Football is more about psychology than tactics – The MastermindSite

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It’s not a headline you’d expect to see on a website so devoted to tactics and analysis. But as complex and debatable as it may seem, football is more about psychology than tactics. The best coaches are not always the best tacticians. But the best coaches are always the best motivators. The likes of John Herdman, Emma Hayes, Jose Mourinho and even Jurgen Klopp rarely talk about tactics when talking about the game. Instead, they pontificate about the psychology of their teams and players, and their attempts to pull the best of their mentality.

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The beautiful game is tactically complex in a way that no other sport can match. With 22 players on the pitch at any one time, battling it out in a 90-minute match on a 100-yard playing area, the game sees more strategic variation and complication than any other. But nevertheless, if a coach cannot bring out the best in the mentality of his players and the social dynamics in place, his teams will never reach their full potential.

While a team can find a path to victory despite poor tactical planning, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a path to glory despite poor psychology. Despite this, the psychological side of football remains a relatively understudied area. Although tactics can be rooted in hundreds or even thousands of complexities, these facets are ultimately easier to quantify and objectively qualify when observing a football game. Psychology, on the other hand, is rooted in just as many complications, but becomes much more difficult to study subjectively, even objectively. Even the players themselves can never truly know what is going on in their own heads, and it is difficult to draw conclusions and narrow down both qualitative and quantitative psychology research when measuring performance metrics. This makes a manager’s job all the more complex, as he must manage the personalities of over twenty-three players at any one time and ensure that each of them feels part of the plan.

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A manager like John Herdman often posits “brotherhood” – making his current generation of Canadian national team players feel and behave like a bunch of brothers. The goal is to make every player feel like they belong on the roster and can contribute to helping Canada realize their dream of competing in a World Cup, which they achieved in the end of March. Julian Nagelsmann meanwhile has long spoken of the importance of “social competence” in management.

“Thirty percent of coaching is tactical. 70% is social competence.

– Julien Nagelsmann

Essentially, the Bayern Munich manager understands that while he may be considered a tactical guru, it’s far more imperative for him to connect with his players and make sure they all feel like an important part of the game. project. Ian Holloway, who is credited with taking Blackpool to the Premier League and almost keeping one of the league’s smallest sides in the top flight, speaks at length about this exact notion. Although Holloway fully understands the tactics and speaks eloquently about his tactical planning en route to the Premier League, he also talks at length about tricking a team of non-Premier League level players into thinking they were ready for the Premier League.

“You can study tactics all you want, but management is all about psychology.”

–Ian Holloway

Holloway tries to understand the deeper characteristics of his players, behind what you can see at first glance. Emma Hayes does the same, frequently having short one-on-one conversations with his players about areas for improvement, focusing almost entirely on health, wellness, and spirit. A manager like Hayes understands that it’s not just the technical and tactical aspects of performance, and strives to understand everything that can impact his players on his players.

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Then you have a manager like Jose Mourinho, who often comes to the fore for the wrong reasons when talking about players’ psyches, but can also be a world-class motivator himself. He has overseen some of the best years of some of the game’s biggest stars (from Cristiano Ronaldo to Harry Kane) and centers his team’s talks on mentality, togetherness and conviction, far more than tactics. You’ll hear exactly the same notions take center stage listening to Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola talk about the game, or how Carlo Ancelotti strives to involve his players in the decision-making process. Again, it’s because football players are nothing without belief. When you turn individual belief into a team, you get the results of managers like John Herdman and Emma Hayes accomplishing more than expected with their teams.

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Psychology, however, goes beyond beliefs, trust and mentality, and concerns the decision-making processes on a football pitch. Analyzing the pitch, reading the situation correctly and putting thought into action becomes the goal of every player in every decision he makes. It requires a range of psychological characteristics – including the aforementioned belief and confidence to perform said action. But more than any other part of the body, the brain is constantly working on overload, and every decision must be made in seconds, even tiny milliseconds. Despite this, the psychological side of football remains one of the least researched and under-examined facets of the game. But if you watch a documentary or look behind the scenes at a professional club, you’ll see a range of performance issues. psychological issues that managers face on a daily basis. The task of working the psyches of more than twenty-three players in harmony is arduous, but when it pays off, the results always follow.


So there it is! Why football is more about psychology than tactics, and why the psychological side of the game deserves more attention. Be sure to check out more of our sports psychology related articles and follow us on social media @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite so you never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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