The Lizard Brain


The ‘Lizard Brain’ is the part of the brain that provides that little voice in your head that says play it safe, don’t stand out from the crowd, be average, don’t take risks. We all have it. Some have it on full volume while others try to put it on ‘mute’ Seth Godin talks about it all the time and how it holds back our development. Steven Pressfield refers to it as the ‘Resistance’

The amygdala to give it the proper name sits within your brain and is responsible for these emotions and thoughts. It is angry and afraid and we developed it over thousand’s of years to protect us. However, it’s purpose in the modern world does not protect but holds us back. I know I fight with this voice every day. Most of the time it wins and I play safe but sometimes I can silence it and win a battle. My blog aims to win more of these battles.

I really believe we need to understand the impact of the lizard brain. Our pro-youth/academy system is being run by the Resistance. Players and coaches who play it safe. Technical yes, tactically not so much and creativity then definitely not. The lizard brain has infected the majority. If we are to develop footballers again who are better than average then we need to go to war with it.

I have talked about creating art. We are currently producing painters and decorators (no offence intended). Average, functional footballers. Over the years, I have seen many players return to our club from the pro-youth/academy system. In general, their technical skills are decent but not exceptional.However, the biggest aspect is the effect on their confidence. They play with fear. The lizard brain is strong in them. Many coaches have told me it takes at least a season before they come out of this and realise football is about fun.

If the lizard brain is in charge then we have compliant, average players when what we have to try and produce is ‘game-changers’ Do we want players who will always play that safe pass or the game-changer who may fail but tries that reverse pass when no-one is expecting it. The problem is, we (coaches) praise the safe pass and punish the risky pass or dribble when the player loses the ball. If we continue to produce players who ‘paint by numbers’ then what do we expect if when reach the higher levels and they need to be ‘artists’

Even at my grassroots level I see many coaches feeding the lizard brain. Shouts like ‘pass, pass, pass’ and ‘play it long’ and ‘get rid’ are all delicacies for the lizard brain to gorge on. I watch players fearful to try and do anything and only do exactly what the coach tells them. Their lizard brain is getting bigger and stronger. As coaches, we need to starve it, not feed it! Let’s stop imposing rules on players, telling them exactly what to do. Dropping them or subbing them when they don’t follow our instructions.

So when do I know when a players is fighting the Resistance and trying to silence the lizard brain? Here are some behaviours to look out for:

  • Practicing when their fellow players are doing some other’ fun’ things that are not playing football
  • Giving it their all in every single session and every game
  • Taking risks and not being afraid to fail
  • Doing the point above over and over again
  • Never seen without a ball
  • Getting abuse from his peers for constantly practising
  • Willing to move away from people who are holding them back
  • Finally, loving every second they are playing with a football

As coaches, let’s do our bit to help our players silence the lizard brain. Let’s help them take risk by removing any fear they hold. The resistance is everywhere, it is our duty to fight it. Can we at least try and create these game-changers? These individuals who buck the trend. This is not easy as the more we fight, the more the lizard brain fights back. It wants you to quit, play it safe. It puts obstacles in your way so we have to be stronger. We must rise up and challenge the status quo. if we don’t then mediocrity, average and functional will be the winners. If you are happy with this outcome then you have just signed up for the Resistance.

If not, your challenge is to create game-changers or be one yourself. My own daily battle with the lizard brain goes on as it tells me as a manager, a coach and a parent that I am not good enough. A lot of time I get duped by it and I listen and it depresses me. By writing this post, I am calling it out. Let’s go to war with it in ourselves first and then help others overcome it. Create artists. The lizard brain is silenced when we learn to challenge it. Producing art puts it on silent for me. It gets me out of my comfort zone and the more I stretch the smaller the lizard brain becomes. Can this work for you?


The Lizard Brain

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