The greatest show on earth, namely the FIFA World Cup 2014 is upon us all. The 2014 tournament will be the most watched because of the multitude of media availability. One aspect that interests me is the psychological preparation of performers. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to outline how tournament football should be understood from a psychological and mental preparation perspective. Although the article will centre on the FIFA World Cup 2014, its intention is to make people aware of how they could prepare their own teams for tournaments. The psychological variables discussed here could be transferred to other sports.
Tournament football is different from normal qualification games as there are many different variables attributed to its actions. Tournament football requires three group games that are then followed by a knockout phase. Progression is only possible through winning your group or coming second. With this in mind, it would be useful to outline the psychological variables and mind-set that teams should employ.
Performers can suffer from negative pressure because they fail to deal with competition demands. Those performers who are able to cope with competitive demands are more likely to express themselves with freedom and expression. In order to cope with competitive demands it would be useful for performers to understand certain aspects. Examples include, understanding the environment, appreciating your opponents and accepting your own strengths.
Understanding the environment – For example, the environment in Brazil will be different from the one most performers are used to in their natural habitat. Brazil is a bigger country than most in Europe and therefore contains a range of differences related to climate, language, food, and playing surfaces.
Appreciating your opponents – ‘Never underestimate your opponent’ this is a key phrase because underestimating could lead to defeat. Opponents should be analysed and profiled by identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Many elite teams employ scientists who have this information readily available and one could argue that it provides an advantage.
Accepting your strengths – Coaches should support their performers by allowing them to acknowledge strengths by applying these to game situations. It is through mental strength building that performers can realise their own levels of self-confidence. Coaches should adopt this approach as it enables performers to know how they are appreciated.
Self-belief is critical for a performer as without it performance levels will be poor. Confidence levels are built through inner self-belief and further enhanced if performers believe that they can succeed, believe in their own ability levels and also have belief that their teammates can deliver.
An array of methods can be used to enhance self-confidence levels. One simple method relates to using phrases that evoke positive outcomes and feelings. For example, ‘I can do this,’ should be replaced with, ‘I will do this.’ This evokes a more powerful message than the first message.
Motivation is a crucial aspect for teams playing in tournament football. Whilst one may argue that you require limited motivation to participate in tournaments there are some exceptions to the rule. Performers should seek intrinsic and extrinsic value of motivation when participating in tournaments. It is proposed that performers should set process goals to meet both intrinsic and extrinsic levels of motivation.
Process goals are a necessity as too often coaches and performers are concerned with outcome goals. Outcomes goals alone are not good because if they are not achieved then motivation levels alongside other psychological variables become redundant. In addition, outcome goals lead to increased pressure being placed on performers that could induce greater levels of anxiety. Popular evidence suggests that negative anxiety is not good both mentally and physiologically.
4) Psychological Skills
To foster coping, increase self-confidence and engineer a motivational response employing psychological skills would enhance performance levels. Three popular psychological skills are imagery, relaxation and positive self-talk. Psychological skills need to be practised on a regular basis for them to become effective.
Coaches should implement psychological skills into their own training and advocate time towards practise. Indeed, psychological skills can be implemented through training practices where instructive use of psychological skills allows performers to focus on mind-set.
5) Mental toughness
Performers who have attributes of mental toughness are unique because they pay attention to small and subtle details. Throughout successful outcomes mentally tough performers will always consider how they can improve further.
It is imperative that performers concentrate on all factors that are essential to performance. Therefore, mentally tough performers will pay attention to technical, physical, nutritional and psychological aspects to engineer success.
Many characteristics of mentally tough performers resonate towards having the ability to focus on task(s), concentrate on important technical cues, bounce back from adversity, resilience and irrespective of the situation (e.g. winning or losing) maintain a sense of psychological balance.
To summarise, tournament football requires performers to be in a position of psychological readiness.