4 July 2018

The England match - Football on the beach at UKFast CampusWow! What a game! Did you watch the England match last night? As usual the team made it harder for themselves, ending up on the penalty spot once again. Instead of crashing out, as they have done many times before, the penalty curse was broken! So what’s different this time around?

Many have praised team manager Gareth Southgate’s holistic approach to preparing the team for not only the World Cup but for every English football player’s greatest fear – standing on the penalty spot with the whole world watching!

Recovering from the embarrassing defeat to Iceland in the previous tournament, Southgate’s focus has reportedly been on ensuring that the team are comfortable with the memory of that game, and that it doesn’t drive their belief for future games. He talks often of the psychological barriers that teams face going into games and how to overcome them.

Ahead of the tournament, England captain Harry Kane said of Southgate: “…in recent times we haven’t been great for England in tournaments. It’s about trying to change that mental attitude and fair play to him for doing it.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” Muhammad Ali

Mindset, preparation, focus

As Muhammad Ali once said, the result of the fight, or match in this case, is decided long before the match itself. Preparation is essential and not just the physical preparation needed for a gruelling challenge.

How much more energy do you have when you know you can achieve something? When you’re excited to hit that goal? Compare that to how your body feels when you feel defeated, when you’re a few goals or shots behind, when your target seems further away than ever. When you’re in this state of mind, your body shows it. Your shoulders slump, which makes it harder to breathe. Your head is down which gives you less confidence. Your energy dips.

On the reverse, when you’re feeling good, your shoulders are back, your chest is out and you’re breathing well; you feel good! And it is this energy that gets you over that line.

Mindset, mood, belief – however you frame it, it has a huge impact on your physical capabilities.

Get your head in the game

Interestingly the star of the show, Captain Kane, has also reportedly been working on mindset and ‘brain training’. From the get-go he set a goal – to be the top goalscorer of the competition, claim the Golden Boot – regardless of the world-leading scorers he faced, like Ronaldo and Messi. He’s currently the top scorer in the competition with six goals so far.

He has also reportedly been taking part in a mindset programme used by American sports stars to literally get his head into the game. The results are clear to see. He’s known as the ‘King of Calm’, the coolest player on the pitch, managing to keep his cool despite challenging conditions and provocations.

Equally last night, with another extra-time half to play, his legs had gone. He seemingly had no energy left to give, yet he carried on. It was clear that there was no way he wanted to come off that field. Mind over matter on a global scale.

This focus on goal setting, on training the mind to focus in a certain direction is incredibly powerful. It’s also not a particularly British trait to have – more often associated with the big American motivators – so it is refreshing to hear more focus on the power of belief coming from our own national team. It certainly seems to be working so far!

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