The similarities between footballers and cockroaches

Cockroaches' abilities to preform in-front of other Cockroaches tell us a lot about which footballers perform when the stakes are high

Cockroach. It has game

Robert Zajonc, a Polish-born American social psychologist, wanted to test how organisms react to audience.

To do so, Zajonc used cockroaches, which have a natural tendency to run from the light to darker areas.

Zajonc set up two courses: one simple (a tube) and one complex (a maze).

He got cockroaches to run down the clear tube towards a light, and found that they ran even faster when watched by other cockroaches. But when put in the maze, it actually took them longer to complete the course when watched by their peers.

This is the basis for the “Audience Theory”, a theory that describes a situation where, when faced with relatively easy tasks, we find the presence of other people as a positive stimulus, whereas when faced with a difficult task, the audience is unnerving and we are likely to under-perform.

It’s easier for us to do something difficult if we’ve already got the technique right, if we had practiced enough to know what to do.

The better our technical abilities – the better we will perform in front of audience.

That’s why the “mentality” issue in football is a bit over-blown: Usually, the better a person is at doing something like being a goalkeeper, the better he will perform when people are watching him. The better one is at tackling and passing – the more likely he is to enjoy the “big games”, and perform better when the stakes are higher.

A team that is considered to be good, yet somehow loses in big games will continue to do just that until they realise that the losses are not the result of a lack in mental strength, but simply because technically, they just aren’t good enough.

Confidence is a result of technical skills. Football is a team sport, therefore a player’s confidence level is directly connected to his teammates’ skill-set, as well as his own.

We can see it clearly when players from lesser teams, where the talent pool is limited, usually seem to play much better after joining a big club – where there’s more  competition for a spot in the starting line-up.

Good players can become excellent when playing with excellent players. Excellent players will be better off playing in front of a full stadium. Simple, ain’t it?

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