for the many lessons I learned throughout 2020. It wasn’t easy, but the most valuable lessons never are. 

So, as I enjoy friends and family on New Year’s eve, I’ll look forward to good and positive things in 2021 right along with many of you… but I’ll do so with a bit of respect for 2020. Because without 2020, I wouldn’t come into 2021 with some of the skills and abilities I learned this past year; skills I fully intend to use to help our Club see an amazing and prosperous 2021. 

Of course, none of these lessons and opportunities would even be here without all of you. So allow me to express my sincere thanks to all of you for your support this past year. I hope 2021 brings you every hope and expectation you desire. As for our Club… here’s to 2021. I’m ready. Let’s make it great together.  United.

*Please know every reference to COVID was from the perspective of how COVID directly affected PSU this past year. In no way am I discounting the very real difficulties many of our members faced due to COVID over this past year. Rather, for everyone who experienced deep personal hardships or severe health issues due to COVID, my heart goes out to you.

A Moment For The Holidays

A Moment for the Holidays
By Joe Ulm 

“…enjoy every moment of the journey, and appreciate where you are at this moment instead of always focusing on how far you have to go.”

― Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

For many of us, Christmas is an incredibly busy time. All those wonderful traditions and thoughtful gifts take a ton of work. Who knew? Oh yeah, that’s right, every parent – that’s who. And let’s not forget about everything that needs to be done to prepare the house for guests. After all, “clean” is only a relative term on normal days – not holidays 😊. Yet, for all the effort we put into the holidays, they can pass us by in a blur, leaving us with few memories and little enjoyment if we’re not careful. More concerning, however, is how this type of hustle can often feel like the norm, not the exception. Although this experience is different for each of us, it’s something I’m all too familiar with myself. 

So, it’s with this in mind that I encourage you to take a moment and look around; breathe it all in, enjoy. Because it’s not the clean house or the perfect gift that makes the holidays so special. It’s the time we spend together. And just maybe… this special time we spend together is what keeps us united.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

With All Due Respect


With All Due Respect…
By Joe Ulm

I have conversations with other soccer clubs and youth sports organizations regularly. In those discussions we share ideas, knowledge, and talk about ways we can lead our respective organizations well. In a recent conversation with the President of another youth organization we discussed member surveys – how to structure them, how often to do them, what to ask, etc. As we got deeper into our discussion, he revealed that his organization limited how often they asked the opinion of their members to just once per year. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to inundate members with questions, polls, and surveys; that it would be bothersome to his members if he did so. I don’t personally know his members, so his approach may be right for his organization. I’ve thought about our discussion quite a bit since we spoke, and with all due respect to him and his organization, I disagree with his general premise. Here’s why:

  1. You and your kids are the ones we serve. To try to do so in the best possible way without asking for your opinion would be presumptuous – maybe even arrogant. Every leader here at PSU – Lati, Cari, Erin, Mark, me, and the Board – works hard to know every coach, parent, player, program, and event in our Club well. Yet for all of our effort, it will never be a replacement for your direct opinions. 
  2. Sharing your opinion doesn’t need to be bothersome. Yes, here at PSU, it’s true we request that every member respond to our fall and spring surveys. And the feedback we receive from those is incredibly important. But I disagree that participating in a survey has to be bothersome. Rather, shouldn’t surveys be created in a way that isn’t bothersome? 
  3. There’s more than one way to receive feedback. To me, this is the crux of the matter – how members can provide their opinions.

Specifically, for us to receive your opinions in a respectful way that’s convenient for you, I believe we need to:

  1. Provide multiple and diverse options for you to share your opinion
  2. Provide those options often
  3. Provide those options with no expectations

In this way, if you have an opinion on a topic you would like to share, you have the opportunity to do so. If not, then just let it pass. No pressure.

So, as we move forward into 2021, we’ll provide multiple avenues for you to share your opinion on a variety of topics, and we’ll do so regularly. But please know that we don’t expect you to take the time to provide your opinion unless it works for you. We’ll do our best to make it easy for you to share your opinion, and you can do what works best for you. No bother. 

Because as always… we’re better together. United.

Youth Sports and Success As An Adult

The Compelling Relationship between Youth Sports and Success as an Adult

Success, however we define it, is something we all want for our kids. We encourage our kids to participate in sports for lots of reasons, but one of those reasons is because we see a relationship between youth sports and how it helps our kids’ social, psychological, and physical development. But does participation in youth sports really relate to success? Or is it just some nostalgic feeling we have based on our own past experiences?

