Category Archives: Football World Cup 2014

Quiz answers

For those of you who tried our quiz on the business of football yesterday, here are the answers:

Q1. C – 3.2 billion people around the world watched some of a match on TV at home during the last World Cup finals; 2.2 billion of us watched at least 20 consecutive minutes!
(Source FIFA)

Q2. C-  it is likely to be priced at between £275,000 and £300,000 according to media agency ZenithOptimedia

Q3. A – The Brazilian Institute of Tourism forecasts that visitors to the event will spend over £6.6bn in the country

Q4. C- Total Prize Money: $576 million 
(confirmed by FIFA)

Q5. B – The German federation has promised all 23 players a 300,000 euros  bonus for winning the title.

Q6.  A- The Football Association would have lost up to £100 million if England had failed to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
(Source Daily Telegraph) 


Test your knowledge of the business of football

The World Cup is big business. Test your knowledge of just how much revenue is involved in the World Cup by answering our quiz questions. Post your answers and/or any comments using the ‘leave a reply’ box at the bottom of this page (sorry – no prizes for correct answers!). The answers will be available on this site tomorrow.

(1) How many people worldwide watched the 2010 World Cup Finals?
A) 1.2 billion
B) 2.2 billion
C) 3.2 billion

(2) How much can ITV charge advertisers for a single 30-second spot shown during an England group game shown exclusively on ITV?
A) £100,000
B) £200,000
C) £300,000

(3) How much are tourists visiting Brazil for the World Cup expected to spend?

A) £6.6 billion
B) £2.2 billion
C) £4.4 billion

(4) How much prize money will the nations competing in this years’ World Cup share?

A) $101 million
B) $353 million
C) $576 million

(5) What bonus will each German squad player receive if they win this years’ World Cup?

A) 100,000 euros
B) 300,000 euros
C) Nothing

(6) How much did the English FA estimate that they would lose if the national team failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup?
A) £100 million
B) £50 million
C) £10 million

If you’re interested in the business of football you may wish to study our new BA (Hons) Business Management (Sport and Football) degree.

Penalty Shoot-out Pressure

By Caroline Heaney

England’s early exit from the World Cup may be hugely disappointing, but it does have one positive outcome – English fans will be spared from the potential pain of the dreaded penalty shoot-out! The England Football team do not have a great history when it comes to penalty shoot-outs in major tournaments, for example:

  • 1990 World Cup Semi-final – England lost to Germany 
  • Euro 1996 Semi-final – England lost to Germany
  • 1998 World Cup – England lost to Argentina
  • Euro 2004 Quarter-final – England lost to Portugal
  • 2006 World Cup Quarter-final – England lost to Portugal
  • Euro 2012 – England lost to Italy

England are not the only nation with a poor reputation in penalty shoot-outs. Both Holland and Italy, for example, have suffered multiple tournament exits to penalty shoot-outs. Holland in fact exited three consecutive European championships to the feared penalty shoot-out (Euro 1992, Euro 1996 and Euro 2000)!

The penalty shoot-out in a major tournament is probably one the most highly pressured situations in football; the stakes are high and the margins for error are small. Additionally, the personal accountability of individual players is probably higher than in any other situation in football, where normally responsibility is collectively shared. No-one wants to be the player responsible for their team exiting a major tournament, and history shows that unsuccessful penalty takers are often ‘scapegoated’ and ostracised by their national media. Interestingly it appears to be the penalty takers rather than the goal-keepers who tend to fall victim to this negative media attention, perhaps due to the expectations of a penalty shoot-out: penalty takers are expected to score and goal-keepers are expected not to stop them. Obviously when a goal-keeper makes a winning save (e.g. David Seaman in England successful penalty shoot-out against Spain in Euro 1996) they become a hero in the eyes of the media, but rarely are they subjected to the same media condemnation as a player who misses a penalty when they fail to save a penalty.

The penalty shoot-out is a common feature of a major football tournament and we have already seen two exhilarating penalty shoot-outs in the early knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup in the Brazil v Chile and Costa Rica v Greece matches. Penalty shoot-outs have even been known to determine the final result of a tournament. For example the winners of both the 2006 Men’s World Cup final and the 2011 Women’s World Cup final were decided by penalty shoot-outs. More recently the England U17 squad won the 2014 European Championships on penalties against Holland.

