Psychologists explain how to prevent the pressure of an environment or the fear of committing errors that have a negative influence on a performance.

Sport helps combat stress. But sometimes it can be the cause of it. Especially in football, where it is not always easy to manage competitive tension properly. These negative emotions run a risk of not only interfering with a result on the pitch but also on the career of a player. How do you prevent this?

Before you start treating it, it’s important to know what stress is, how it is caused, what are the symptoms… And why it effects footballers so much. According to a investigation ran by Universidad Siglo 21, players are the ones that are most exposed to negative emotions like anxiety, nerves or fear. From the study held by the Argentine university on more than 400 professions, they found that only 15% of workers experience the same levels of stress.

Top level football isn’t the only place that you can find negative emotions. They also have an effect on young players at academy level. There are children and teenagers who aren’t playing the sport in a healthy way. “There are two factors that can cause stress related issues in football”, explains sports psychologist Fabio Ciuffini:

  1. External stress: environmental factors that surround a footballer, such as expectations that are generated due to his performance, the importance of a match, difficulties his team may face, pressures from friends and family or an overloaded schedule.

  2. Internal stress: this refers to everything on the inside of an athlete, like their own expectations, negative attitude, a low self-esteem or not dealing with their emotions in an incorrect manner.

According to Ciuffini “these factors cause physical as well as mental symptoms”. Some examples, the head of Calcio Scouting – an Italian project who’s goals are to encourage a footballers growth from psychological aspects and personal growth – mentioned “fatigue, heart failure, sleeping disorders, loss of appetite, migraines or an increased chance of injury”.

The consequences caused by stress can usually fuel below par performances and, in some cases, leaving the sport altogether. In grassroots football, this happens when the sport stops being fun healthy exercise and starts to become nightmarish psychological torture. It’s what is known as Burnout syndrome, in other words exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.

A study run by doctor Andrew Hill, a professor of Exercise Science at the University of Leeds, points out that 25% of teenage footballers are experiencing some symptoms of burnout. The investigation underlines that the footballers that are more exposed to competitive stress are those that feel the pressure of their environment the most or those who are most worried about committing errors. Their anxiety stops them from performing in the most productive way on the playing field. They lose confidence in themselves and start to doubt their way of playing instead of being quick and effective.

With this as the case, it’s all so clear that overcoming stress is a vital requirement for all footballers who want to shine. In sport, emotions are as important as technical or tactical abilities. For this exact reason you won’t be able to find a top level club without a sport psychology department. Designing strategies to beat competitive stress is one of their principal tasks. According to Ciuffini, to achieve this goal it is necessary to act on three fronts:

  1. Self-awareness. It’s important that footballers understand interior and exterior factors that cause stress. These are largely subjective elements, that can bespecifiedby a sports psychologist from individual sessions..

  2. Overtraining. To keep stress under control it is essential to fine-tune the rhythms and dynamics of physical activity. Wrong planning or an overloaded schedule – both training and competition – can run risk of burning out a player or producing subpar performances. In this case, more is less.

  3. Lifestyle. It’s underlying for a footballer to look after themselves on a daily basis, establishing behaviour that is appropriate for their development as an athlete. Not only from a physical stand point (diet, rest, healthy habits…), but also from a psychological one (emotional training techniques, relaxation…).

Acting on these three fronts is vital for kicking stress out of your game. But to accomplish it is only possible when footballers rely on collaboration from their team’s coaching department. With this is mind, it’s key for coaches to understand the importance of managing stress, and are capable of dealing in the best way possible when it comes to burnout related scenarios. In this day and age no club can afford leaving out sports psychology. Even less when it comes to footballers at a young age in their learning phase.

 

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