How Sport Psychology Helps Footballers
How often have you wondered- "Whatever happened to Shevchenko/Hazard/Van Persie/Torres/Costa? He was such a good player"? Well, the answers to most of these questions lie in sport psychology.
The mind (mental health) has as much to do with an athlete's success as much as body (physical fitness). The mind and the body have to be fit, moreover in a state of perfect harmony with each other. It is then that your favourite player is able to give the best performance in every game. Since physical fitness always seems to occupy the centre stage, we are here to throw some light on how sports psychology helps sportspersons, precisely footballers.
What is Sport Psychology and Where Does Exercise Psychology Fit In?
Sports psychology or exercise psychology is the study of how psychology helps a sports person perform better, refine physical activity and improve overall well-being. They help players deal with diverse emotions in the face of stress, pressure, criticism, competition, victory, defeat and the like.
Professional sports psychologists tap into players’ motivational resources to understand their problem points, remedy their mental block and improve consistency. Not only do such specialist psychologists help athletes but also commoners interested to pursue an exercise regime or an outdoor activity.
Sport Psychology in Football
Just like any other sport, psychology is a mega contributing element to refine a footballer’s performance before any match. Therefore it is not just physiotherapists who tend to bodily injuries, it is these psychologists like Coleman Griffith who address their mental dilemmas to polish play. A dose of positive reinforcement through psychology is a much-needed pump of confidence, focus, and strength before a kickoff. Since plurality of you football fans are unaware of the role of psychology in football, here is what football sports psychologists actually do:
- Help resolve the problems players deal with and shed light on a working solution when/if they ask for it.
- Monitor each players’ mindset, game, strategies and behaviour on-pitch and off-pitch to encourage and fine-tune the game.
- Equip the players with strategies and skills to face challenges inside in the sports arena and outside.
- Since there are not one but many different ways sports psychology works, here are some technical and non-technical aspects it broadly encompasses.
How Sport Psychology Helps Play Better Football?
The benefits of having a sport psychologist in football is two-fold. They help the all-round personality development as well as in-field performance.
All-round personality development
For all-round personality development, a sports psychologist looks into the following areas:
- Concentration and focus: Enhancing the mental faculty to focus and concentrating better by neglecting distractions.
- Decision-making: Being able to take quick decisions while playing and otherwise. For instance, the striker with solid on the pitch training plus decision-making power can decide whether to attempt for a goal or pass the ball to a winger while in action.
- Consistency: playing and training with regularity.
- Confidence: Understanding and executing exercises which boost confidence before and after match.
Apart from the above-mentioned aspects, there are two factors of essence that stand out - motivation and emotional control.
What is Motivation in Sports Psychology?
Motivation is the biggest and mostly untapped resource that has the ability to amplify performance and reap superior results. In sports psychology, motivation is the quintessential factor that can make or break a player. Something most commonly found is the lack of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation and psychologists have to clear pathways to reach motivation during distressing circumstances.
To successfully arouse the inner desire to do better, exercise psychology focuses on intrinsic motivation, that comes from within as it is more long term. It motivates one to do better as a result of self-determination, interest and enjoyment.
Second to it are the extrinsic motivational factors like medals, trophies, recognition and the like. Depending on an individual player, the psychologists closely study and touch the required fountainhead.
What is Emotional Control in Sports Psychology?
Emotional control is essential in a team sport like football. Since there is an interaction involved with team members and coaches alike, psychology is helpful to tame players and their subjective feelings. This is where sports psychologists with their analysis come in. They scrutinize each player, his emotions, and his reactions under diverse situations, and suggest healthier methods to manage emotions and play better.
"One thing that I try to focus on with my athletes is to control what you can and let go of what you cannot. You talk about this a little bit in the emotional control section. Athletes have the choice to focus on the weather, field conditions, bad call from the referees, coach decisions, opponent interaction. These are all things they have no control over; but, if they focus on them it takes their mind away from the game. They can also choose to focus on their response to the situation instead and create a positive outcome." - Drew Werner, MS, ATC
Van Persie's anger issues were the highlights of some of Arsenal's gameweeks. In such times, the role of the team psychologist or a manager like Wenger comes into play. Sure, good ol' Mourinho did get on his nerves but the man did do well for the most part of his career as Arsenal's manager.
Why is Psychology Important in Sports?
To understand the importance of psychology in sports, picture a physically fit, healthy and well-trained footballer, with a high work rate. He is equipped with everything necessary to be a matchwinner. Now, what if this consistent, fit performer was onboarded with a transfer fee as high as £50million, and was unable to deliver, failing to score match after match? That's right- Fernando Torres.
A terror for the likes of Vidic to someone missing open goals at Chelsea, El Nino’s greatest high of all time plunged to the deepest dip in his career. His response, “... but I was not in a good place.”
Here is where exercise psychology comes into play. The unfortunate fall of Torres' legacy in the Premier League had much to do with a heavy price tag and the change in style of play from Liverpool to Chelsea, rather than him losing his physical ability.
How Does Sport Psychology Enhance Performance?
Now the question arises if sports psychology actually helps enhance performance. If combined with the appropriate diet and fitness tips mentioned here, just the right mental aid can work magic to boost performance by removing any and all inhibitions.
The first example that comes to mind in terms of direct impact of psychology on performance is that of Gareth Bale. The young Welshman started off as a full-back at Southampton but transitioned to a winger & attacking midfielder- a role in which he prospered incredibly during his time at Spurs & Madrid to an extent. Such a stark transition sure had mental challenges. The basic instinct of an attacker is to score; whereas that of a full back is to defend and maybe get in crosses when on the offensive.
Surely there is a lot more to be said about the role of psychology in sports, especially our beloved footy, than has been mentioned here. But the basic awareness among fans and related stakeholders of the sport will surely go a long way in contributing to the mental health of players who walk on to the pitch & training ground carrying the hopes of millions on their backs.