As a result of this teams often focus a significant amount of effort on preparing for the possibility of a penalty shoot-out. For example, it is suggested that this was a significant factor in the decision to employ psychiatrist Steve Peters to work with the England team in the build up to the World Cup. Psychology is certainly a significant factor in the penalty shoot-out. As a sport psychologist I like to watch a player prepare to take a penalty and predict whether they will be successful – there are certain psychological cues that are indicative of the outcome. Researchers have investigated these and have identified various factors that can influence the success of the penalty shoot-out. Some of these are explored in our penalty shoot-out game:

Click here to play our penalty shoot-out game

As with most tasks, confidence is key. A player who is confident and believes that they will score is more likely to do so. There is no room for doubt in a penalty shoot-out. Confidence can be seen through visual cues such as eye contact. A player who lacks confidence may avoid making eye contact with the goal keeper. Good goal keepers recognise these signals and will draw strength from an opponent who won’t make eye contact. Additionally, a successful penalty taker will normally take their time and not rush. Rushing can be seen as a sign of panic, whereas someone who waits is giving themselves time to compose themselves before executing the skill, perhaps utilising psychological techniques like imagery and positive self-talk before taking the penalty kick. Research by Jordet has suggested that England players have historically taken their penalties quicker (0.28seconds) than any other nation in major tournaments and so psychological intervention may help England players. A player may use imagery to rehearse taking a successful penalty in their head before taking it and may use positive self-talk to enhance their confidence and focus.

Experience is obviously an important factor for penalty takers. Players who have previously successfully taken penalties and won penalty shoot-outs are more likely to be confident in their ability to take a successful penalty. The reverse of that however is that those who have had bad experiences are less likely to be confident, which goes some way to explaining the serial penalty shoot-out defeats seen in teams such as England and Holland – the culture of expecting to lose a penalty shoot-out perpetuates. Research by Jordet revealed  that success rates in penalty shoot-outs are considerably higher for teams who have won their last two penalty shoot-outs compared to those who have lost their last two shoot-outs (89% versus 57%), even if the team membership is changed. Interestingly ‘higher status’ players, whilst likely having more experience to draw on, are sometimes less successful in penalty shoot-out situations; perhaps because the pressure of expectation is far greater for them than for players of lower status.

This shows that the successful penalty taker is one who is highly confident and copes well with pressure. Next time you watch a penalty shoot-out, watch the players prepare and see if you can predict whether or not they will be successful.

The Business of Football and the Football of Business

By Leslie Budd, The Open University Business School

The start of the football World Cup 2014 in Brazil has heightened the senses about the world’s most popular sport: the beautiful game. Its appeal is global, primeval and visceral that brings out soliloquies from Existential philosophers among many others. The Algerian-French Albert Camus wrote:

“Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football”

whilst his famous Parisian counter-part Jean-Paul Sartre stated:

“In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team.”

In spite of these affirmations, the beauty of skill and movement of the game hides a number of very deep flaws. In particular how football has become a global business and brand that operates at a number of levels.

The organisation responsible for global football is Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), that has overseen the global reach of the game spread further and resulting in the current World Cup being viewed by 3.7 billion people. Football accounts for $200bn of the total revenues of $450bn generated by sport globally in 2013, Europe’s share is 10% of this and for the 2012-13 season thoe English Premier League scored the highest with $4.23bn. The main drivers of these revenues are gate receipts, media rights (including advertising) and sponsorship.

Yet, FIFA as the global organising body and football in general are in a paradoxical position. FIFA has been bedevilled by examples of corruption with a strong suggestion and supporting evidence that this is more than a ‘few bad apples’. As for football overall, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski note in their book Soccernomics, that football is the “Worst Business in the World” populated by bad staff. Clearly the issue of corporate governance is something that will not go away, despite football’s often blithe ignorance of its centrality to running any business, whether privately owned or publicly quoted. In the past, many British clubs thought becoming a quoted company was a one-way street to riches; they became disabused of this fantasy as the teeth of corporate governance bit hard.

