Although football takes place on the pitch, often the real games are going on in the players’ minds. Many coaches even hire psychologists to make sure their squad’s brain work is as sharp as its footwork. But what can we, sitting on sofas, maybe even slightly bored by it all, learn from this? The answer: quite a bit.
Confidence is a hormone, specifically dopamine. By talking in a kind of energised, positive way, players can release this hormone before they take to the pitch. That’s why half-time talks can really work – because a pre-frontal lobe that’s performing badly under stress can be as damaging to a player’s performance as a knee injury.
Body language also has a big impact on a footballer’s confidence. Sports psychologist Bradley Busch tells players to keep their eye line above the level of the corner flag. In other words, holding your head high really does change your brain chemistry, making you feel more confident. Busch says coaches look at body language to help decide substitutions.
Players are much more likely to miss a penalty when they need to score to stay in the game, than one where a goal will win the game. And success is infectious. Players who celebrate with arms aloft will make their teammates more likely to score, too. What can we learn from this? Success is easier when you’re winning.
A lot of this comes down to positive thinking, but what’s interesting are the practical methods psychologists use to help players get into that mindset. Even if you’re reading this and you’re not awaiting substitution in a match against Arsenal, give them ago and tell us if they help you in the comments.
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