Systems - Belief In Winning

Posted by Vulmea on January 10, 2013, 12:22:27 PM

So there are tactics, there are systems, individual player abilities etc etc – they all have an impact on a game, they all have an importance to the game but there remains one largely intangible element to it all and that is belief, confidence, determination, that bit between peoples ears.

Sports psychology is big business these days. Every top player has one it seems, golf and tennis and the individual sports have had Svengali like figures for years. Probably over the last decade it has even become accepted within the closed ranks of football.

Facts are it has been around since the first alpha male got the lads together to go hunt some mammoths.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act but a habit” said the noted head shrinker Aristotle.

It’s been called lots of things. In football it was motivation, man management. We’ve had ‘the crazy gang’ at Wimbledon, the enduring romance of the cup, the  miracle of Istanbul all clear examples of the power of belief.

Albert Bandura, possibly the most quoted man in the field created his theories on self efficacy some time ago now. Science has shown repeatedly how the mind is more important than the physical reality – experiments have shown tell a weight lifter , the weight is lower than it is and he’ll lift it, tell him its heavier he’ll fail. The power is in the mind.

We aint being silly here, its not saying somebody can suddenly lift an elephant but that 5% margin between success and failure that’s were the old noggin comes in. Its why whatever system we opt for has to include getting that winning mentality. Its why despite development of kids concentrating on shape and space and movement, it also needs to breed belief in what we are trying to do.

Belief can work both ways, think you’ll win and you increase your chances or winning , think you’ll lose and low and behold you’ll most likely lose.

But in todays football where sides are so well matched physically and when chalkboards proliferate, when opposition players come with a 6” thick dossier and dvds to boot, more and more the mental side is going to determine the victor.

During the Olympics scientists have studied the winners. Testing how well prepared they were mentally, technically and physically. Only the mental determination could be statistically mapped to Olympic success.

Mental barriers in sport are legendary. The easiest example is the 4 minute mile. Good old Roger Bannister haring round that track nearly killing himself with the effort of it all, to break the unbreakable barrier. Within 18 months 16 other athletes had accomplished it……..it was not a physical barrier but a mental one.

So ok, were does this fit in terms of footie and LFC.

Well we don’t think we’re very good do we? We set our own expectations and beliefs. It has been a gnawing pain in the arse for me that the team that performed in Istanbul does not have an enduring belief in itself.

We know Shanks was a manager and a half. He managed not only a team but a whole generation of Reds.

“A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are. “

Role on 40 years to the new breed of manager, the intellectual, professor Arsene Wenger
“To achieve great things you have first to believe it”

This isn’t stem cell research or quantum mechanics, it is as old as time. Success is in the mind.

Our team for two decades have been good but they haven’t been champions. We have not won the Premier League although I can think of at least two years when we could have. Over the last two seasons we’ve lost countless games we’ve dominated.

True football is a rare game. It’s one of the few were the best team, the most skillful, the dominant, the most pleasing to watch can lose. You rarely if ever find that in golf or tennis or rugby or cricket. In those sports those who play the better game almost always win. In football it just does not work that way. Probably because it is such a low scoring game.

Underlying our lack of a title though I think there exists a lack of belief. This is why I want to give BR time. I want to see him put out teams that show they believe.

“The spirit, the will to win, the will to excel are things that endure, these qualities are so much more important than the events that occur”Vince Lombardi

If BR can produce a team that shows this then I'll be happy.

I can remember one season were we had that belief but it was forged too late in the season and United were able to hang on. For the rest we simply have not believed. In part this is down to individual games were results have not gone for us and this for me  is were true champions come to the fore. They refuse to accept bad luck, poor refs, the wood work as excuses and they make another chance and another until the world falls right and they win the game. In those rare instances when that determination fails then the next game is more intense, more important to put things right.

“The harder you work the luckier you get”Gary Player
“Its not whether you get knocked down, its whether you get back up”Vince Lombardi
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed”Michael Jordan
“A champion is somebody who gets up when he can’t”Jack Dempsey
In the days when we won titles we were renown for scoring late goals. Oddly enough United now have that same reputation. Coincidence?

In the days when we won titles, we stepped onto the pitch expecting to win. The opposition stepped on the pitch expecting to lose. Both sides were generally right.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in luck or the rub of the green. I think Kenny had an extraordinary amount of bad luck early last season but eventually it just got into his teams psyche and he couldn’t get it out not when I suspect he knew and the players knew from February on he was on his way.

That’s partly back to Bandura but also down to group stereotypes. Prof Alex Haslam has done some work on group stereotyping and shown it to be particularly powerful.

If you see yourself as belonging to a team, group, race that wins. You generally win. See yourself as belonging to a team that loses and…….it explains those ‘runs’ in football were teams can’t buy a win or can’t stop winning.

So using United as an example if they see themselves as belonging to  a team that wins and wins late regularly, then oddly enough theyare going to have  a better chance of winning and winning late. It becomes self fulfilling.

Where’s all this drivel leading?

Well, however cleverly we dissect tactics and performance. However well we can assess an individuals talent or contribution much of what happens in  game of football remains between the players ears and boild down to a will to win, a belief in yourself or your team mates.

Sure a style of play can help, a familiarity with your team mates but these are serving two purposes. One is tactical , were positioning and use of the ball is creating a physical edge but just as, if not more importantly its creating a belief that you are going to win, if you do these things well success will follow.

It’s why I’m often down on the tactical dissections of games as though they are the main determinant in games, for me the biggest determinant is state of mind. The tactics are often what is tangible, you can see people making runs, positioning etc you can’t see what going on inside though and its at least equally important.

“Champions are not made in gyms, Champions are made from something deep inside them, a desire, a dream, a vision “– Ali


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