Although a number of clubs seek to reach out to local communities the strong impression is given that the employment of ex-players as TV commentators is a “care in the community scheme”: inward looking, living in the past and in the main unaware of a wider world. This is a limited example of ‘trickle-down’ economics that football organisations appear to be the last exponents of. This is especially so in the lead-up to World Cup competitions in which the very large expenditures on stadia and associated infrastructure are justified on the basis of “legacy”. The driver for many of these global events, however, is political: Hitler failing to justify his theories of race in 1936 Olympics. Similarly, Argentina’s military regime used the 1978 World Cup to legitimise its position, and so on. In the case of the awarding of the 2022 competition to Qatar, it is considered a project of modernisation despite the antediluvian and harsh labour practices for immigrant workers; the question of corruption notwithstanding.

In the case of Brazil, the competition has been sold on the vibrancy of its society and people with its football representing the pinnacle of style and grace. But underneath the ‘Samba Beat’ is a complex society and economy with extremes of wealth and poverty, urban violence public corruption. Political protests and strikes by public sector workers occurred at the start of the tournament as manifestations of deeper ongoing problems. As one of the emerging economies known as BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), Brazil was lionised as an epitome of this new breed of economy. Yet it has suffered the curse of being a commodity economy (a large exporter of foodstuffs , oil and metals) with its growth rates tending to match the volatility in commodity prices (that boomed at the end of the last decade and are now in decline). The annual growth rate between 2000 and 2013 is shown below:


Furthermore, the boom in commodities boosted the local currency (the Real) so that other economic activities have become internationally uncompetitive. In such an uncertain economic environment, building expensive “cathedrals in the desert” for the World Cup only benefits a limited section of the population. What trickle down there is only represents a few drops of relief in this vast country.

But now that the tournament has kicked off most of us who are fixated on football will turn a blind eye to these distractions. Yet they reflect on the general game of business that is too often played like World Cup football: winner takes all. Failures of corporate governance, tax avoidance by global companies and the perpetuation of an overpaid corporate elite have continued despite attempts to regulate business and finance rather better following the global crisis. The root of the failure of the global economy to sufficiently recover and rebalance has been the lack of commitment to play the equity game, as noted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) among others.

There are new models of business for football that business in general could learn from. These include self-funding community engagement models in which clubs are community assets or in the case of Germany effectively social enterprises. This approach has so far eluded the elite clubs and when faced with question of probity, FIFA resorts to appeals to the post-colonial race card to perpetuate its hold on the global game. Like the moral of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in which the main character sells his soul to preserve his eternal youth but his portrait ages, the beautiful game suffers the effects of the underlying deterioration of its global reputation.

Still when Argentina win this tournament the team will dedicate it to liberating Las Malvinas (the Falklands). Sadly, the business of football and the football of business will go on as before. We should all do something to change it.

Morality in sport: Suarez biting trilogy!

By Jessica Pinchbeck

Global sporting events such as the World Cup or Olympic Games see individuals placed under immense pressure to make split second decisions and for some the outcome can be questionable when viewed from a moral standpoint. Examples of this are common within football, for instance diving in the penalty box, handling the ball off the line or deliberately injuring another player. Luis Suarez is a prime example of someone who appears to struggle with his self-control and moral reasoning (deciding what is right or wrong) in the heat of the moment. In Uruguay, Suarez is a national treasure; the poverty stricken boy who went from working as a street sweeper to becoming an international football superstar. He is portrayed as a family man and loving father who married his childhood sweetheart (Thompson, 2014). Yet his football career is certainly not flawless. In the 2010 World Cup Suarez was penalised for handling the ball on the line to prevent Ghana beating Uruguay in the final minute of extra-time in the quarter-finals, Ghana missed the resulting penalty and Uruguay won the shootout to reach the semi-finals. Whilst playing for Dutch side Ajax in November 2010 Suarez received a seven- match ban for biting Otman Bakkal on the shoulder and in April 2013 received a ten game ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic (BBC, 2014a). During the World Cup in 2014 the world saw this side of Suarez again when he bit Italy’s Chiellini on the shoulder. This  resulted in him being sent home from the tournament and receiving a four month ban (BBC, 2014b). So, what is it that makes players like Suarez react in such a way?

