Academy Staff, United Soccer Academy.
Sports Psychology is playing an ever-increasing role in influencing soccer performance. At Ajax football club in Holland, their selection policy of 18 year old players depends 80% of the time on the intelligence and personality of the footballer! A Sports Psychologist can identify weaknesses in the psychological make-up of a player and can provide the necessary counseling so that the player can continually play at his optimal level of performance. So is it safe to say that players and coaches must look beyond physical and technical evaluation to assess underlying mental, emotional and even lifestyle issues?
Testing the personality of the player may prove beneficial. The coach can have an idea of the differences in personality between players and thus learn how to better handle this issue. Tests have shown that successful footballers possess superior mental and emotional health (less anger, tension and more vigour) than others who may need psychological support/counseling.
Sports Psychologists can also measure motivational and attention levels. Studies on Australian football have shown that top teams scored highly in tests on factors such as drive, determination, leadership and mental toughness. Similarly, a player's performance can depend on his arousal levels which refers to the level of awakeness, attention and alertness. As arousal levels increase so does the level of performance although there are optimal levels which should not be passed. Again a Sports Psychologist can help find and maintain a player mentally at these optimal levels.
Just look at Fernando Torres as a prime example. A technically gifted super athlete who has played the game his whole life all of a sudden due to his state of mind struggled with the basics of the game. Does he need more time on the practice ground? My guess is no.
So my question is, should more time be focused on evaluating coaches on their ability to interact psychologically with players, and should more time be spent teaching our coaches how to get the best from players in a mental and emotional way, rather than a tactical and technical approach?
Is a psychological coach even more important than a technical coach or should there be a balance? And what is that balance?