Developing 'Mental toughness' can help footballers cope with high pressure penalty shoot outs

June 22, 2012, Bangor University

(Medical Xpress) -- Penalty shoot-outs are possibly the most stressful situations that footballers have to contend with. They need to be able to focus on the task and block out noise and other distractions coming from the stands.

Research at the University’s School of Sport, Health & Exercise Sciences reveals how best to train footballers and other sports people to withstand the pressures of penalty shootouts and other high moments

Sports Psychologists have been developing and testing specific programmes to develop ‘mental toughness’ in young sportsmen and women.

Sports coaches usually use rewards to encourage and motivate both team and individual athletes. But the new research has shown that athletes who perform the best under pressure, that is, who show higher levels of mental toughness, are those who are more aware of the negative impacts of poor performance.

Dr Stuart Beattie, of the School of Sport, Health & Exercise Science, explains “We found that the athletes who were reported as being mentally tough by their coaches, are more aware of the prospect of negative repercussions and tend to look for the problems that could lead to these and deal with them far in advance than their less mentally tough counterparts.”

“A footballer might identify the threat of taking a penalty in front of a raucous, partisan crowd and practice blocking the crowd out to enable him or her to cope with that particular threat when it actually arises. Therefore, being sensitive to or teaching athletes to deal with negative consequences rather than being reward driven seems to promote higher levels of mental toughness.”

Stuart Beattie goes on to explain, “In the real world of top international sports, there are very real repercussions for failing to perform at the highest level- anything from being dropped from the team to receiving the derision of your fans. These are difficult pressures for any athlete to contend with. Our research shows that mentally tough athletes deal with such threat at an early stage which subsequently allows them to cope with the threat at a later stage, when under pressure.”

“To test these initial findings the research team initiated a six month applied intervention programme, where athletes under the supervision of the coach were told that they would be provided forfeits for failure to perform, for example, they’d have to sing a song in front of the group. If and when these forfeits were given, they were given hand in hand with strategies for the individual to cope with the performance failure that lead to the forfeit. They were also made explicitly aware as to why the forfeit was provided. After six months, the athletes in the program showed significant improvement in their coach rated mental toughness scores than those who were not given the intervention programme.”

This research is based on work ongoing since 2008 which has involved over 400 elite young cricketers. Three studies with over 400 elite young cricketers indicate that cricketers who perform best under pressure tend to be sensitive to punishment and insensitive to reward. The research has since shown that mentally tough cricketers are capable of performing under pressure because they are able to identify threats, deal with them early, and thus are better equipped to cope with pressure. These findings have helped with the design of the ECB mental toughness training programme, which has now been implemented throughout the ECB development pathway. The programme helps players to excel under pressure by exposing them to threats throughout the practice environment and by developing effective coping strategies.

This research has applications beyond sport. At a wider level given the impact of stress on daily life, coupled with an ageing work force and population, having an understanding of the key factors that influence performance under pressure (as well as how to improve this) may help to develop a more psychologically robust population that is not only more able to withstand the negative consequences of stress but able to thrive under pressure.

Explore further: Why do some athletes choke under pressure?

Related Stories

Why do some athletes choke under pressure?

October 21, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Athletes know they should just do their thing on the 18th hole, or during the penalty shootout, or when they’re taking a 3-point shot in the last moments of the game. But when that shot could mean ...

Study finds head impacts in contact sports may reduce learning in college athletes

May 16, 2012
A new study suggests that head impacts experienced during contact sports such as football and hockey may worsen some college athletes' ability to acquire new information. The research is published in the May 16, 2012, online ...

Former football players prone to late-life health problems, study finds

November 9, 2011
Football players experience repeated head trauma throughout their careers, which results in short and long-term effects to their cognitive function, physical and mental health. University of Missouri researchers are investigating ...

For kids, it's more than just a game

July 20, 2011
A cohesive team environment, assessing one's own performance rather than comparing with others, and involvement in enjoyably challenging practices are the main conditions needed for children to have a positive developmental ...

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.