At crucial times under intense pressure a person’s moral reasoning plays a key role in their decision making. Within sport the most widely used approach to understanding morality is named the structural development approach (Kohlberg, 1984; Haan, 1983). This views a person as moving through three stages of moral development which occur as a result of interaction between the person and the environment. Moral growth and maturity influences a person’s moral reasoning and it would seem that during his career Suarez has found himself lacking in both.

In the first of the three stages of moral development an individual puts their own needs first and does not understand the impact of social norms and rules on their own moral responsibility. At the second stage a person relies on their group or society to define what is right. At the third and most developed level individuals do not rely on societal norms but instead apply universal values such as justice, equality and honesty upon which to base their moral decisions. Suarez’s three almost identical incidents would imply he is not functioning at this top level and it seems a very unfortunate pattern of behaviour. It would be fascinating to discuss with him to see the extent that he is unaware of social norms and rules and simply responding to immediate heightened emotions or if he is relying on the moral environment of those around him. Bredemeier and Shields (1984) suggest that aggression, in particular an attack with the intent to injure someone, is an issue of what they term contextual morality i.e. when morality is influenced by social-environment variables such as the moral atmosphere and goal structure of the team.

Studies investigating morals in sport support the view that team sports, in particular those involving medium to high contact, are linked to lower levels of moral reasoning, aggressive tendencies, beliefs that acts to intentionally injure are acceptable, and moral intention. The social context of the sport also plays its part, in particular the moral atmosphere of the team and the moral climate set by the coach. For example, the ‘win at all costs’ mentality can be related to low moral reasoning and unsportsmanlike attitudes and behaviours. Similarly, the morals of significant others such as parents and friends is associated with moral development. If those close to the athlete do not see improper actions as out of the ordinary, then the individual is more likely to engage in such behaviours. These can all impact their moral reasoning, culminating in an incident or series of incidents, such as those displayed by Suarez.

The implications of Suarez’s poor moral reasoning did not only impact on him as an individual but also the teams that he was part of. Although his biting days appear to be over his reputation as one of the most controversial players in modern football remains.

BBC (2014a) Luis Suarez ‘bite’: Uruguay striker in World Cup controversy. Available at: (Accessed: 07 January 2022)

BBC (2014b) Luis Suarez bite: Uruguay striker banned for four months. Available at: (Accessed: 07/01/2022).

Bredemeier, B.J., and Shields, D.L. (1984) ‘The utility of moral stage analysis in the investigation of athletic aggression’, Sociology of Sport Journal, 1, pp.138-149.

Kohlberg, L. (1984) Essays on moral development: The psychology of moral development,  2nd edn, San Francisco. Harper & Row.

Haan, N. (1983) ‘An interactional Morality of everyday life’, in  Haan, N., Bellah,R., Rabinow, P.,  and Sallivan, W. (eds.) Social Science as a moral inquiry. New York: Columbia University Press.

Thompson, W. (2014) ‘Portrait of a serial winner: A journey in pursuit of Louis Suarez, who – when he’s not biting opponents – is the most beautiful player in the game’, ESPN, 27 May,  Available at: (Accessed: 07/01/2022)

Mind games: the psychiatrist hoping to help England stay in the World Cup

By Simon Rea

England play Uruguay tonight in a crucial match that, if lost, could leave the team with one foot already on the flight home. It’s for situations like these that Steve Peters, England’s sport psychiatrist, was invited to accompany the team to the World Cup.

It’s worth considering why England’s manager Roy Hodgson has chosen Peters over the more traditional sport psychologists who have been regularly employed by England football teams in the past.

Peters does have a great track record – he worked with the British cycling teams who enjoyed huge success at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, as well as snooker great Ronnie O’Sullivan. But psychiatrists are nevertheless more commonly associated with mental illness. Hodgson will have found himself getting a different service from Peters than his predecessors will have had from psychologists.

