I’ll start with a quote from a great coach, John Davies ‘Fearing failure so much, they have forgot how to win’ John was not talking about the score but in achievement and making progress towards a higher standard.
When you watch a team playing, can you tell if players are playing with fear? Maybe you think the answer is obvious but is it really? Fear manifests itself in many forms. One example I would like to use. Last season we played two semi-finals and lost both. Now the result is irrelevant but what is important is what happened during the game. Good players all of a sudden didn’t want the ball. Balls were kicked long. Passes went astray. Work rate dropped. Why do I think it was down to fear? The answer is simple, following these defeats and poor performances, the same team went out and not only won convincingly against the same opposition but also played the way we know they can.
Fear shuts down our brains and the science tells us that the primitive part of the brain takes over. This ‘caveman’ mentality only allows us to focus on what is right in front of us. Yes, it gives us focus (to kill or run from the beast that is trying to kill us!) but the downside is we lose the bigger picture. So when you see a good passing team who can play out from the back and have good passing interchanges start to kick long balls then you know that fear has kicked in. Fear is never good so how do we deal with it?
Fear is scary but we must attack it. I am great believer in Raymond Verheijen’s periodisation. People think this is all about conditioning but it is so much deeper than just that. Periodisation breaks things down then builds it up again to make it stronger than it was before. So let’s address fear. Let’s acknowledge that it exists. How can we then break it down. My belief is that it starts with the coach. When coaches play safe then fear will result. Why would a player take a risk when the coach is not prepared to? The result is safe, fearful play. This might be enough to get results but is not developing the traits required when fear ultimately comes along. If there is no risk then there is no development and it creates a swamp where fear can breed. I have heard many coaches, over many years saying that we play to our strengths. Fine but limiting. Strengths need to be built on. Risks need to be taken to become stronger. By building this up we will have the tools to play with when fear starts to enter the environment.
The best player in the world is Lionel Messi and looks like he is playing without a care in the world. Fearless in every way. This was developed over the years by building and working on his own and the teams advancement. We need to help players build up this strength to cope with fear. To be able to take passes when under pressure; to be be able to make good decisions under pressure; to be brave when surrounded by easy options. The famous quote from FD Roosevelt sums it up ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself’ Meaning fear will only make matters worse and how true is this out on the field?
So, be brave as a coach and a player and don’t allow any room for fear to creep into your team.