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Are American Teams at a Disadvantage?

As we approach the 2014 World Cup, information is coming out about team preparations, and some teams may be at a slight advantage than others given the choices made by the front offices. In 2006, the Italian soccer team received neurofeedback training and when they won the World Cup, they attributed their win to that very training. Well, England is taking a page out of the Italians book and has hired a sports psychologist to help the team perform more effectively. The English are receiving services not only to improve overall performance, but mainly to help reduce or possibly eliminate penalties.

As athletes perform, in any sport, their biological processes can sometimes take over, which can either help or hurt the athlete’s performance. As the pressure of a big game builds, athletes who have better control over their emotional responses are going to perform at a higher level than those who succumb to their body’s adrenaline. When an athlete becomes fearful, whether it is of losing a big game, making a mistake, or being judged by others, their central nervous system responds. Fight or flight. We often hear this term being used when we are put in potentially dangerous situations, and it is this response that often helps protect us; however, this response can kick in on the athletic field, and if unable to be effectively managed, can cause a player to choke. Many are under the impression that there is nothing that can be done to help with these situations, but they are wrong- sports psychologists help athletes with situations like these every day! The English soccer team is taking control of their biological responses so that they will play with a more level head and less damaging emotion. Not only will this help reduce the number of penalties, but will also help their players perform under high pressure situations, such as a penalty kicks or shoot outs.

With all the success sports teams have with sports psychologists, why is there still hesitation for American players or teams to turn to professionals to push their performance to the next level, or even fix problematic performance? When an athlete breaks a bone or injures him/herself, don’t they seek out a medical professional to fix the problem- so why is the brain any different? We, as a society, need to stop viewing psychological services as a sign of weakness, but instead a sign of strength and commitment to optimal performance.

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