Over the past decade or so, some significant studies have been performed that provide good, reliable data on that relationship. As expected, there IS a relationship between participation in youth sports and success as an adult, and although the relationship isn’t absolute, the correlation is compelling. Here are some examples:

A study from found:

  • 95% of Fortune 500 executives participated in high school athletics.
  • 96% of dropouts in 14 school districts in seven regions of the nation were not participating in an athletic program.

A 2018 Whitehouse Study concludes:

“A growing literature evaluates the impact of various childhood interventions on children’s long-term outcomes. Examples include early education programs, increased access to safety net programs, and moves from public housing to higher opportunity neighborhoods (Heckman et al. 2010; Hoynes and Schanzenbach 2018; Chetty et al. 2016). These interventions, in some cases, are shown to improve the long-term health and economic and social wellbeing of children upon reaching adulthood.”

This study from Cornell University shows a correlation between youth sports and career success concluding:

  • “Past participation in competitive team sports marks you as a winner in the competition for better jobs.”

Indeed, there are still a bevy of challenges in youth sports, but too often we only hear about the challenges. As real as those challenges may be, the benefits youth sports provides our kids is significant.

Even better is that we get the opportunity to address those challenges and build something that helps them achieve their own success. And from what the data shows they probably will. We just need to build it right. Together. United.

A Tradition Of Thanks


A Tradition Of Thanks

By Joe Ulm

I love Thanksgiving.  It’s the one holiday my wife and I host every year and we do all we can to create an enjoyable, relaxing, and welcoming space for friends and family.  Over the years, it’s become a holiday full of tradition for us and I look forward to each tradition with all the things that make them so special.  This year, however, I’m looking forward to one tradition in particular. 

It happens when we’re all seated around the table, as people pass various dishes of food to one another and begin filling their plates.  That’s when everyone takes a turn to share one thing they’re thankful for.  The tradition isn’t novel, I know, but what people are thankful for, often is. 

I’ve been thinking about this tradition and what it will be like this year.  After such a crazy year, full of change and challenges none of us could have predicted, what people will say?  Will they be searching for reasons to be thankful or will they have trouble choosing from so many?  For me personally, the answer is easy – I’ll have trouble picking from so many.  

On January 1st this year I followed my beliefs and convictions into this role as President of our club.  Two months later, everything changed.  That’s been difficult at times for sure, but as I look back on it now, I realize I’m more thankful than I’ve been in a long time.  I’m thankful for the trust the board placed in me – and continues to place in me – to lead our Club.  Brian, Tony, Toni, Chris, & Adam…thank you.  I’m thankful for the group of sharp, talented, and committed people I get to work with every day.  Lati, Cari, Erin, & Mark…thank you.  I’m thankful for the time, skill, and dedication our coaches bring to our players every time they walk on the field…thank you. I’m thankful for the grace and encouragement so many parents have extended to me this year…thank you.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the love and support my wife has given me throughout – even when I wasn’t always the easiest to love or support.  Without her I wouldn’t be able to live my passion; I wouldn’t be able to give my all to our Club, and I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So when the plate is passed to me and it’s my turn to share one thing I’m thankful for, I’ll be picking from a long list, but my answer will be easy.  I’ll leave the novel answer to someone else.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Responding To Change

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”   – John C. Maxwell

Responding to Change

      I believe we can be more than just a soccer club; that we can provide a positive, meaningful, lifelong impact on kids. By now, that’s no secret. It’s also no secret that I believe our players will be more successful on the soccer field and in other areas of their lives as we continue to transform our club in this way. Yet, even though there’s a growing body of evidence that supports that belief, making it a reality won’t be easy. How do I know? Because it will require change.

    Change is interesting for lots of reasons. It can create a greater good or it can make things worse; it can disrupt and destroy or it can innovate and empower. In fact, there’s not much change can’t do – except one thing – it can’t take away our ability to choose. Whatever change brings us, we can always choose how to respond. That’s particularly relevant to me now because November is when we start looking at how we can improve things for spring and next fall. Now is when we start making decisions on what to change. And all of you will have the ability to choose your response.

    One of those changes is what you’re reading right now. Each Monday, you’ll receive an article from me on a variety of topics: what’s happening around the club, news in the soccer community, new ideas we’re considering, and yes, upcoming changes, as well. So please keep an eye out for it, and if you’re so inclined, read through it from time to time. Because many of the changes we’ve made over the past six months have started from ideas you’ve provided and from changes you’ve suggested. We hope we’ve responded in a way that makes you proud to call our club home. And we’ll work hard to keep it that way because as you know… we’re stronger together. United.

