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English Premier League

The growing use of Sport Psychology in football



As the intensity and expectations of the modern game continue to grow to higher levels each season, it is clear that the mental strain of being a footballer is greater than ever. While footballers themselves may not necessarily be famed for their intellectual talents off the pitch, it is hard to argue that the intelligence required to be successful on the pitch is huge. The mental strength of a footballer is something that has become the focus of attention a lot more in recent years, as teams and individuals attempt to discover more efficient methods for achieving optimum performance.

Football is certainly a sport where it is possible for a very hostile atmosphere to emerge and where it is very easy for emotions to get the better of players. In a day and age where the slightest error in judgement can lead to a red card or make the difference between winning or losing, it is has become more and more important for players to be able to keep their emotions under control.

It is fair to say that many of us would struggle with many mundane everyday tasks if we had tens of thousands of fans chanting at us and trying to damage our mind-set and concentration – and it is for exactly this reason that sport psychology has become a key component in the setup of more and more clubs throughout world football.

Sport psychologists already have strong presence in many other sports. For example, Andy Murray has recently stated that he has been working with a sport psychologist to help improve his on-court mentality. Mo Farah has also made it known that he used the tools made available by sport psychology to make sure he was in the perfect mind-set before the 2012 Olympics in London – it is fair to say that the Olympics went quite well for Mo with two gold medals coming home with him. The London 2012 Team GB cycling team also used sport psychology to aid in their very successful Olympic campaign with Team GB securing 12 medals, including 8 golds.

It is appears that football is starting to follow the example of other sports as the use of sport psychology within the game has become a lot more frequent within the past couple of years. You don’t need to look very far to see some examples in football columns. Alan Pardew has confirmed that he is using a sport psychologist to improve his pitch side behaviour after a number of touchline incidences, perhaps culminating in a 7 match ban following a headbutt on Hull’s David Meyler. Jon Flanagan has also enrolled the use of a sport psychologist to ensure that his recent long term injury did not interrupt his mentality. In addition to this, Tim Sherwood also recently refused to rule out calling a sport psychologist to improve the mind-set and attitude of his recently inherited Aston Villa squad.

Sport psychology hasn’t always held such an important place within the setup of a football club however, during Graham Taylor’s reign as England manager Dr John Gardner was appointed to help the team with confidence issues. This was met with incredulity by some of the squad who saw it as pointless. One player was quoted as saying “I couldn’t see much in it myself. I’d much rather have a sleep on the afternoon of a match than someone trying to instil confidence in me”. However, football itself has largely moved on from this mentality and has definitely moved beyond the days of players smashing their heads against the changing room door in an attempt to psyche themselves up.

Roy Hodgson brought in elite sport psychologist Dr Steve Peters for the Brazil World Cup last year, who has worked with a number of elite sporting athletes including the Team GB cycling team, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and the Liverpool football team. Peters was described by Hodgson not as someone who will not “come and lecture to the players” but as an individual who “understands the footballing environment and will join us and be with us”. Furthermore, Steven Gerrard also described the work he had done previously with Steve Peters following a serious groin injury in 2010 that caused Gerrard some worry for his career. Gerrard stated that he had worked with Peters for 3 years and had found his “most consistent form of his career both for England and Liverpool” since beginning to see Dr Peters. Gerrard also stated that Peters had helped him with mental preparation during one-on-one meeting and if the England players buy into what he is saying, that sport psychology could become a very useful tool for players to utilise.

The one-on-one element and lack of lecturing to a big group of players is critical to sport psychology. When a sport psychologist is hired by a club, it is unlikely that they will actually arrange any meetings with the players and will only be used if the players feel they need to see them. This is mainly due to the fact that each individual is different, which means that different methods are needed to help different players. So, what sort of techniques could sport psychologists teach to players?

Perhaps the most common method that is taught to footballers is self-talk. It is quite common that many individuals playing sport will engage in some form of self-talk, but it is much more effective when it is used in conjunction with a sport psychologist. This method is founded on the belief that it is possible to improve your performance or temperament through the use of memorised trigger words. It is not uncommon when seeing a close-up of a player following a phase of play to see them talking to themselves, and it is not unlikely that they are practicing this exact technique of self-talk. This technique also plays into pregame preparation. If a player has had a strong mental preparation prior to a game and feels ready for the match, it is much more unlikely that an incident will cause a player to lose their head or let other emotions get the better of them. It also helps players to be more confident in their own ability and feel a lot more relaxed prior to kick off.

Another method that is quite commonly used is designed to help players when things go wrong. For example, if a player makes a mistake; it is not uncommon for them to have an action that helps them forget the error. Some players may wipe their shirt, or straighten part of their kit. The main aim of this is to learn to deal with a mistake, rather than reacting to it. An example of this is Roy Keane in the 1999 Champions League semi-final. Keane was booked in the first half, meaning that he would miss the final. It was clearly a mistake by Keane to get booked and instead of overreacting to the situation – he dealt with it and put in a man of the match performance and Manchester United booked their place in the final as part of their Treble winning season.

It is clear that sport psychology holds an increasingly key role in football and it is likely to only become more used as scientific evidence for the techniques and methods become more prevalent. Football is sport that is requiring players to constantly becoming faster, stronger, more technically gifted, and better at dealing with the growing mental strain of the game. Football also has more at stake than ever before with growing TV deals, more money on the line and increasingly demanding owners calling for success. It is likely that sport psychology will be just one of a number of tools that are used by clubs and nations to find the edge that could mean the difference between ultimate success, and the axe falling on yet another manager.