Psychology vs psychiatry

Sport psychology is still a relatively new discipline, having only been around since the 1950s. Its aim is to understand the mental factors that underpin successful performance and influence them positively. Among other things, a sport psychologist will help people to think and act in different ways by constructing skills (or interventions) that can be used in sports environments. Skills such as relaxation to control anxiety and stress, self-talk to promote positive thinking and imagery to mentally rehearse skills are all commonly taught. Sport psychologists will also work with coaches to help build cohesion and systems of leadership within a team.

Sports psychologists and psychiatrists are educated in different ways. The term “sport psychologist” is protected by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and anyone claiming to be one will need to have an MSc in sport psychology and be a member of a professional body, such as the British Psychology Society.

A sport psychiatrist, on the other hand, is first and foremost trained as a medical doctor. They will have qualified in psychiatry and then chosen to work with sports people. Peters calls himself a consultant psychiatrist, perhaps because sport psychiatry is not recognised as a speciality in the UK. He describes himself as being a doctor who specialises in looking after the human mind.

Psychiatry in sport does not necessarily look at treating illnesses but it recognises that thoughts and thought patterns developed by athletes can be detrimental to their performance. A main difference with psychology is that sport psychiatry is not aimed at producing performance enhancement, rather it focuses on how the brain is working and any problems that the brain is causing. It may produce performance enhancement but unlike the interventions of a sport psychologist, this is not the primary aim.

The Chimp Paradox

Central to Steve Peters’ work is a system he has developed of mind management, which he presents in his book, “The Chimp Paradox”. This concept is used to present a simplified view of how the brain works. He explains that thoughts are generated in two parts of the brain. The frontal lobe is responsible for rational thinking based on facts and the limbic system is responsible for emotional thinking.

The “chimp” sits in the limbic system and has the first opportunity to process what is happening around you. The chimp produces what are described as catastrophic thoughts, such as “this is terrible”.

Take the example of a footballer striding up to take a penalty kick. He may experience anxiety and tension due to the pressure of the situation. He may have thoughts like “I have got to score or I’ll be a failure” and “I’m going to let everybody down”. He should feel confident about taking the kick, but his thought processes have been hijacked by his chimp.

England currently face the looming prospect of exiting the World Cup at the first group stage for the first time since 1958 – high potential for catastrophic thoughts to thrive in players’ minds. Peters will be working with players to overcome these and maintain positivity.

If athletes can bypass their chimp then they will start having rational thoughts, which will aid their performance in these situations. Peters explains that the anxiety produced by the chimp gets the better of people, but once they recognise that these feelings are unwanted and are stopping them performing at their best, they can start to manage their chimp.

Sport psychologists and psychiatrists have both been successfully used by sports people. Ultimately a professional’s title or chosen field of study matters little if they can deliver the support needed by England footballers. Let’s hope Peters can help England’s footballers to replicate the success of the Olympic cyclists and produce their best performances on the world’s biggest stage.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Pressure Cooker – Will England Overheat?

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

Following Saturday’s defeat against Italy, England are now in a position where they have no breathing space and have to win their next two matches.  The Telegraph reported Hodgson himself saying they need the next two wins against Uruguay and Costa Rica, and he went on to say that their “fate is in their own hands” 

If we weight up the odds, things are pretty equal, Uruguay are also coming off a loss to Costa Rica and while the sideline fans will throw criticism at the England squad the reality is that they played a decent game last Saturday, with even possession and more shots on target unfortunately in the world of sport luck can come into play. 

What is interesting about the next match is that we have a country who have football as their national sport, vs a country without such a heritage – however where previously I discussed how the pressure of expectation could adversely affect England will this lack of expectation on Uruguay mean that they go in feeling less pressure than the England starting line up? Both teams are on the back foot but again England have a whole country depending on them to win.

From a psychological perspective there is no question that the team will have heightened levels of anxiety – this concept is something Sport Psychologist Yurin Hanin discussed in the 1980’s, in that all athletes have an optimal zone of functioning – some will have already reached their optimal levels but for others their next game will see them achieve their peak.  This idea of optimal arousal relates closely to interpretation, as it is having a positive interpretation which allows the individual to utilise their arousal in a facilitative manner that results in the best performance. 