Joe Ulm
Pewaukee Sussex United

Message From President Joe Ulm

This past weekend closed out what was one of the most unique and challenging fall seasons in Club history. COVID-19 created a situation none of us have faced before, and it fundamentally changed the way we experienced the game. Social distancing made its way to the sidelines, face masks became the norm, and we all grew familiar with contact-tracing forms. Through it all, players competed in front of cheering parents every Saturday and the sounds of soccer filled the sport complex week after week. Yet, if you listen closely, you’ll hear another sound just beneath the soccer; a sound that becomes obvious once you’re listening for it, and it might just be more important than soccer.

See, the sports complex is much more than just a place for soccer. It’s the place where conversations between neighbors happen, where siblings play, where Saturday evening plans are made, and where new friendships are born. But most of all, it’s where we come together as a club, where we all unite behind red and black, and where everyone is a little less of a stranger. Because if there’s one thing COVID has taught us over these past months, it’s that coming together isn’t just important, it’s necessary

So as our 2020 fall season transitions from new possibilities to memories past, I can’t help but feel a little sad that it’s come to an end; that there isn’t just one more Saturday of kids and soccer and sideline conversations this fall. But here we are in November. Already. We made it through the season, and for that alone, there is a reason to celebrate. But as wonderful as that may be, it gets even better than that. 

In the midst of a pandemic, we’ve grown by 7% while across the state soccer clubs are down 20% on average. That’s a remarkable difference, but even more remarkable is why it’s happening. I believe the answer lies in those sounds that live beneath the voices of our coaches and our players, and the soccer we all enjoy each Saturday. It’s the laughs between friends and neighbors, the conversations between kids, and the plans we make to enjoy time together – that’s why we’re growing. Because those sounds aren’t just the sounds of social plans. They’re the sounds of community, of people sharing, of people growing. And those sounds are making a difference. I can’t thank you enough.

Yes, the fall season is behind us, but our winter season is right around the corner, and even more, we have a world of opportunity in front of us. We’ve started the dialog about focusing on the players and we’ve challenged the status quo of what a soccer club can be. We will continue to innovate, and we will relentlessly pursue the goal of helping our players find success in all areas of their lives. Because we believe in it. Because it’s the right thing to do.

So as we close the chapter on our fall season, we also look forward to the next time we can come together as a club and as a community; to those precious Saturdays that are about soccer and so much more. Those are what creates change – familiar conversations, old friends, sudden smiles, the joy of victory, and the lessons learned from defeat. And it only happens when we do it together. United. 

Joe Ulm
Pewaukee Sussex United

Coach Spotlight: Brad Blicharz

Brad Blicharz

Coach Spotlight this week is featuring Brad Blicharz! Get to know all about his soccer journey and why he loves to coach. 

1) Why do you coach soccer? 

My coaching career started off as something for me to do to stay involved in the game.  It quickly became much more than that.  Seeing the youth players have as much fun as I’ve had in my youth and providing a high level and positive learning environment was the true purpose.  I’m still amazed at what these kids can do now and equally amazed seeing some former players, now playing on older teams, in what they have accomplished.

2) Tell us about your soccer career/journey. 

I started playing in 1984 and played recreationally for 4 years. Then, I transitioned to select in 1988 and played select through 1997 and played all 4 years of high school at Waukesha North (1994-1997).  My coaching career started in 1998 and after that first year (which I was an assistant coach), I knew I wanted to do this for as long as I’m able.

3) What is one goal you have for PSU players? 

Youth players need to learn that it is ok to make mistakes.  Every time we have success, it came from trying countless times before that.  It’s that effort, and bravery, to try something new and keep trying until you find that success.

4) What is something soccer has taught you? 

Soccer is a fantastic sport.  From increasing my ability to multi-task, read ahead of things to accurately predict an outcome, and team building.  These are just a few things the beautiful game has taught me.  The best lesson though, is to always keep trying and have fun doing it.

5) What is your favorite soccer team? 

So many teams come to mind: Seattle Sounders, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic FC…  All fun teams to watch.  I’m taking more interest in lower level leagues in the US and find them equally entertaining.  I am a passionate supporter of Forward Madison FC!

6) How has soccer positively affected your life? 

To me, soccer is life.  It’s entertainment. It’s community building. At times, it can be a form of meditation while juggling.  Soccer has introduced me to some many awesome people and have been a great influence on how to be as a person.  Being a supporter of pro and semi-pro clubs in our area has also got me more involved with communities that are influenced by those team.