by Don McMahon
As you may know, I am a retired educational psychologist, so I know a bit about psychological evaluation, assessment, interpretation and behaviour management, to name a few items.
The term ¨psychology¨is bandied about far too often by people who have little or no idea about what psychology really is. They confuse it with cognitive functioning (thinking, interpreting, reacting) or with emotional/affective functioning (feelings, perceptions, emotions) or worse still with intellectual and mental aquity (intelligence, smartness,wisdom).
Sports psychology, which is a branch of applied psychology (as compared to research or abnormal psychology) is a valid and well researched discipline. By the old, broadly accepted definition psychology is the study of human and animal behaviour and their consequences. Therefore sports psychology studies and works with athletics and exercise and is applied to professional or amateur endeavours equally.
Tony is right to say that ¨I’ve learned to be cautious about drifting too far into a social science explanation of football,¨ as the sport is a very complex and convoluted competition and cannot easily respond to off the cuff pop psychological explanations as the media tries to do all too often. They try and tell us what we as fans are thinking, feeling, believing etc when really they don’t have a clue, because they can’t possibly know.
Gord and Dammy want empirical evidence, which basically means psychological and research findings, statistics, published data and techniques supporting issues and interventions for sports management. There is a vast library of such research and I imagine that it exists for Football as well.
Here is the rub;
- There are between 20 and 50 factors contributing to a player and team’s efficiency and effectiveness and among them is their psychological stability, personality and well-being, but it is NOT the most significant factor.
- Personality characteristics (there are between 16 and 40 well-defined traits psychologists have discovered so far) have a significant impact on how efficient and effective a player or team can be.
- Personal mental equilibrium can be very dynamic and can change dramatically from one day to another as can personal affect, mood, confidence, perception, focus and cognitive equilibrium, etc.
- Wenger often refers to belief, self-confidence, mental preparedness, team strength, urgency, focus, determination, patience, energy levels, fighting spirit, intensity, maturity, creativity, perseverance, quality, endurance, vulnerability, winning attitude, and enthusiasm when he assess his team’s performances. These are part of the framework that constitutes a team’s psychological balance and profile. However he can never deal with all 25 or so players in every detail.
- While psychology is a scientific study, unlike neurology or neuro-psychology, it is not an exact science just yet. Progress has been exponential in the last few decades, especially with recent neurological and anatomical discoveries about how the body-brain (or more properly the neurophysical) connection works.
If any readers want to understand a little about how human psychological homeostasis functions (homoeostasis – in layman’s terms the ideal balance between damaging excess and painful absence) they can think of their everyday experience of mood swings, emotional crises, stressors and stress responses and multiply that by many factors in a professional athlete’s life. When those critical of a player’s performance attribute that to some simplistic explanation like the conviction he doesn’t ¨care¨ or he has ¨lost the plot¨ or he is ¨tired¨ or he is ¨lazy¨ or some other euphemism for the fact that the critique hasn’t the least idea what is happening, it is both counter-productive and insulting.
When professional athletes need psychological support, assistance, guidance and remediation, here are a few things that sports psychologists do to augment that athlete’s performance;
- Relaxation training to help the person de-stress,
- Ideation (the forming of ideas and concepts) about success and achieving their goals,
- Meditation exercises to aid in managing psycho-physiological events,
- Self-analysis to uncover subconscious and unconscious issues,
- Hypnosis to augment personal cognitive and creative strengths,
- Personality assessments to determine an accurate psychological profile,
- Emotional conditioning to aid in managing phobic tendencies and negativity.
There are many more techniques and tactics that can help an athlete perform at a superior level but as I have already mentioned, this is an incredibly complex area in which new research is handing us new information all the time.
Recent posts from the Arsenal History Society
- Arsenal players 1934/5 and 1935/36 the fundamental problem with the team
- Arsenal in the summer 1936: from winning the Cup to an assassination attempt on the king
- April/May 1936; Arsenal win the Cup. A match report and season’s end
- Arsenal in the 30s – March 1936. Wembley again but player rotation starts affecting the crowds
And from Untold Arsenal