Will to win vs fear of failure

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England vs Slovenia
England vs Slovenia

Have you been watching the England football team? At the time of writing, we (well I am English after all) have just beaten Slovenia 1-0 to progress to the knockout stages. The performance, in my view, being better, but far from good. The previous two matches saw us drawing 1-1 with the USA after a goal-keeping howler and 0-0 with Algeria after perhaps the most inept performance I’ve ever seen from my national side.

Now, theories abound as to why the team – so good on paper – have performed at a level so far below that of their potential. I don’t want to get into Fabio’s management style or John Terry’s divisive behaviour here; instead I’ll pick one thing I think is a major factor: fear.

It appears to me that the players are afraid. Afraid of making mistakes, afraid of being hammered in the press, afraid of appearing less committed than the fans, afraid of letting everybody down. They appear more afraid of losing than they do committed to winning.

What does this fear then cause? They manke mistakes and get hammered in the press. They appear less committed than the fans and end up letting everybody down.

Fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This may not easily be cured but if I were coaching the team I would bring their focus into the present moment. to simply think about the here and now. To focus on that ball at that minute; getting it to another bloke in the same coloured shirt (These are the basics, the rest can come later). There is no fear in the moment only in the past or the future. We fear a repeat of what has happened before or we imagine disasters ahead. Focusing on the here and now helps replace these unhelpful, self defeating thoughts with a focus on something more useful and appropriate.

What better way of putting these ideas into action than the game against Germany that faces us next. Already most pundits favour Germany and so “fear of failing to live up to expectations” has already disappeared.

Play the game boys, enjoy this rare opportunity and learn from every moment of the game and remember that the real opponent is that unhelpful voice inside your own head. Pay attention to something more useful instead. Emile Heskey perhaps?

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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