The Ring Of Confidence

Having won nothing since 1991, to narrowly miss the play offs was an achievement to be lauded, but it cannot be enough for the club with the largest fan base outside the premier league.

This season, pundits were predicting a possible return to the Premier League. But, four games into the Championship season, and Sheffield Wednesday are without a point. Four games; four defeats. Although earlier season form may not be an accurate herald of what could follow, it generates, nevertheless, uncertainty and lack of objectivity.

We might want to describe such a state as an equation: high expectancy + low confidence = maximum anxiety. [HE + LC = MA]

You can see the draining effect it has on the players by the way they perform on the field. Individuals are wary of making themselves available for the ball, preferring to let others take responsibility. Under such circumstances instant and accurate decision making cannot take place.

So, you get a collective anxiety which all fans who have followed a club in crisis will recognise. And it quickly becomes a two way process as supporter agitation feeds player uncertainty. In such a state it is unsurprising that clear scoring chances are being scuffed and defensive blunders proliferate.

Where fear of failure has bubbled to the surface the sensitive skin of trust is pocked and disfigured. Only the new signings, like Akpo Sodje and Etienne Esajas seem impervious to the general uncertainty. They are not yet infected by Maximum Anxiety [MA].

Of course, all teams have crises of confidence during a season and the better ones understand that, by continuing to do the right things, winning habits will be re-established. Problems come when lack of self belief becomes the norm; when failure become endemic; when relegation looms.

So what should a team like Sheffield Wednesday do when they are experiencing a decline in confidence? The most important thing is: dont be scared; dont be scared of the crowd; dont be scared of the ball; dont be scared to make a mistake; dont be scared of your team mates.

Of course, it takes strength of character to play through a famine of confidence. Its worth remembering that the composure which the team needs will seem elusive and, often, unachievable, as mistakes and disharmony warp the moment. It is as if confidence has gone forever.

But, really, it hasnt. The barriers blocking the road to success can be dismantled. The truth is hidden confidence can soon be found again. It is a palimpsest; scrape away the doubts, fear and uncertainty and it will be revealed. But, the more a player fails to accept responsibility, the more elusive it becomes. Avoidance confirms and reinforces the sense of anxiety. The more you hide, the more you are found out.

When things get really bad, players will attempt to play a difficult ball just make something happen. They want to ease the uncertainty. But the art of rebuilding confidence is to keep things simple. Take the uncertainty out of the situation with simple passes. Build a rhythm and tempo. Slowly and steadily.

The lost confidence will return. That you must believe. And it returns because you continued to do the simple things, simply. Small successes; one after another. Tiny triumphs.

Albert Einstein once said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. Others, more prosaically, say, K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid.

Playing through a confidence drought allows you to build courage into the fibre of the team. It creates an inner strength which, of itself, becomes a declaration of belief, a belief that things are going to change and they are going to change at your hands.

It takes strength of mind to play through a dearth of confidence because every mistake feeds the famine. Therefore, it is imperative that the Wednesday manager, Brian Laws, find team leaders and encourages them to set the right example; to get them to nurture the culture of growth through success. This can only be achieved when the demon of uncertainty is banished.

Mental resilience marks the difference between those teams that succeed and those who languish, bemoaning their fate and forever wondering when their luck will turn. The question is, have Wednesday got the strength of mind to overcome any fear of failure?

From it, can they create a winning mentality? Sometimes, owners express confidence in the coach and players and that generally means the opposite. But all too often they lose trust too quickly and seek to make change, whereas if they kept the faith a surge might follow.

Posted in Football Psychology, Sports Psychology Blog.