WINNERS & LOSERS: what is the real meaning of a “winning mentality”


Tony’s excellent 10 point review of the Arsenal and my personal experience in winning and losing, inspired this opus about the “winning mentality”, the journos and aaa go on about.   And as a psychologist, I can explain a little about the so-called “winning mentality.”

First off, a few definitions to clarify things;

An attitude is an expression of favour or disfavour toward a person, place, thing, or event (the attitude object).*   Some psychologists divide attitudes into 4 sub-categories:

  1. Utilitarian: provides us with general approach or avoidance tendencies
  2. Knowledge: helps people organize and interpret new information
  3. Ego-defensive: attitudes can help people protect their self-esteem
  4. Value-expressive: used to express central values or beliefs

A mentality is a mindset or pre-conceived perception of what reality presents. This can be both conscious (i.e. elitism, humanitarianism etc.) and unconscious (i.e. racism, inclusiveness etc.) One can also have both extremes and a combination of both present in one’s mind but when they are too discordant; it can lead to neurosis and even psychosis.

The so-called “winning mentality” is in fact a misnomer;

1) It is not a “mentality” at all but rather an attitude. The difference in the sporting world at least, being that a mentality is persistent and usually immutable, an attitude can change depending on the circumstances the individual or team are facing. This distinction is important in psychological terms.

2)” Winning” is entirely the wrong term to use when describing an attitudinal state. It innately implies that one not having it is in a “losing” attitude…but that is not true.

Individuals or groups can lose their feeling of winning but still feel like winners. Take for example against AC Milan and Marseille in the CL over the last few seasons. We lost at home rather convincingly but went into their grounds and won rather convincingly, both clean sheets. That is an example of losing and yet maintaining a winning attitude.

3)The correct psychological definition implies that there is a very strong and lasting psycho-physiological link between a positive attitude and a can-do philosophy that permits an individual and/or a group to persist, endure, knit together and overcome most serious obstacles (in our case the officials, the EPL brutality, the indifference of those who should care,etc.) by taking their game to a higher level despite the opposition’s best attempts to drag the entire game down.

4) A positive attitude allows the team to ignore and even profit from the psychological mind games their adversaries and opponents may try to play. Moanhino is masterful at throwing the cat in among the pigeons so to speak BUT that approach is inherently risky as he often ends up with pie on his face. Wenger’s cool-hand Luke, elegant indifference to such mind-games is the best example of classic savoir vive and professionalism that makes Moanhino appear more the court jester and fool than the savvy mindbender the press love to fantasize about.

5) In psychology 101, the instructor will often start with the fundamental concept of what is called singular perception. This means that one cannot be positive and negative at the same time. It doesn’t mean we cannot have doubts about our attitude but it does mean that even when doubting (a normal human characteristic)we , like a canoe that tipped over, can always be flipped upright eventually. It is also known as homeostasis and means that the psychological and physiological nature of humans seeks to balance or maintain or return to a healthy status quo before all else.

6) The concept of psycho-physiological equilibrium means that when one’s attitude is positive and upbeat (optimistic?) then one’s bodily performances will follow suit and vice-versa. Thus, Wilshire has another medium term injury and so his mental state is probably perturbed and while not pessimistic, certainly preoccupied with his misfortune. The true recuperation will be the balancing of his physical and attitudinal states as he recuperates (a word from the Latin recupere= recover, return to a former state, re-establish normality).

So does the Arsenal have a positive attitude and confidence sufficient unto the task that faces them? Only time will tell, since one match will NEVER indicate the reality.

We have seen them present a dramatically (almost opposite) performance from the first half of last season up to our game in the Charity shield. We saw them win 3 trophies in about four weeks and double up on two of them as well.

Wenger is a MASTER at motivating and supporting his teams, at convincing them that ANYTHING is possible and at preparing them to overcome WHATEVER fate and the PGMOL throw their way….will it be enough, we will only know next June.

* Alpert, definitions of psychology.


The books

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years

Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910

The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal

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19 Replies to “WINNERS & LOSERS: what is the real meaning of a “winning mentality””

  1. Excellent piece Don.

    What I’ve always been irritated by is the adoption of mantras by football fans once started by notable figures in the game and repeated enough by intellectually idiots.

  2. Excellent piece Don.

    What I’ve always been irritated by is the adoption of mantras by football fans once started by notable figures in the game and repeated enough by intellectually deficient idiots.

