Football is a funny old game and, like all sports, the margins between victory and defeat are often razor thin. In fact, as the old saying goes, the biggest games are often won and lost even before the players step onto the pitch. When skills are evenly matched, the difference between victory and defeat can be on the mental side of things, and those who are weak in this area of the game often fall short of expectations.
Novice footballers naturally have to work on their physical skills if they want to succeed. For example, a modern full-back will need to work on their defensive strength as well as their attacking flair if they want to emulate the likes of Dani Alves. However, neglecting the mental side of the game will result in the aspiring pro reaching a plateau in their performances. Unfortunately, mental tactics in football are something of a mystery to many and it takes an expert hand to guide those who want to learn.
To help put you on the path towards mental game success in football, here are a few major points you need to take note of when you’re inspiring the next generation of players. Indeed, by looking at how strategists in games such as blackjack have used mental game tactics to improve their success rate, it’s possible to give young footballers a better idea of how they can enhance their skills on the pitch.
Confidence is the Preference of the Habitual Footballer
When youngsters play football for their first time, they have no perception of what works and what doesn’t and this imbues them with a certain amount of confidence. Although not confident in the same way adults experience it, the lack of inhibition and self-consciousness that children have when they play football is one of the reasons they enjoy the game so much and, therefore, thrive.
Of course, as players get older and they start to encounter opponents who are bigger, faster and stronger, it can dent this enthusiasm and, subsequently, knock the confidence out of them. Football is full of adversity and if you’re not able to compete with confidence then the rest of your game will fall apart.
According to US football coach and doctor of psychology Ivan Joseph, self-confidence is the biggest skill a young player can have. Away from being able to shoot, pass or head the ball, he believes confidence is the foundation from which all great players are built. Indeed, without belief in their own abilities, physically gifted players will often falter.
A great example of this is Paul Gascoigne (show in the video below). When it comes to skill and physical talent, there have been very few English players who can match Gascoigne. However, due to some inner demons and a lack of self-belief, some say Gascoigne never really fulfilled his potential. Clips of Gascoigne crying during the 1990 World Cup semi-final have often been held up as a sign of his confidence issues. In fact, these issues are highlighted even further when another England great, Gary Lineker, maintains his calm demeanor and confidence.
For Dr. Joseph, confidence is a skill that can be developed through a range of techniques, including repetition. Referencing the “10,000 hour rule“, Joseph believes that constant repetition breeds confidence because it takes a situation that’s novel to us and makes it common – and that’s what all aspiring footballers need to learn.
In fact, it’s possible to illuminate this concept further and apply it to another game where confidence is crucial: blackjack. Whenever you’re risking your own money it can do strange things to your confidence. However, a strong player will know that, regardless of the money at stake, they need to make the mathematically correct move. By reading through and putting it into practice over and over again, a blackjack player can become confident enough to start making all the right moves regardless of the stakes.
If this is possible in a game where money is at risk, then it’s also possible on the football pitch. Just because a certain play doesn’t yield a positive result the first time around, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just like a blackjack player that’s able to look past short term swings of luck and follow the right path regardless, aspiring footballers must stick to the tactics they know will work even if they don’t succeed the first time.
There is No “I” in Team
Other than “it’s a funny old game,” there’s one saying in football that’s repeated at all levels, but especially in novice matches: “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” As clichéd as it is obvious, this mantra has been kicked around the Sunday league pitches of the UK for so long that it has almost lost its meaning, which is unfortunate. Despite being trotted out by desperate managers with little left in the tactics tank, the quote actually has a lot of value when it comes to football strategy.
Humans are individuals but we always feel most comfortable being part of a group. It’s the reason we stick with our family and friends, it’s the reason the latest fashion becomes a trend. Humans like to stick together. Naturally, in a competitive environment this tendency can be used to our advantage and that’s something blackjack pro Al Francesco realized when he developed the notion of team play.
In the spectrum of casino games, blackjack is the one that offers the most scope for success because of the variables at play. Indeed, by determining the dynamics of a deck, a player can increase their expectation at the blackjack table. However, in isolation, this process can be difficult. Because of this, Francesco developed team play strategy in blackjack.
By working together, a blackjack team can enjoy a huge amount of success. This concept is one that’s also applicable to a football team. Throughout the history of the game there are countless tales of tactically inferior teams, such as Cambridge United, beating better opposition, such as Manchester United, in major competitions such as the FA Cup (a result that made Angel Di Maria want to leave Manchester United), simply because they worked as a team.
Confidence and Cooperation Create Champions
If each player is able to immerse themselves in their own role and understand that their contribution is vital to the unit as a whole, then even weak players can achieve great things. Regardless of the formation, whether it’s 4-4-2 or 3-5-2, novice players need to adopt the mindset of team play if they want to be successful. Indeed, Aristotle once said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s true on the football pitch.
Through a combination of individual self-confidence and collective synergy, players of all abilities can improve their game. While they may not be the most skillful players in the world, those who are able to adopt a confident, cooperative mindset can achieve great things in the game.