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INTRODUCTION TO SOCCER PSYCHOLOGY
 
WHAT ROLE CAN PSYCHOLOGY PLAY IN SOCCER ?
 

Over the last few years, the role of Psychology in Professional Soccer coaching has risen in importance. The appointment of Bill Besick as Psychologist to Derby County FC in the English Premier League has not only opened doors but has shown how this can help understand and improve player performance.

Sports Psychology is playing an ever-increasing role in influencing soccer performance. At Ajax football club in Holland, their selection policy of 18 year old players depends 80% of the time on the intelligence and personality of the footballer! A Sports Psychologist can identify weaknesses in the psychological make-up of a player and can provide the necessary counseling so that the player can continually play at his optimal level of performance. Besick himself mentions that players and coaches must look beyond physical and technical evaluation to assess underlying mental, emotional and even lifestyle issues.

Testing the personality of the player may prove beneficial. The coach can have an idea of the differences in personality between players and thus learn how to better handle this issue. Tests have shown that successful footballers possess superior mental and emotional health (less anger, tension and more vigour) than others who may need psychological support/counseling.

Sports Psychologists can also measure motivational and attention levels. Studies on Australian football have shown that top teams scored highly in tests on factors such as drive, determination, leadership and mental toughness. Similarly, a player's performance can depend on his arousal levels which refers to the level of awakeness, attention and alertness. As arousal levels increase so does the level of performance although there are optimal levels which should not be passed. Again a Sports Psychologist can help find and maintain a player mentally at these optimal levels.

Once a Sports Psychologist has discovered the personality, motivational and attentional styles of a group of players then improvements can be undertaken. Areas such as relaxation and mental imagery (where players picture themselves performing particular skills and actions during a game) can be used. Imagery self-hypnosis has been found to be useful as it allows players to narrow their attention and remove distractions. Goal setting, concentration and self-confidence sessions can also be implemented.

Keeping the team motivated and preventing players from becoming disheartened, feeling failure and losing self-esteem is vital. Good interesting coaching solutions can help as well, such as achievement through goal setting, sensation (through stimulating and exciting sessions) and affiliation (feeling of belonging to the club). Any good coach will tell you that team spirit is vital for success.

Studies have also focused on the coach-player relationship. Interestingly, Belgium trainers were found not to have sufficient understanding and a bad perception of the soccer player's personality. This could be due to the lack of effort to the psychological aspect of football in Belgium. Coaches have also been subject of studies measuring their stress levels. There is a close relationship between the game (greater heart rates at important moments) and high stress levels at certain moments in the season. Coaches like players must learn to evaluate and manage stress in order to ward off health problems.

Davey who has worked with many Professional Australian Footballers lists what he feels makes a good player psychologically...

1/ Slightly extroverted personally, slightly anxious
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His motivation is high to win, confidence, coachability, conscientiousness and determination
3/ Incentive to achieve excellence & success, likes stressful situations, is aggressive and affiliative
4/ Mood profile is less tense, depressed, angry, fatigued & confused and shows more mental vigour
5/ He can process information, not overloaded and has high self-esteem
6/ He sets goals, practices relaxation, imagery and self hypnosis before a game.

A soccer coach or player should never feel any shame in calling in the services of a qualified Sports Psychologist. The line between success and failure is very thin and players who are mentally strong and have the will to win stand a greater chance of tasting success than those simply believing in their physical and technical ability.

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