Sports therapy: scoring with off-the-pitch mind games

10th November 2005

A football match is not just won on the field – sports psychologists are now playing an influential role in teams’ performances.

Sport. It’s a funny old game. Not so long ago, a psychologist would have been laughed out of the dressing room. Nowadays, Jose Mourinho spends his free time playing mind games with his fellow managers, and psychology is the most recent scientific discipline to be accepted by the sporting community as a potentially match-winning coaching ingredient.

“The physical sports sciences are a given at football clubs now for increasing player fitness, speed and skill,” says Roberto Forzoni, an applied sports psychologist. “Of course, those are easy things to measure. Unfortunately, with psychology, there’s no easy monitor to show an improvement in performance. It’s more of an art than a science.”

That much is clear from one of Forzoni’s chosen methods of inspiring player confidence: he’s working on a PhD about the positive effects of video. ” I put together videos that players can then carry around on their iPods or other handheld gizmos – with inspiring music, shots of them and their role models playing and scoring goals, slow motion sequences and so on,” he says. “It’s all motivational; designed to boost confidence pre-performance.”

Forzoni is from a coaching background, and has worked under manager Steve Coppell at Crystal Palace, Brentford and Brighton football clubs. When trying to persuade players of the effectiveness of his methods, his football coaching credentials are essential to his credibility