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How important is mental strength in modern football?



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There are so many variables that can play their part in deciding whether an individual or team are a success or failure in modern day sport, and football is no exception. With advanced training techniques, sports science and nutrition, performance aiding footwear and everything else that incorporates the game at the highest level these days, the margins between winning and losing are at times very small.

On the biggest stage the pressure to perform must be monumental; not only do you have a stadium full of 60,000-odd screaming fans, but millions of viewers across the world urging and praying for you to either succeed or fail. When it comes to holding your nerve when taking a decisive penalty or running your heart out to defend that 1-0 lead for the last five minutes, mental fortitude is what separates the superstar from the rest of us mortals.

Whether it be self-talk, working through a mental routine or having that drive to succeed, all top athletes possess mental toughness. An example is Wayne Rooney, who has recently stated that he uses visualisation techniques to prepare himself for big matches.

“Part of my preparation is I go and ask the kit man what colour we’re wearing – if it’s red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualise myself scoring goals or doing well. You’re trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a ‘memory’ before the game. I don’t know if you’d call it visualising or dreaming, but I’ve always done it, my whole life.” Wayne Rooney.

It has become a slight cliche, as managers and players consistently state that they must have the mental strength to overcome a motivated opponent, but there is also a lot of truth in it. It is the love for the game that they play and the desire to be victorious more than the opposition, as these famous sportsmen point out.

The Psychology of Great Athletes (Infographic)

Professional athletes just work as hard as they can. And that drive is usually propelled by intense passion for their sport; they just love playing the game.” – Jim Taylor, PHD.

My mind is my biggest asset. I expect a win every tournament I play.” – Tiger Woods.

I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.” Michael Jordan.

The world’s current two best footballers pose as a perfect example of not only physically superior athletes, but mentally superior also. Lionel Messi has overcome the doubts over his stature, bounces back from physical attacks from hapless opponents and deals with the world of expectation from Barcelona fans and footballer watchers the world over to deliver on the biggest stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s preparation for matches is second to none, as he not only gets himself ready physically, but also prepares mentally to play at the highest level. The Real Madrid star has had to overcome setbacks both at club and international level, criticism of his performances and is expected to score and win every game for his team. The fact that the Portuguese attacker more often than not delivers is a testament to the mental fortitude of the star, and is why he is accredited as one of the top athletes in modern sport.