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The Psychology Behind Football – Why It’s a Mental and Physical Game

The amateur who watches football for the first time (assuming they understand the basic rules) will probably tell you that it requires serious physical effort to make some gain and move closer to the goal – and that’s correct; these athletes train their bodies to the extreme. It requires speed, strength, and a lot of perseverance to play.

However, it’s a mental game as well. As Knute Rockne apparently once said: “Football is played with arms, legs and shoulders, but mostly from the neck up.” He wasn’t talking about head-butting the opponents; to play football well, the players need psychological fortitude as well. Here’s the psychology behind football – and why it’s a mental game as well.

What’s football psychology?

Football psychology is the study of a player’s behavior during a football game – it’s not focused on whether the person scores or which tactics a player employs; rather, it focuses on why a person behaves in such a way, how a person feels or thinks, why this is so, and what can be done to improve the mental fortitude of a player.

The complexity

The mental aspect of a person is very complicated, and whether it’s gambling, dealing with difficult co-workers, getting someone to buy your product, or being a success in the game of football, there is also enormous complexity. With a rush of feelings or thoughts – or the lack thereof in the form of confusion – players can either act in a productive or unproductive way, which affects performance.

Mental requirements

Players need to be able to learn – during training and on the field during the game. They require mental alertness and must be able to adjust to quick changes. Anxiety, doubt, inability to ‘read’ the game, perfectionism, or lack of self-discipline can adversely affect the way a game turns out.

How coaching helps

Coaching often helps in two important areas:

  • Outside life. Every player has a private life, and it’s important for coaches to understand each player as a person, not just a player, to help performance.
  • Focus. There are certain things players should focus on (the action that needs to be taken), while unfortunately, too many coaches and players focus on the wrong things (mistakes made).

There’s a lot more to the psychology of football, of course, and all these topics are relevant: fear of failure, realistic expectations, self-confidence, stress management – all these factors blend together to create a vastly dynamic environment that sets the player up for failure or success. If these issues affect one single person, it’s easy to imagine how it can affect a whole team, and how it can be the deciding factor in the outcome of a game. Football is physical, no doubt about it, but it’s very psychological as well.

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