Calum is a Reading fan and has been a season ticket holder for many years. He is currently studying for a degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology.

English Premier League

Everton must secure Frank Fabra signing before World Cup

The Colombian is set to star at the World Cup with his nation.



Photo: Getty Images

Everton are currently being linked with a move for Colombian left-back Frank Fabra. According to Argentine radio station El Crack Deportivothe 27-year-old is being considered as the left-back option Everton need.

Everton have been lacking in the department this season. With Leighton Baines suffering injury trouble throughout the campaign, natural right-back Cuco Martina has done his best in the role. Everton thoroughly need a new left-back and Fabra is an impressive option.

(Photo by Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)

The Boca Juniors defender was linked with Manchester United and Chelsea by Sky Italia’s Gianluca Di Marzio in 2016. A powerful full-back, he has all it takes to be a star in European football.

Everton are, therefore right, to be targeting the Boca star.  However, the Toffees must try to wrap up any potential deal before the World Cup in Russia this summer.

Fabra is looking increasingly likely to be Colombia’s first-choice at the competition. Pablo Armero has had his day and Fabra is the popular choice to play the role of left-back or left wing-back.

Colombia, who are in Group H with Japan, Poland and Senegal, have high hopes of going far in the competition. Four years ago they suffered a narrow quarter-final exit at the hands of Brazil.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Fabra will no doubt be key to any success that Colombia have in the competition and therefore will catch the eye.

Everton will be fully aware what a top World Cup performance can do to a player’s value. If the Toffees want to bring in Fabra doing so before the Russia World Cup could end up being a worthwhile cost-cutting exercise.

Regardless, Everton fans will just be pleased to hear that the club are starting to identify potential options to strengthen one of their weakest positions on the field, even if it is not a household name.

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English Premier League

£43m for Toby Alderweireld would be great business for Tottenham Hotspur

It seems that the Belgian defender is definitely on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur.



It seems as though Toby Alderweireld is on his way out of Tottenham Hotspur.

It is being reported by Het Laatse Nieuws today that the Belgian’s contract talks with Spurs have been halted.

With the Belgian out of contract in the summer of 2019, Spurs will attempt to cash in on Alderweireld now.

A fee of £43 million has been mentioned for the player, who reportedly wanted a wage to match that of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.

Tottenham’s stance of not paying out big wages to their top players has often been criticised. But on this occasion, the Lilywhites are doing the right thing.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

On his day and when fit, Alderweireld might be the best centre-back in the Premier League. However, it has been a long time since the Belgian had such a day.

Most of this season has seen Alderweireld on the treatment table. When he has played, it has always seemed a precursor to his next injury.

Given his age and contract situation, the injury record gives Alderweireld three strikes. At £43 million, Tottenham would be getting a fantastic deal for their defender.

The report from HLN claimed that Alderweireld wanted a wage in the region of €180,000-a-week (£160,000-a-week). Such a sum is vast for a player with his current issues.

The fact Spurs were reportedly willing to go as high as €120,000 (£105,000) per week shows that Daniel Levy tried to keep the Belgian, even doubling his current wage, but Alderweireld is on his way.

It will be a shame for Spurs but breaking the wage structure at the club for an injury prone defender would not have been a wise move.

Eventually, Tottenham might have to be more lenient with their wages, but that should be saved for the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen.

Tottenham should take £43 million for Alderweireld and persevere with the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth.

Alderweireld’s next club will hope they can keep the Belgian fit long enough to reap the rewards of his potential signature.

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English Premier League

Ronald Koeman admits he wanted Memphis Depay at Everton

But would Everton have benefited from his arrival?



Ronald Koeman is about to kickstart his managerial career with the Dutch national team. It is his first role since getting sacked by Everton and his first foray into international management. Speaking about his new role he discussed the former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay.

Speaking to the press, as reported by Football Oranje, Koeman revealed that he had tried to convince Depay to join Everton whilst he was manager at Goodison Park:

“I invited him to my home last year, when I wanted to get him to Everton. That did not work, he went to Lyon.”

during the Netherlands Training session held at KNVB Sportcentrum on March 20, 2018 in Zeist, Netherlands. The Netherlands will play England in a International Friendly match on March 23 in the Amsterdam ArenA.

Depay was with Manchester United at the time, where he had struggled to live up to his potential. Instead of joining Everton he headed to Lyon in France in a deal reported by the Telegraph to be worth £16 million.

So have Everton missed out?

Depay’s struggles to settle in English football are well known. Since his move to France things have certainly improved. Depay has scored 18 goals since his move to France. However, considering he scored 28 goals in his final season at PSV prior to his United switch it is still not a massive amount.

ZEIST, NETHERLANDS – MARCH 20: Netherlands Head coach, Ronald Koeman walks out for the Netherlands Training session held at KNVB Sportcentrum on March 20, 2018 in Zeist, Netherlands. The Netherlands will play England in a International Friendly match on March 23 in the Amsterdam ArenA. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

In the time he has been in France those 18 goals have come from 61 games. His form has been good at Lyon but certainly not to the standard many expected of him when he made the move to Manchester United.

That said, £16 million today in today’s market is not a lot of money. Looking at Everton’s team, having Depay playing from the left side would have been a massive bonus for Koeman, and now for Sam Allardyce.

Depay still has plenty to improve upon and hopefully Koeman can get the best out of him during his time as the Netherlands boss.

As for Everton, they did not get their man and paid a lot more for the man he would be battling for first-team football Yannick Bolasie – who has not yet been a hit at Goodison Park.

So, all things considered, Everton probably should wish Koeman had managed to convince Depay into a Merseyside switch last January.

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