How the public can help England's World Cup chances

“We all have a responsibility in the way we talk about sport to ensure that the athletes representing our country, such as the England Men’s Football team at the world cup in Russia this year, are supported not vilified.”

Dr Martin Turner, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology

England's chance of winning the World Cup 2018 isn’t just down to the players – it is in the hands of the public too.

That is according to Dr Martin Turner, a Sport and Exercise Psychologist at Staffordshire University, who scrutinises the pressure that the nation puts on England football players in a recent article published on The Conversation UK.

He said: “Just because we demand success, it doesn't make it more likely to happen. The country has demanded World Cup success from the England football team for decades now, but that hasn’t made lifting the trophy more likely.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp shared similar sentiments in a speech for the Football Writers' Association's annual dinner last month, calling on the media to take the pressure off the England Football team this World Cup.

A BBC investigation has found that the English media is the most negative compared to other countries and Dr Turner believes that journalists’ use of sensational language and emphasis on 'must win' matches not only decreases the team’s chances of winning but could also impact the players’ mental health.

“When you really think about it, there are very few "musts" in life. We must breath air, eat, hydrate and sleep. Words like "terrible" and "devastation" have no place in sport. These words are more at home in war zones and natural disasters.” he explained.

“At Staffordshire University our research shows that athletes who demand success, believe that losing is terrible and consider themselves failures when they lose, actually experience emotions that can hinder their performance. More importantly, it can hinder their mental wellbeing.”

Dr Turner has worked with a range of elite athletes using a technique traditionally used by therapists – Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) – to help improve their mental resilience. He recently co-edited a book on the topic and received an international award for his research.

“Research is showing that athletes can be helped to think more flexibly and realistically about performance by encouraging them not to demand success, to accept themselves when they under-perform, and to put success and failure into perspective.

He added: “We all have a responsibility in the way we talk about sport to ensure that the athletes representing our country, such as the England Men’s Football team at the world cup in Russia this year, are supported not vilified.”

Read Dr Turner’s full article World Cup: dialling down pressure makes England victory more likely on the Conversation UK.

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