  3. Talking about Mentality, and to quarantee the Gunners becoming winners of the fifthruple this season with 1 out of the 5 titles, the Shield already in Arsenal’s trophy vault. The Gunners MUST quickly developed without further delays, THE SERIOUSNESS TECHNICAL COMPETENCE MENTALITY. Look at those 5 sitters missed late on in the 2nd half by Giroud 2, Cazorla 2 and Gibbs 1 in front of goal with only Courtois begging not to be beaten and those 3 Gunners agreed not to beat him due to their profigacy in front of goal which is as a result of their lack of GOAL SCORING TECHNICAL COMPETENCE MENTALITY in front of goal. I know they lift the Shield. But they also had the chances to lift it with much Colour by beating Chelsea by at least 3-0. I have commented on some articles posted on the Untold & Justarsenal websites where I said the Boss should sign a top quality left back. But the Boss is yet to act on this matter. I am not happy as I saw Remires and Hazard split the Gunners defense line open in the 1st & 2nd half and our 2 CBs allowed Remires to sized up Cech and Hazard had time and space to beat Cech, save the half intervention of Koscielny that might have led to Hazard skying his shooting. Where was Monreal? Now that the Boss has Iwobi at his full disposal to deploy him to the right wing pending when Wilshere recovered. I want the Boss to start the 20 year old lad for the West Ham game at right wing. The Boss should allow Cazorla to start in his now usual position of CDAM. And start Ramsey who should be the cover for Cazorla in this game from the bench. I had Bellerin on my bench in my starts today on website where I republished my starts & bench. Iwobi may not be able to last the full 90 minutes of the game. For the purpose of this WH game, the Boss can use Bellerin as cover for Iwobi.

  4. Can also include sacrificing values & priciples to gain a favoured result.

    So in footballing terms, the manager who instructs his team to park the bus/play for a draw so as to uphold a meaningless unbeaten record (now broken!) over a rival manager.

    Or another example is bullying/coercing refs & officials into giving their team favourable decisions that “win” them maximum points.

    Seems like there are a lot of way to “win” yet still remain a loser.

  5. @SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I find it very difficult to read your comments. Please space your paragraphs out so that we can read them without our eyes going buggy.

    BTW, I disagree with your analysis of the match. I thought that the boys defended quite adequately. yes, Chelsea did get some half chances but that is to be expected from a team of their quality. I thought that their strikers Remy and Falcao played poorly or were marshalled quite well by our defendrs; their runs were easily picked up for the most part.

    As for our “GOAL SCORING TECHNICAL COMPETENCE MENTALITY”…a bit of an overreaction don’t you think? Technical competence has nothing to do with mentality nor attitude. As for competence…Yeah, we missed some chances no doubt but I would say only 2 were great chances and one fell to our left back. Could we do better, sure. Do we need to? HEY, WE WON THE GAME.

  6. Very nice Don . For quite a long while Arsenal were a soft touch and did not have an aggressive leader or example. Last season Alexis burst forth and for at least the first half of it inspired the team by example. He pulled up the rest by the scruff of their neck by his aggression and positivity . As he ran out of steam , along came Le Coq who inspired by his hardworking and competent displays. That away game against Man.City saw a definite change in our attitude and other than a few hiccups , we were constitant till the end. We have as a team turned the corner and I hope to see it carried on this season.

  7. Bootoomee

    Long time no see my friend.

    Summer hibernation over?

    Nice to hear from you.

  8. As a regular of untold and one who rarely contribute by way of comments and analysis. I must say that I have grown to loathe this @SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin guy and some of the utter fecal matter he spews every now and then. He has the understanding of a 9 year old (harsh I know) but he should just grow up.

    Anyways nice write up.

    long time no comment. good to know you’re okay.

  9. I would love to see this positivity to be also shown by the fans in the stadium by cheering on their team , no matter what. Carry on with the Arsenal Wave! No more booing and displays of nervousness ,as was shown in previous seasons when Ashavin , Squallachi and other subs were being introduced. Get behind the team and please cheer for us , who are physically unable to be there.

  10. Collins Elechi………..poor Samuel, he is clearly an African (English 2nd language?) and also clearly a fanatical supporter/Gooner BUT he does ramble on and has no concept of syntax,grammar or punctuation in English. Maybe in his native language these things don’t matter but here on UA, a post has to be readable at least.
    That said, he is entitled to post his opinions here,shite or not, as long as he respects the other UA members.

    Thanks to everyone for their kind comments.

  11. Good post – mind bender. I will be there on Sunday to support our boys & also to observe the techniques of Wet Spam & their devious coach (good but devious).

    Collins – so right about SAA.

    Bootomee – nice to see you again.

    I think we need it all SMA, PMA, DNA, PMT, LNT, LWT, BGT, & FGL.

  12. Jambug, Collins (& others),

    Thanks for noticing my absence. Due to some positive changes in my circumstances I couldn’t post for a while and could barely follow the blog. I can do these a little bit now but I doubt that I’ll ever be the regular that I was.

  13. SamuelAkinsola,

    I always like your positive and endearing approach. Your triple comments and spiritual words are legendary here. However, I disagree the way you demand AW in his team management and tactical play. We as a community here clearly hate the AAAs so acting like one isn’t helping. Your grammar doesn’t bother me but perhaps your suggestions or ideas could be more polite and professional(?). Let’s enjoy for what Arsenal team have grown and achieved for the past two seasons and keep a positive wish for the coming years. You will needing a tight buckle for this ride.

  14. Bootoomee

    Glad to hear of the ‘positive’ changes.

    Look forward to hearing from you as often as you can make it.

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