The Sports Psychology Blog
This Sports Psychology blog, is taken from a recent article I was asked to write for The Green Soccer Journal, about a typical football client scenario.
Football Psychology: A Typical Client Scenario...
It begins with a misplaced pass. Often caused by a simple lapse of concentration. The player picks up on the negative crowd reaction instantly. The audible groans, with smatterings of personal abuse thrown in.
The ball comes to them again and now they want to get rid as quickly as possible. But with the anxiety building they play it with ‘hard feet’ and the pass is hit too hastily. And the abuse becomes stronger. And more personal.
And thus a cycle of anxiety and abuse begins. Sometimes it reaches the point whereby the player doesn’t even want the ball. They learn how to look busy, but expertly hide when there is a chance of receiving a pass.
They learn to dread playing at home. That sound that reverberates around the stands when they make a mistake haunts them. Keeps them awake at night. Not that the fans would know this of course.
They think the player just doesn’t care like they do. But it’s not like that.When they call to make an appointment, they often explain that they have been thinking of calling you for months.
But somehow, can’t quite bring themselves to ask for help. They think, wrongly, that it suggests weakness. And what would the lads say if they found out!But they reach a critical point where their love of football has gone.
The fear of playing has negated their enthusiasm. Their wife has probably insisted that they sort it out once and for all, as the player’s downbeat mood and melancholy is affecting the atmosphere in the house.They know that it’s not good going to the boss, because he will just say ‘toughen up’, or even worse, hold it against you.
Coaches and managers rarely understand the kind of anxiety a player who has got the crowd on their backs suffer.At the end of that first opening call, they wonder why it was so hard to pick up the phone. They can instantly see some light at the end of the tunnel. That it doesn’t have to be like it has been.
That first conversation is vital. Because it gives the player a feeling of trust. That they can talk to you about what has been keeping them awake at night, without fear of criticism or judgement. And that you understand exactly, what is happening to them and why.
Having found someone who has a practical solution to their challenges and anxieties is massive for the player. Because it lifts the burden of anxiety. The feeling that they are alone with their fears.
Of course they can speak to close family. But close family can’t offer a solution. Only a listening ear and sympathy.The solutions begin with working on the player’s concentration.
Once they become sensitive to the negative crowd reaction, their concentration invariably suffers. For example, they fail to see their next pass, because they are worrying what they will do if and when they receive the ball.
So they are no longer playing with their head up.The player often isn’t aware of their own behaviour, as when worry consumes their emotions, they can’t think and analyse their own game very clearly.
They just know that something isn’t right!
So task one is to rebuild good concentration patterns in training.
- That means playing with your head up, thus knowing in advance where your next pass is.
- Concentrating on small details as the ball comes to you, such as the makers name, the spin on the ball etc
- Receiving the ball with relaxed feet. When anxiety takes hold, the player will feel the tension in their feet.
- Knowing your next pass before you have got the ball Keeping it simple. Under pressure, players can try to hit difficult passes to get the crowd off their back. This doesn’t work! The key is to get into a simple passing rhythm to re-build lost confidence.
So the player will go away and apply these simple things in training for a few days. Then on the Friday before the sat game they will call again to talk through the training and look ahead to Saturday. If it’s a home game, they will be very anxious about how the crowd will behave.
You are trying to get them to see that if they do the basics right, they are in control of their own game. And help them build a bubble of concentration, in which they can barely notice the crowd.
Getting through game one is a massive step. It gives them confidence that they can play in front of the home crowd, and not get booed.Then you help them deepen the basics.
Thus to turn a weakness into a strength. Training session by training session. Game by game.
Added into this is an understanding of the crowd’s behaviour. This can be a ‘**** you’ attitude, i.e. ‘I’m going to show you what a ****** good player I am’, or to understand the crowds high expectations that cause them to turn on you. That is you put yourself in their shoes; hopes; dreams; aspirations; fears and who you represent to them.
A month into the process and the player is starting to feel their confidence return. You know things are ok, when they report back that they couldn’t hear the home crowd, because they were concentrating so well.
How long a player spends working on the mental side of their game depends on their level of ambition. Some players just want a quick fix.
Others, having regained their love and enthusiasm for the game, want to channel the anxiety they have felt over the last few months, into taking their game to a level.
Either way, the hostile home crowd will have had no idea of what the player has just been through!