Football Psychology - improve performance with Sports Psychology
Sports Psychologists are one of the more recent groups of professionals to become involved in professional football. Although, it can be argued that the psychology of football has been there since day one – with every player, coach and manager thinking about how to get the best football performance.
The mental side of the football game is crucial for getting the best performance possible in matches and training, consistently over time.
Football Sports Psychology can help answer questions such as:
What is it that helps a player perform at their best?
What can a player do to regain their confidence after a run of bad form?
How can help players continue to attack and persevere when facing tough opponents?
How can players manage nerves and stress ahead of key matches when the spotlight and pressure is on?
How do players get ‘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 when they lose concentration?
How can players cope with demotion (or promotion)?
Football Psychologists can help in other ways too. For instance, I can help you as a player to understand your reactions to injury: the frustration, anger or dip in mood. The fear and worry about the rehab progress – or lack of - concerns about how quickly you will return to training and playing, and worries about whether you will ever return to your previous level of football performance. Then there are fears about reinjuring the same area again, and so on.
As you can see, I can help with much more than positive thinking. Football Psychologists can provide important additional input to the team as a whole, or to players at key points in the season: preseason, the main season, tournaments, at big matches or when players are facing personal challenges – because life events and stresses still happen to professional players and can really impact on performance (and wellbeing).
I, and some other psychologists, offer help at all levels of football. For instance, I often offer support to younger players in the Academies and junior squads to develop further and to 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. This has included helping referees and officials.
Sports Psychology help to your whole team or club
Think of the boost that Sports Psychology will give your football team.
Are you allowing your rivals to gain this mental edge?
My Sport Psychology input to a whole football club or team can vary depending on the club’s need, budgets and aspirations. This can range from being an on-demand consultant, that players can access outside the club setting; or being available more regularly, on-site and in attendance at training and other club activities.
If this is the type of help that your football club would benefit from, then get in touch to find out more about how I can help.
Perhaps this is the right time to more formally boost the mental side of your team’s game, or provide specialist support to your player(s). If you don’t, what might the costs be to your team?
Sports Psychology plays a big role in football performance. In these football psychology pages you can:
Free football psychology tips
Here are some football psychology tips to help improve your football performance and to show you a little more about the types of help I offer. The first section provides some quick sports psychology tips for your football, then you'll find a fuller section on setting goals.
Here are tips for helping you to:
Boost your motivation for playing football
Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills to help your game
1. Boost motivation for playing football
A. List the factors which motivate you to play, train and play matches.
These prompts might help:
What do you gain from training/playing/tournaments? (e.g., fun, hard workouts, the camaraderie of your teammates, better health, a competitive outlet, skill development etc.)
What do you still want to achieve in football?
If you didn't play football, what would you miss or lose?
Why did you originally start playing football and led you to focus on football?
Why are you still playing football?
B. During training and matches, think about and observe what you like and do not like about what you are doing. Write these down.
Highlight the most important reason(s) from A and B.
2. Increase your football confidence
In the situations where you are lacking confidence, allow yourself to become a little more aware of the thoughts (i.e., self-talk) you are having. If a thought is negative and unhelpful ask yourself:
Am I thinking accurately?
Is this thought helping me?
Can I see things in a more helpful and accurate way?
What would a more helpful thought be?
Can I express my thought in a way that includes what I want, not what I don’t want (e.g., “I can..” or “I will…” rather than “I won’t…” “Don’t…”)?
3. Manage football stress, anxiety and nerves
When you notice physical tension on or off the pitch, try the following:
Take a deep breath in, until your chest is filled
Hold for 5 seconds
Then let your breath out slowly, for 10 seconds or so, while thinking to yourself the word relax (or calm or easy)
Notice your body becoming more and more relaxed, as all the tension leaves your body
Repeat this process 5, or more times, each time deepening the experience of relaxation and confidence
If this is a problem area for you, make sure that you get your hands (and ears) on my Stress Management program, a full hour of audio, available straight-away via download. (If you prefer this on CD, then get in touch.) Read more details on my programs page.
4. Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills for football
This can help increase your ability to create, store and draw on powerful images:
Part A: Imagine you are home, sitting in your living room. Imagine looking around and taking in all the details. What do you see? What shapes? What colours? For instance, what furniture do you see? What is the shape and texture of each piece of furniture? What does the chair that you are sitting on feel like? What sounds do you hear? What is the temperature like? Is there any movement in the air? What do you smell? Use all your senses and take it all in.
Part B: Later, when you are at home in your living room for real, go and sit in the chair you had imagined in the exercise above. What do you see, smell, hear and feel? Do you notice details that you didn't call to mind, when you imagined the scene?
Repeat A (and B again if you like) and discover how your ability to generate vivid and detailed images improves.
5. Develop better football concentration
Here's a little taster of how to improve your focus:
Develop cue words that trigger the correct focus when you need it.
List the key aspects of your football performance that you want to maintain. Next, write down the individual words or short phrases that capture the essence this aspect of your performance, happening in an ideal or perfect way, likely including the perfect movement, your position or posture, and maybe also what you want to be thinking or feeling.
Here are some examples: "smooth shot," "stand tall," "see the clean pass," "let's go," "keep chasing," "relax" or "do it."
Test-out a word or phrase at training and matches, evaluating which one(s) evoke the best focus and help set up the movement or performance you want. Find a couple of these.
Next, identify something that will act as trigger or cue for these words. For instance, you might place a mark on your hand or wear an elastic band on your wrist. Then, when you notice your trigger, this will trigger you to think the words that you have worked-out that help.
Not only does this help your focus, it will boost your confidence too which will have a beneficial impact on your performance.
If you want more tailored help for any of these areas, then get in touch. We can then organise Sports Psychology assessment of your football performance and address your performance limiters.
Set effective goals for your football
There is substantial research linking goal setting to various aspects of performance. Goal setting can help increase focus and purpose to your training, helping you to work smarter and harder, leading to greater improvements.
Most athletes know that goal setting is important, but many don’t set them, or if they do, they set them less than optimally. Many set the same ‘woolly’ or vague goals each year. Which they didn’t achieve last year. We often hear these goals as follows:
“I’m going to do better in matches this season”
“I’m going to play better”
“I’m going to lose weight”
“I’m going to get fitter”
These statements are good, because they indicate a helpful intention. However, this isn’t enough, because:
How will we know that we have reached our target? These goals don’t have a finish line
When is the deadline for these goals? There is no stated timeframe.
Also, there are no review dates to check progress towards the goal, which isn’t ideal.
The best types of goals for sport are these 3 types:
Outcome goals relate to your final position or result (e.g., to win, qualify or beat a team). Outcome goals can be motivating but achieving them is usually determined to a large extent by factors outside your control (e.g., what team you are drawn against, how the rest of your team performs) and therefore can often lead to disappointment. Example: finish in the last 4 in a tournament.
Performance goals are more useful because they are based on your own performance and are unaffected (or affected only a little) by other people. Example: 15 tackles a game.
Process goals concern what you are doing at that particular moment. These may include physical aspects (e.g., level of tension), your behaviour (e.g., level of effort, biomechanics), your thoughts (e.g., positive, focussed on relevant factors), and your emotions (e.g., helpful ones such as excitement and enjoyment).
Most players focus too much on outcome goals. Little on performance goals. Rarely, if ever, on process goals. This is the exact reverse of how it ought to be. By focusing on process goals – what you are doing moment-to-moment – you will have your greatest chance of achieving your performance goal, which then increases your chance of reaching any outcome goal. This applies both to training and matches.
So, make sure you set and focus mostly on process goals.
Set goals for different timeframes: short, medium and long-term for football
It is best to have goals that have a range of deadlines. For instance, first set a goal for your year or season. Once you have this, then set three sub-goals for different times of the year. These sub-goals will, when achieved, put you on the road towards your big goal for the year.
