Monday, 29 October 2012

Psychological Effects

Hello there, I am Callum Rivett, and welcome to this instalment of my articles. Today, I will be looking at a subject close to a number of footballer’s hearts: the mental side of the game.

One hears many a manager saying the game is “played in the mind” and some may wonder what that means. It is one of the reasons that there are upsets. The reason why teams are able to win games that perhaps they shouldn’t. They either had a fantastic game plan, or they were prepared enough mentally to go out and challenge. The opposition (let’s call them Champions) may well go into the game against the Underdogs thinking they will be 3-0 up by half-time and it’s an easy three points.

However, if the Underdogs come out and attack, it puts the Champions mindset under threat. This isn’t the team they were expecting. They thought they would be able to stroll to an easy victory. The Champions were not adequately prepared mentally. The Underdogs set up to frustrate and annoy the Champions, get stuck in, and subsequently win the game.

That was purely a figment of imagination, but it happens every week. Norwich 1, Arsenal 0 last week. Middlesbrough 4, Manchester United 1 in 2005. The list goes on. These are just notable examples I can drag up from my memory banks.

There is also a mental side to the game that the supporters and media do not see. The side of depression.
Dean Windass and Darren Eadie are just two ex-pros who admitted that they were suffering from depression after leaving football, and in my opinion it is easy to see how it can happen. You grow up with football: football is your childhood, as it is mine. You don’t know anything other than kicking a ball around grass into a net. Your whole mental mindset is being focussed on the weekend, on the next game. That is what your week builds up to as a professional footballer.

When I step onto the football pitch, I become a different person. Every thing bad that has happened in the week is forgotten when you cross that white line in the grass, when that first whistle blows. You are absorbed in the game, you and it are one. Every kick, every goal: you feel it. You feel the emotion running through you, and you love it, you crave it.

When it is taken away - either through retirement or injury - you lose a part of yourself. You lose the part that everyone knew, that everyone saw. Your whole life hinged on playing football, then it’s gone.
Nothing can match the thrill of adrenaline that football provides, it is unique. It doesn’t require the type of courage that throwing yourself out of a plane does. It isn’t the bravery of saving a life. It’s something entirely different, yet entirely simple.

Football fills you with a determination: I will win that header, I will make that tackle.

Football relieves stress. Whilst exercising, neurotransmitters are stimulated, and these are responsible for producing sensations such as happiness, or the feeling of stress relief. Endorphins are produced, which target the limbic and prefrontal areas of the brain; the areas associated with emotions and feelings. Footballers run many kilometres a game in total, and these endorphins produce a phenomenon called “runner’s high”.
But endorphins are also related to addiction. Drug addicts have been shown to have high levels of endorphins, according to a paper published by the neuroscience journal Impulse.

What that means is that football is a drug. It is an addiction, and when it is taken away, players often feel low, depressed. Watching a game live does not quite replicate the feeling that playing does, so offers only a temporary reprieve. Footballers may have to make do with coaching, but sometimes - in the sad case of Gary Speed - it is not enough.

On a different approach, injury can also cause depression. Injury is a lonely place: your fellow professionals are outside, kicking the ball around, whilst you are stuck in the gym trying frantically to build up your muscles and match fitness. Depression can hit even the player with the strongest mind.

To conclude, more support needs to be given to players who have retired and are struggling, or are out injured for long periods of time. Whether they are in the Ridgeons Premier or in the Premier League, there needs to be support give by the PFA. Depression can affect everybody, and the best possible support needs to be given to those suffering from it, either in football or someone from everyday life.

Follow Callum on twitter: @CJRivett12. You can find more of Callum's work here.

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