With the World Cup stage no longer an unknown to the new players who have never worn the England shirt in such a high profile tournament there is a hope that any pre-tournament nerves have been put to bed, but what can remain though will comes down to how their arousal levels influences them in Thursdays game.  This is something Roy Hodgson needs to have in his mind as he finalises his starting 11.  What the matches so far this tournament have shown is that it isn’t just about player ability it is about mental fortitude and courage and that these will often be the defining factor of whether a team will be successful in their quest for world cup glory.

Rio 2014: the participation legacy in England

By Jessica Pinchbeck

In my attempt to be a good sporting parent I encourage my children to both participate in and spectate as many different sports as possible. However in spite of my attempts at diversity when faced with a range of activities or equipment to choose from, nine out of ten times they’ll opt for kicking a football. There appears to be something about football that possesses an unexplainable attraction for my children and many like them. When you pass any school playground at lunchtime it is easy to see that football dominates; rarely do you witness a game of rugby or volleyball being played. So is this obsession with playing football in the playground reflected in the sports participation of the general public?

What do the facts and figures say?
The number of people over 16 in England who play sport at least once a week is on the rise, therefore one might assume that the number of people participating in football would also be increasing, however this is not the case. The 2013 Sport England Active People Survey actually shows a decrease of around 100,000 in the number of people aged 16 and over that participate in football once a week. Nevertheless let us not under estimate football’s popularity as it still remains the fourth most popular participation sport with only swimming, athletics and cycling preceding it, rendering it the most popular team sport. Figures show that team sports are generally on a decline, perhaps due to people wanting to participate in individual activities that they can schedule around their own timetable, yet football still has 1.8million participants every week compared to its closest team rival rugby union, which has only 159,900. If we delve into these statistics further we note that only 18.5% of participants are members of a football club, although 25% have played competitively, both a slight decrease on previous year’s figures. This suggests that the majority of adult football participation takes place in a more recreational context.

This decrease in participation, alongside other issues, have resulted in public funding cuts to the FA of 1.6million by Sport England, potentially impacting grassroots football and young people in particular. In the 14-25 year old age bracket football is by far the most popular sport with 1.3 million participants, illustrating that this age group make up the majority of footballs demographic. Similarly The Taking Part survey (DCMS, 2013) shows that for 11-15 year olds football was the most popular with 56.1% having played in the last four weeks, seeing significant increases since 2010/11. Schools also had the strongest club links with football clubs. This suggests that football is still the most vibrant sport being played in secondary school, and regular participation appears to continue up until the age of 25.

These trends are also replicated in a survey by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in 2012 showing football as the most popular team sport for women, with around a quarter of a million participants. Figures from the FA show that 1.38million women and girls in England participate regularly, reinforcing the importance of the younger demographic in these participation figures. As with the Active People’s Survey individual activities are still the preferred choice for women with football only the 9th most popular sport overall and continuing to see decreases in participation rates each year.

The story behind the statistics
The statistics paint the picture of football being the most popular team sport with children aged 11-15 and also into adulthood represented by the 14-25 age group. Yet with a wider range of sports becoming more accessible to the general public through national governing body funding initiatives and the London 2012 legacy there has been, and continues to be, a gradual shift in the types of activities people are engaging in, with individual activities growing each year. So although overall participation numbers in sport are rising those participating in the more traditional team sports such as football appear to be declining at adult level.

In addition various media reports attribute government cutbacks to the steady decline of grassroots football stating the local authority playing fields used by the majority of amateur football clubs are just not up to the standard required (Winter,2013). Furthermore the fees to use these poor facilities continue to rise, making grassroots football more expensive but also less enjoyable and more of a challenge for those involved in its organisation. Lack of coaches qualified to a high level is also cited as a key failing of grassroots football (Winter 2013), with perhaps poorly qualified coaches producing inadequate sessions and discouraging continued participation amongst participants.

Following the success of Team GB in London 2012 and the subsequent increases in swimming, athletics and cycling participation it may be feasible to suggest that the success of the England men’s team in Rio 2014 may be a crucial factor to help give football participation levels a useful boost.

