Psychologist’s work with a football club
The Znojmo club currently plays in the Moravian-Silesian Football League, the third-highest football competition in the Czech Republic. The team is composed of professional players. Interestingly, none of the players are Czech; the whole club consists of foreigners. The predominant players are from Portuguese-speaking countries, Brazil and Portugal. However, the team also includes many players from Balkan countries, one Italian, one Frenchman, one Venezuelan, and players from Slovakia. The members of the team communicate with each other in English, but Portuguese or Serbian can be heard quite often.
I was given a free hand at work, so I spent the first few weeks assessing the situation. I identified ten areas, which I then focused on:
- Communication between players
- Communication between coaches and players
- Conflict management
- Team atmosphere and group cohesion
- Leadership and discipline
- Managing stress and anxiety
- Team goals
- Club facilities and external factors
All players completed a questionnaire covering the areas. In addition, I have observed the team in games and training, and I have also had discussions with several football officials both inside and outside the club. It was particularly beneficial to watch a game in which the Znojmo team lost. It was there that I learned the most about the team’s dynamics. Ultimately, I talked to each player individually to better understand the results.
While processing the results, it soon became apparent that the players needed to form a cohesive unit. They were fragmented into smaller subgroups according to their languages. The communication on the pitch was not working; some players communicated with each other in Portuguese, while some were in Serbian, but the rest did not understand and could not react correctly, which was reflected in the results of the matches. Also, due to the fragmentation of the team, there were frequent conflicts and aggressive reactions not only inside the team but also externally towards the referees and the opposing players.
To process the results, I used the Freeform virtual whiteboard, where I first summarized the results from the questionnaires, observations and interviews in one place. I identified problem areas and suggested methods and techniques to improve the situation in these areas. Finally, I created a timeline; a plan for how to proceed with the team in their work and what to focus on at which stages.
Plan of psychological work
I coordinated closely with the coaches every step of the way, explaining my process and synchronizing my work with the ongoing schedule of training and games. The first step was to loosen the ties in the language subgroups and start working as one team. To do this, I used a psychological game where I deliberately selected players for opposing groups to break up existing subgroups. In addition, I used pair discussions to encourage better relationships between players.
Once the team members started to interact more across groups, I focused on communication. I got the players to adopt psychological strategies for giving and receiving feedback. I taught them to communicate negative messages to each other in a way that would not harm their counterpart but instead encourage them to improve. Mainly in a playful way with psychological games and exercises, but of course, also by explaining and clarifying some psychological principles.
In addition, I targeted specific players and helped them grow individually. With some of them, we worked on building mental resilience and confidence. With most, however, we addressed managing emotions and calming down before, during, or after the game. And last but not least, I helped the players mentally prepare for the match in an educational way.
When I joined the club as a psychologist two months ago, the Znojmo players had four draws and two losses. Since then, the players have lost only once, drawn once, and won six matches. They have moved up eight places in the league table to fifth place overall, and only six points separate them from the top of the table at the moment. Of course, I don’t want to take credit for the achievements of individual players and coaches. But the players have become a team. They can communicate effectively with each other and handle situations that previously gave them trouble.
What’s next? There are only three weeks. Three games left before the winter break. After that, the players will have a well-deserved break. In the spring, I intend to focus more on individual team members: I want to teach them positive self-instruction methods to recognize and process emotions before they reach the level of affect. There’s still a lot of work to be done. But I’m so happy to see the results already!
👉 Do you want to take your sport to the next level? Try it with a sports psychologist.