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Football psychology - improve performance

Psychologists are one of the most recent groups of professionals to get involved in mainstream football. However, the psychology of football has been there since day one – with every player, coach and manager thinking about individual player and team performance.

The mental side of the game is crucial for getting the best performance possible today and consistently over time: season long for a team and career long for the player.

Book a football sports psychology assessment today

Sports Psychology can help answer questions such as:

  • What is it that helps each player perform at their best?
  • What can this player do to regain their confidence after a run of bad form?
  • How we help players continue to attack when facing tough opponents?
  • How can players manage their stress ahead of key matches when the spotlight and pressure is on them?
  • How do we get our players ‘up’ for the matches against what they see as a ‘lesser’ team?
  • How can our player let-go of missed opportunities and bounce-back much quicker than they usually do?
  • How do players maintain focus and refocus at will?

Psychologists can help in other ways too. For instance, I can help players understand their reactions to injury: the frustration, anger or dip in mood. The fear and worry about rehab progress, concerns about how quickly they will return to training and playing – or whether they ever will return to their previous level of performance. Fears about reinjuring the same area again, and so on.

As you can see, I can help with much more than positive thinking, motivating players and goal-setting. I can provide important additional input to the team as a whole, or to individuals at key points in the season (preseason, during the season, at big matches or when players are facing personal challenges). I can help at all levels of football and help younger players in the Academy or junior squads develop or overcome personal challenges that are experienced at an early stage in their careers. I can also help coaching and managerial staff understand the psychology of the game and to cope with the pressures that are part of the football business today.

My input to a club can vary depending on the club’s need, budgets and aspirations. This can range from being an on-demand consultant who players can access outside the club setting to being available more regularly on-site and involved in the club’s activities. Email to find out more about how we can work together.

Perhaps this season is time to more formally boost the mental side of your team’s game. If you don’t, are you giving the mental edge to your rivals?

Sports Psychology plays a big role in football performance. In these football psychology pages you can:

Football psychology research

Goalkeepers have it hard. While strikers take all the credit for scoring, goalkeepers only really get attention when they make mistakes. New psychological research has provided some fascinating insight into what goalkeepers do and ought to do when facing penalty kicks.

Azar and his research colleagues analysed 286 penalty kicks taken in elite matches and found that goalkeepers saved substantially more penalty kicks when they stay in the centre of goal, in comparison to when they jump to the left or right. However, in 93.7 per cent of penalty situations, goalkeepers chose to jump to the side rather than stay in the centre.

Goalkeepers saved 33.3 per cent of penalties when they stayed in the centre, compared with just 12.6 per cent of kicks when they jumped right and 14.2 per cent when they jumped left.

This is probably accounted for by the fact that goalkeepers will likely feel greater regret at letting a goal in after standing still in the centre and which is akin to not making an attempt to save it, when compared with choosing to jump (do something about the risk). This view seems to be backed-up by a survey of 32 top goalkeepers: Of the 15 who said their goal position would make any difference to how bad they felt about letting in a penalty, 11 said they would feel worse if they just stayed in the centre.

I also wonder if the arousal and stress in the goalkeeper just before the penalty, which prepares the body to move and in other situations helps us to fight or take flight, ‘tells’ the goalkeeper to move. Evidence for this would be found if goalkeepers who report experiencing greater arousal/stress move to the side more frequently than those who experience less arousal/stress.

There are a couple of implications of this research for intelligent goalkeepers:

  1. Stand in the middle more often and you are likely to be in the saving position more often. As long as other goalkeepers don’t modify their behaviour to stay in the middle more often, then your new strategy should pay dividends.
  2. If all other goalkeepers started staying in the middle more, with strikers and coaches noticing this, then strikers may modify their behaviour to shoot for the sides more often. If this happens it is time to review your strategy to stay ahead of the game.

Comments were based on research by: Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O.H., Ritov, I. & Keidar-Levin, Y. (2007). Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28, 606-621

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Dr Victor Thompson

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