As the anticipation for England’s next World Cup game grows, fans up and down the country are hoping that they’ll build on their Euros success, and make it to the Semis and (dare we say it) beyond. But while Gareth Southgate has done a brilliant job of developing the right team culture over the last few years, has he done enough to build their mindset? In other words, if we get to a dreaded penalty shootout, who’s going to keep their cool and who’s going to choke?
We’re all vulnerable to the feelings created by pressure, and how those feelings are dramatically increased at critical moments. Our responses to key pressure moments can be helpful, but often are truly unhelpful. Without acknowledging and accepting those feelings, it’s hard to redirect our attention fully on to the critical task – in this case, the penalty! We can learn and practice this mental skill in preparation for these critical moments.
Apply Red2Blue when it matters most
We saw some brilliant examples of this in the Leatherhead’s Under 13s select squad this week. As part of their holistic training programme, which includes off field coaching as well as on field coaching, the team had been learning about Red2Blue. A session took place last Friday and on Sunday, many of the boys came to the club wearing their Red2Blue wristbands. According to Leatherhead Youth FC Coach, Paul Jones, it was evident that they were using Red2Blue throughout the course of the match – and particularly when the match went to penalties.
Paul explained how one of their players, Leo, gave a penalty away sending the team 2-1 down. Leo went quickly into the Red afterwards, thinking that he’d cost the team the game. He became very emotional, but his teammates rallied around him, actively reminding him about Red2Blue, and he used that bring himself back round.
Later, he was on the bench towards the end of the match and, with a minute to go, Paul asked the subs if anyone wanted to take a penalty. Leo was the only one to volunteer. Paul subbed him back in before the full-time whistle and he stepped up to score his penalty.
Focus on what you can control
Here’s what Leo had to say about how Red2Blue helped him: “On Sunday, I used Red2Blue by thinking about what I couldn’t change, like the ref’s decisions. Then I thought, ‘what can I change with my actions, like how I react and how I perform?’ Then I played my best to try and affect the game. When I was taking the penalty, I didn’t listen to anyone, to block out the pressure coming from teammates and parents.”
Oskar, the team’s goalkeeper, also found Red2Blue a useful way to deal with the pressure of being in goal. “The method helped me a lot,” he said. “During this important game, it helped to make me less stressed. Earlier this season, I have been more stressed during games as I started playing in bigger goals, in a new team and at a higher level. It made me nervous thinking that I would let the team down if I conceded, so during this game I used the method and it helped me. During the pens, I kicked the post to get the Red out of me and be Blue.”
Oskar’s dad said afterwards he was quite surprised hearing his son talk about the pressure in this way because he’d always felt he was a confident boy. To hear how Oskar felt about being in goal was an eye opener for his parent as well.
Mental skills for football… and beyond
Leo and Oscar went on to be awarded joint Man of the Match. While it’s brilliant to see the immediate impact of the team’s Red2Blue training on their game, there’s a more important issue at play here. A group of young men are now reflecting on their own mindset, acknowledging pressure, and talking about how they can control their own reactions in an accessible, relatable way. They’re developing a mental skill for life, in football and beyond!
Whether it’s the Leatherhead Under 13s or the England national team, preparation is everything. Red2Blue allows you to recognise the discomfort that comes with the responsibility of taking a penalty. Once you’ve acknowledged those feelings of nervousness, you can shift your focus to perform when it matters.
We wish Southgate and his team great success in the coming weeks, and Oskar, Leo and the Leatherhead team a fantastic rest of season!