The past week has seen some of the Australian football community express concern over the mentality of some of the nation’s footballers.
From easy targets, like emerging young stars and an up and down Sydney FC side, to A-League players in general, many have had their mental fortitude called into question.
The issue of inconsistent performance has been the common of the discussion.
Whilst some have raised valid points, one thing missing has been a look at what causes these perceived up and down performances.
The clichés of ‘working harder at training’ and ‘not thinking you are better than you are’ have been wheeled out but they offer relatively little insight. The mind is far from easy to understand and the reasons why some players turn in a brilliant performance one week only to be poor the next are not obvious.
However, this is not to say that when you dig a little deeper some possible explanations emerge.
Chief among these is a player not knowing their role.
Think of any new skill you have learnt, as you learn more about it and practice the more consistent you become. Have a good teacher and you will pick it up much quicker and get to an expert level without having made as many basic mistakes.
The same is true of football: if you play in a team where your role is clearly defined by the coach there is less room to make mistakes as you know what is expected of you.
Play a brand of off- the-cuff football and it might work on occasions but it is bound to break down eventually as it places all the emphasis on making decisions on the run. In a pressure situation even the best players are unlikely to get it right every time.
Some may argue that this does not explain the occasional inability to perform the most basic skills, such as an easy 10 yard pass, which is second nature to all footballers.
They have a point but there is little as unsettling as playing in a team where there is no organisation, and the effect of this can make you lose the ability to perform the simplest task as uncertainty can undermine your confidence.
Furthermore the feeling of playing in a side where there is real belief in how the team is organised can have a real positive impact on your mentality. Rather than going into a match hoping things come off a player can prepare for it knowing their job and exactly what is expected.
With young players this becomes extremely important as they have not played a significant amount of matches and are reliant on the coach for ways of dealing with different scenarios.
Sometimes a coach may throw them in under prepared and they may thrive initially but a lack of understanding will eventually be exposed and their performances will dip.
When they do struggle people may quickly label them inconsistent but is a lack of mental strength really to blame for making mistakes when they were never really sure of what to do in the first place?
The same is true of seasoned professionals as all footballers thrive in an environment when they know exactly what is expected of them, even the most gifted such as Lionel Messi.
Labels of ‘winners’ and ‘mentally strong’ may be common but the people who win more often than not are the ones that understand their role in the team best, not just the ones that want it most.
Of course, mental strength plays a role in deciding who wins. But knowing what to do and how to do it is essential as uncertainty can undermine a player’s best efforts.
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