By Dan Abrahams
A pressure game – anxiety! A mistake made – frustration! A poor refereeing decision – anger! A goal against – despondency!
Soccer is an emotional game. Every match is packed full with incident – moments of action that cause your brain and nervous system to drive energy through your body. Energy with nowhere to go, energy that is hard to dissipate.
Emotions in soccer, especially negative ones can be sticky and they can cause a player’s feet to fuse to the turf…lethargy, sluggishness, slowness. Negative emotions can also be mentally destructive causing a tunnel vision that limits pitch awareness. Anticipation dulled, decision making weak.
Negative emotions – anxiety, frustration, anger, despondency – must be dealt with, and they must be dealt with quickly.
So how does a soccer player do that? How does a soccer player snap out of an emotional funk that is damaging his or her game, with speed? How does a footballer improve her ability to manage her soccer psychology?
It’s long been thought that either suppression or expression were the best ways to deal with an emotion. And research has been conducted that provides compelling evidence for both as the most effective way to reduce the impact of negative emotion.
However, there is another way, one that is garnering more and more support from the scientific community. And in my opinion, this way is particularly relevant for soccer players.
Allow me to introduce you to something called symbolic labelling. It’s an important tool for your football psychology.
Very simply this technique refers to the ability to find the right word to identify an emotional sensation. For example, “I am feeling anxious” or “I am getting angry”.
Interestingly, whilst you might think that describing the emotion would make it worse, brain scans have shown that labelling can actually cool the emotional part of our brain – the limbic system. There has been some great work done by UCLA neuroscientists Matt Lieberman and David Cresswell, who have found that in some cases labelling an emotion completely deactivates parts of the limbic system.
This is fascinating and so important for a soccer player.
“I can’t believe we let that simple goal go in. I’m getting frustrated. STOP. Let’s focus on the my game, let’s get on my toes for the next five minutes”
“I keep making mistakes today, I’m so angry with myself. STOP, I’m getting angry with myself and that won’t help. Let it go and focus on the next minute.”
It’s such a simple thing to do…label your emotions when you start to feel angry, frustrated, anxious or despondent. By doing so you’ll give yourself a better chance to stay focused on what’s relevant, to stay aware of the movement of your team mates and the runs of the opposition, to keep anticipating quickly and to make speedy, effective decisions.
Dan Abrahams is a global sport psychologist, working alongside leading players, teams, coaches and organisations across the world. He is known for his passion and ability to de-mystify sport psychology, as well as his talent for creating simple to use techniques and performance philosophies, and he is the author of several sport psychology books as well as the founder of the Dan Abrahams Soccer Academy. You can order his books and contact him at https://danabrahams.com/books/