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Are our high expectations damaging England’s chances in the World Cup?

With the World Cup starting tomorrow, research from Leeds Beckett University is suggesting that placing high expectations on players could be detrimental to their performance.

Dr Helen Heaviside, Dr Andrew Manley, Professor Sue Backhouse and Dr Faye Didymus, all from Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Sport, have been conducting research over the past five years looking at the consequences of expectations in high-performance sport and exploring the experiences of athletes who have been the focus of expectations in major sporting events.

Dr Heaviside said: “Expectations, even those that are well-meant, can be unrelenting and difficult for players to manage, particularly if they are linked to a major event such as the World Cup, and the player has not had much experience of dealing with expectations on the world stage.

“This can result in consequences such as fear of failure, perceptions of pressure, nerves, reduced confidence and magnifying the athlete’s own expectations of themselves. As an ultimate consequence, performance can falter.

“However, it’s not all doom and gloom as there are some positive elements to expectations such as increasing the motivation to train and giving a confidence boost. There are also several ways that expectations can be managed by players; many of which England manager Gareth Southgate is already implementing.”

Dr Andrew Manley, Head of Subject for Sport and Exercise Psychology, said: “There are many ways that players can help themselves. One set of strategies is to focus on things directly under their influence that can help them prepare for performance, including nutrition, sleep and pre-performance routine. Another option is to minimise their focus on things that they are unable to control, including expectations from others and media – this might involve actively avoiding or simply accepting things that they can see, hear or read about, particularly in the press and on social media. Similarly, distraction techniques – reading a book, playing pool, socialising with others – can help to prevent players from focusing on performance expectations.

“Ultimately, to assist the players and coaching staff, the media and fans can help by putting the event into perspective – yes it’s the World Cup, but it’s not a life or death situation, despite what the late, great Bill Shankly might have said!”


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