Then look at shorter timeframes, setting performance goals for every 3-4 weeks, or so. These goals will then inform your focus for your day-to-day practice sessions (performance and process goals).
You will always be working towards a goal, which link to your longer-term goals and gives greater focus, purpose and results from your training.
If you would like further help with generating your key goals and on setting up training to improve your performance, then get in touch for your football psychology consultation.
Manage your football stress
Your frame of mind has a large bearing on how you play and the outcome of your game (the score and your enjoyment).
Much of this depends on how stressed you are when the game starts. By stressed, I mean:
How much tension you hold in your muscles. Tension will impair your movements and biomechanics – causing you to miss-hit.
How much adrenaline is coursing through your veins. Some is good, too much will put you out of your comfort zone, distracting you from your game as you wonder what on earth is going on with your body.
How negative your expectations are. Are you expecting things to go badly, to start poorly, miss tackles, passes or shots, let yourself or others down, make a fool of yourself…?
Pre-match tension builds in the hours and days before an important (to you) match. Your mind, diet and sleep all become affected by your rising levels of stress. How you manage this lead-up and during the match will have a big impact on the two most important areas:
Your enjoyment and satisfaction of the game
If you wait until match day to start managing your stress, you will almost certainly be too late to do anything really productive about it. If you would like to manage your pre-match stress better, to feel less nervous and more confident, then I have the solution for you. This solution is my Sports Stress Management Audio Programme or arranging a Sports Psychology consultation
My full sports psychology stress management programme tackles the three important areas:
Physical tension (with not just one, but three proven physical relaxation techniques)
Unhelpful stress-related behaviour (what you do or don’t do)
To feel less stress and greater confidence, go to the Program page to learn more and to conquer nerves today.
Football Psychology research for goalkeepers
Here’s just one example.
Goalkeepers have it hard. While strikers take all the credit for scoring, goalkeepers only really seem to get attention when they make mistakes. I’d like to highlight some psychological research which provides an insight into what goalkeepers do, and ought to do, when facing penalty kicks - often the banana skin for a team.
Azar and his research colleagues analysed 286 penalty kicks taken in elite matches and found that goalkeepers saved substantially more penalty kicks when they stayed in the centre of goal, in comparison to when they jumped to the left or right. However, in football matches, 93.7 per cent of the time, goalkeepers chose to jump to the side rather than stay in the centre.
The research showed goalkeepers successfully 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
With the significantly lower save rate when goalies move away from the centre, why do goalkeepers jump left or right so often?
This is probably accounted for by the fact that goalkeepers will feel greater regret at letting a goal in after standing still in the centre, which is like not making an attempt to save it, when compared with choosing to jump (where they do something about the risk).
This view is 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.
Also, I wonder if the level of arousal (stress) experienced by the goalkeeper just before the penalty, ‘tells’ the goalkeeper to move. An elevated increase in emotional and physiological arousal, caused by us perceiving threat, leads to the release of adrenaline – the ‘flight or fight’ stress hormone. This generates the ‘fight or take flight’ response, the urge to action, which in the case of a goalkeeper would be to jump one way or the other. We could test this by looking at levels of adrenaline, heart rate or reported levels of stress when facing a penalty taker, and mapping this onto to action (and non-action) by the goalkeeper. I would expect more relaxed and chilled goalkeepers (lower levels of adrenaline/arousal/stress) to keep still more often.
So, what should we do?
There are a couple of implications of this sports psychology research for intelligent footballers to learn from:
Goalies: Stand in the middle more often and you are likely to be in the saving position more often. As long as this doesn’t become the normal strategy for all goalkeepers, then your new strategy should pay dividends.
Strikers: Keep doing what you are doing. However, in the unlikely case of a trend developing for goalkeepers to mostly stay in the middle, then strikers would increase their goal success percentage by shooting for the sides more often.
Either way, a wise player is one who regularly reviews what leads to a greater chance of success – and non-success – to develop their abilities to the max.
My 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.