Over the last 15 years, the field of sports psychology has significantly evolved and now plays a major role in the preparation of various professional soccer teams worldwide. One can just execute a quick search on Amazon.com to come across several book titles related to the topic. Most of today’s top teams even have sports psychologists on staff.
Sports psychologists employ several techniques such as imagery and other visualization drills which aide athletic performance. Jose Mourinho, world renowned head coach of AC Milan, is known to use the “post mortem (after death) technique with his players before matches to allow them to successfully rebound from unexpected events.
The post mortem technique is a method used days before any given match where the players visualize catastrophic and emotionally perturbing scenarios that may take place on match day and try to develop coping skills and ways to overcome those situations. Following the employment of such technique, it’s assumed that on match day if players encounter any given negative scenario they will be psychologically immune and able to regain composure in such a situation.
The last two matches Egypt played against Algeria are very interesting case studies for sports psychologists and highlight the reason for a continued interest in the field. The variability in the psychological/emotional make up and consistency of play of both teams was clear in these matches.
The Egyptian squad is full of talent throughout all sectors of the field. They possess players that can decide the outcome of the match in a sudden play of brilliance. However, the Egyptian players seemed to be feeling the overwhelming pressure that was developing around the two matches. Ahmad Hassan, the Egyptian captain, was clearly nervous during both matches. The hope and aspirations of a whole country seemed to rest on the shoulders of the Egyptian squad and an outsider can only imagine or have a glimpse of how unbearable that can be.
In contrast the consistency of play demonstrated by the Algerians in their basic “bread and butter type of game was crucial in carrying them towards qualification for the World Cup. The Algerians were tested psychologically on more than one occasion.
One should not forget that in the match in Cairo, Egypt scored in the first minute of the game. Certainly, that can be very taxing psychologically for any given team. The Algerians were unnerved by the situation, quickly recovered and were able to play in consistent, effective fashion until the end of the match when Egypt luckily scored a goal in the last minute of injury time forcing the decisive match.
Being in the stadium and having watched the match, I personally thought that goal was the final nail in the coffin of the Algerians and that they were psychologically obliterated for the final battle in the heat of Sudan. They were a minute away from qualification when Emad Meteb delivered the final blow in the Cairo match. Once again the Algerians showed their mettle and regrouped a second time. On Sudanese ground, the Algerians displayed a superior level of self control, psychological stability and consistent level of play. In the end, it was this consistency, psychological prowess, tactical organization and lack of lapses in play that lead to their qualification. I only wonder if the Algerians have a sports psychologist on staff.
Ricardo Guerra is a Physiologist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. He has a Masters of Science in Sports Physiology from the Liverpool John Moores University. He has worked with several clubs and teams in the Middle East and Europe, including the Egyptian and Qatari national teams.