We all know and have had experiences in teams that with great expectations have fallen to the bottom of the standings and have not generated the expected performances. We have all experienced moments of chaos throughout the competition and we have all experienced with impotence those games in which suddenly everything breaks down and nothing goes as expected, indeed, everything goes the other way round, having to endure, at times, painful punishments.
Falling into the pit can come with many consequences. We are talking about an onion of many layers ranging from the institutional to the personal, from the team concept to the concept of individuality and the individual.
Generally, when a team doesn’t perform to expectations, we appeal to a lack of quality.
But what is quality?
On an individual level, quality will be the capacity to solve football problems above expectations, with a response that generates added value superior to what is necessary in each action and context.
What happens when we have quality players and the team doesn’t work?
We enter into a broader dimension. The absence of productive responses in contrast to the demands of the opponent in the game, at a given time may result from an inability to develop performance for reasons unrelated to the technique, the action, the tool that allows us to manage the game individually and collectively. We enter the cognitive field, the decision making can affect what is subsequently executed by a bad choice of possibilities. But, we again uncover another layer of our onion, what factors cause poor decisions to prevail in our overall collective performance as a whole? What we interpret is seasoned, conditioned by the emotions we feel when interpreting. A team that does not perform is a team that is influenced by the impacts of the consequences of its actions and decisions in competition. Generally we find teams that are less affected by what they add from their successes than what they subtract from their mistakes. A clear example is that team that is winning two to zero and suddenly concedes a goal that limits them and leads them, in the rest of the game, to play in uncomfortable moods that, we clearly perceive, can lead them to defeat.
What are the factors involved in this kind of situation?
Obviously, contextual factors. The expectation of defeat outweighs the consequences of victory. This comes from the competitive environment and interrelationship in which this team and the players that compose it, play. Enter the emotion of fear of losing, the emotion of lack of self-confidence, the collective lack of confidence derived from previous experiences and the consequences of previous defeats.
A team that loses is not a losing team, it is a team with problems that have not been solved in time. These problems can be of various kinds: selection of players, lack of empathy of a high percentage of them with the collective interests, lack of competitive training according to the demands of the competition, lack of institutional leadership, lack of leadership in the management and direction of the group, lack of character and individual personality in the interactions and group interrelationships, etc.. A thousand and one specific reasons to be studied for each particular case.
The big question is: What to do? This is the crux of the matter. How to address the problem. We know that each team is unique because the members that compose it are unique and the interrelationships derived are exclusive to that group in that context of coexistence. Therefore, responses to problems are equally unique, there is no general pattern. But there are lines of action that help. The first one, from the heart of the onion, inside all the layers that hide the seriousness of the different problems derived from it, In the individual performance, the player has to lead himself and in this area, face the reality trying to minimize the negative impacts that the competition produces in himself. From there, the interrelationships with close teammates in the coexistence and those with whom he shares strategic missions have to grow in the confidence of the proper execution of each task, focus attention on the task to increase the basic levels of concentration in training and then in the game. All this requires the proper management of people, the coach and his staff have to isolate the group from everything that generates toxicity and if it is the coach himself or his assistants who provoke it, it requires an exercise of collective honesty to face the problem “looking at each other’s eyes”. From there, the operational and functional performance must manifest itself in the individual obligation to generate added value in the collective. The context of offensive and defensive football interactions has to provoke the comfort in the execution and the previous decision. The cognitive facet, the interpretation of the game, must be aimed at getting it right and if that means making simplicity an art, then go ahead. The structural aspect is in the hands of the coach, choosing well those who will be responsible for defending the team’s badge and establishing clear football patterns of the first order.
If the problem was one of selection, the decision making to initiate problem solving for another more involved dimension, the sports management and the club management. Knowing how to choose is the first step to be able to compete and here the responsibilities are framed in the human profiles that we want to make fit to derive in a good team. If those elected do not express the basic principles by which the club should be defended, it will be difficult to move forward. It is here where the new times must assume the new decisions, the sporting director as maximum responsible must know how to understand the needs and requirements of the staff and must know how to impose to the technical secretariat the registers to dominate at the time of selecting the profiles of the players, considering all its structures, not only the football one. (Despite the potential financial restrictions that could affect the club).
Falling into the pit can be cured, sometimes with treatment, sometimes by pulling it out by the roots. But no solution is valid if it does not go through a previous process of analysis, study and commitment to the search for the solution.
Alex Couto – Uefa Pro Coach – Tactical Football