DCMS (2013). Taking Part October 2011 to September 2012 Supplementary Child Report. Statistical Release, April 2013.

Department for Education (2013) ‘Evidence on physical education and sport in schools: key findings’ [online] Available from: (Accessed 9 June 2014)

Sport England (2014) ‘The National Picture’ [online] Available from: (Accessed 9 June 2014)

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (2012) ‘Football Factsheet’ [online] Available from:,d.ZGU (Accessed 9 June 2014)

Under pressure: anxiety and a nation’s hope at the World Cup

By Candice Lingam-Willgoss

The expectation placed on Roy Hodgson’s 23-man England squad is immense – each player is representing a country that proudly boasts football as its national sport, and (rightly or wrongly) considers itself the birthplace of the world game. In a recent press conference when asked if he had a winning squad, Hodgson said:

Yes, of course I do. Why take a squad otherwise? But they’re empty words … If they don’t show their talent, all the optimism in the world counts for nothing.

His use of the term optimism is interesting as there has been some discussion on how this could be England’s year to win. However, as football psychologist Geir Jordet has warned, there is a risk that a highly favourable public appraisal of a team could be linked to displays of “escapist self regulation strategy”. What does this mean? From a psychological perspective, self regulation could be to calm yourself down or act in your long-term best interest – but when this is exhibited in an escapist manner, ie avoiding reality, this leads to a breakdown of the usual response and in turn can harm performance. Is this the factor that could stop England players “showing their talent”?

I asked former England U21 player and current Portsmouth Manager Andy Awford what he thought. He said he felt there had been a shift within the country and many have come to accept that England can’t be expected to win every tournament (which is helpful as they haven’t since 1966). “Expectations aren’t as high,” he said.

But football fans do represent a unique subculture of sports supporters. Rarely do you see such passion and emotional connection between fans and the sport they follow. This comes at a price, as players and teams are only seen as being as good as their last performance. There is no better illustration of this than the 1998 David Beckham incident, when England’s star player was vilified nationwide after being sent off for kicking an opponent in a display of extremely poor discipline. It took four years for Beckham to redeem himself, when he scored a match-winning penalty in the 2002 World Cup – again against Argentina. “It took everything that had happened, everything that had been said or written since my red card away,” he wrote in his autobiography, My Side.

This suggestion that public appraisal can influence performance links closely to anxiety and is something Jordet has also investigated. He has looked at the connection between public status and performance in high pressure sport tasks such as penalty shootouts. He found players who had higher public status tended to perform worse and engage more in escapist self-regulatory behaviour. For example, high-status players might perpare faster than usual, due to wanting to get the shot “over with” than players who have yet to win any major awards and are lesser known.

This concept of high public status is particularly relevant to the England squad which contains many players who are akin to Hollywood stars in terms of status and earnings. Could this go some way to explain why a player like Wayne Rooney is yet to score at a World Cup?

Anxiety and stress are terms commonly bandied about within the sporting world, with the competitive environment designed to elevate the arousal levels of not just the players but the fans as well. The need for athletes to control their emotions has led to much work being done on the sources of that anxiety within sport. How important an event is and uncertainty are among the most prevalent – no wonder things get so hard at the World Cup. The England team is a young squad, short on tournament experience – how will the players cope with this pressure?

This is something Awford remembers: “I’ve played for England and there’s a different mentality, its a different set up,“ he said. “The England shirt can be a heavy one to wear.”

But how does anxiety actually influence the performance of professional athletes? Surely they should just be able to interpret their emotions in the optimal way? Sadly the nature of the human mind is not so logical, and while players will endeavor to maintain the best mind set, the importance of the event and the expectations of a nation will result in heightened anxiety levels which can manifest in a number of different ways.

“Anxiety can lead to bad decisions,” Awford told me. It also leads to co-ordination difficulties, and problems with attention to detail, all of which can prove debilitating to performance.

While physical training can largely be controlled, and without doubt the best 11 man team will be on the pitch for England’s opening game, managers cannot determine their players’ reactions to the unique levels of pressure generated by representing your nation at the World Cup.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.