“You see these players pulling out of taking chances. A few are scared of making mistakes, scared of giving the ball away. If you are confident you try things. They aren’t but that will change.” The words of Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan, after Saturday’s mauling by Manchester United. This is a critical point in the season for Keegan’s team. They are hovering above the relegation zone. They are on a losing streak. And to compound things, confidence is low.
As a born enthusiast and communicator, you would expect any team of Kevin Keegan’s to ooze confidence. To have no fear of failure. To be bubbling with belief. But this team have now got into the habit of losing. They are expecting things to go wrong.
Players don’t want to be the ones responsible for a mistake. They don’t want the crowd on their backs. So no one takes any risks. Fear rules their performance. The more frightened you are of making a mistake, the more chance you have of making one.
Keegan has to become analytical with his players. Show them precisely where fear is entering into their individual performances. Precise moments. Precise incidents. Help the players recognise the impact fear is having on their game. Help them see why they are being subject to fear.
Once the fear has been pinpointed, players can make a conscious choice as to whether they want to be subject to it. Or not. If not, they can then create a strategy for the next game. What to do if the fear strikes. A plan.
Maybe the team-leaders can take responsibility for alerting their colleagues when they see fear trying to take hold. Or the team can have a link word to remind them that fear is nearby. Anything to create awareness. It’s the lack of awareness, that allows the fear to build. Allows it to take a grip.
Once the players learn to recognise the enemy that is fear, they can begin to take ownership of their own attitudes towards it. Then their natural confidence will return. But they have to be prepared to work at it. To not become frightened of the fear. If you fear the fear, then it will take a hold of you. And, once fear takes a grip, it doesn’t relinquish it’s hold easily.