Performance psychology

By: League Managers Association

With the right mindset we can perform at our best and respond positively, even in difficult situations. We ask the experts for their views on why we need to improve psychological performance…

Alan Pardew

More and more, we’re considering the mindset and the mood of the players, both in training and in the lead up to games. That’s in part because of the often negative impact of social media, but also because each player will have their own personal situation that they’re dealing with. Whether that’s a sick child, a death in the family or a gambling addiction, you have to be understanding and empathetic to what they’re going through.

In the past, I’ve chosen to leave players out of the side in order to protect them from media exposure in such difficult situations. If they are going to play, though, you have to understand how their situation and mindset might affect their performance and what flashpoints might push them over the edge. You have to be supportive, before, during and after the game.

It’s important to look at ways to minimise factors such as anxiety and distraction, which could limit a player’s performance in training and on match day. I believe that comes down to creating a working environment for the players where they feel at home and like they’re surrounded by family. They need to feel that they will be supported and looked after, regardless of their performance or what’s going on in their lives.

I know from my experience as a player how this kind of support can impact positively on your mindset and performance. Having a really strong team bond, where everyone feels they’re in it together, is also very important. What happens in the dressing room should reflect what the club is all about.

Using the services of a professional psychologist is very valuable when working on a performance mindset with the team, and even more so with individual players. But they can also help you as the manager, in particular when it comes to ensuring you’re communicating in the best way possible with the team.

It gives you an insight into the impact of your tactical delivery, whether you’re concentrating on minor or trivial points or are getting across the messages that really matter.

Alan Pardew can count West Ham, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and West Brom among the teams he has managed.

Michael Appleton

Sometimes confidence can be lacking in a player and, depending on the cause, there are things you can do to help them. For example, we try to help the players feel good about themselves by reminding them of, or trying to get them to reproduce, some of their best performances of the season. That might involve the use of videos or working with them on the pitch.

Ideally you want players who are happy, ready to play, and fully focused on the game, with no distractions. Clarity is very important here, because the players need to know exactly what you want from them, tactically and technically. You have to make sure you’re organised and your preparation is spot on, because there should be no excuses and you don’t want to leave anything to chance. If a player goes into a game knowing that the side has done everything it can to prepare and he knows exactly what he needs to do he’ll feel less anxiety, have more confidence and be more focused.

There will always be occasions when players have something on their minds that affects their performance. Their welfare is key, so if I suspect something is wrong I’ll try to get to the bottom of it. Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to ensure that the team is in a good place, but the players face different pressures and have different things going on in their lives.

Sports psychologists have a key role to play here in helping to offer guidance and support, both regarding issues away from football and in dealing with things in the game. At times, being able to open up to someone else has also given the players the confidence to come to me as the manager.

Michael Appleton has managed Portsmouth, Blackpool, Blackburn and Oxford United.