Emotions in Sport

I spent Saturday night in a pub full of Liverpool supporters and had plenty of opportunity to observe and experience the emotions of live sport – from the fans in the pub, the crowd on TV and the players on the pitch.  The crowd’s emotions at the end were palpable – Real Madrid fans shouting and jumping for joy, while Liverpool’s fans were silent and still.

What was most striking was the anguish of the Liverpool goalkeeper, Loris Karius, (whose errors gifted Real Madrid two of their goals), as he buried his head on the pitch and later in his shirt, hiding his head in shame.  None of his team mates came to console him, and he looked a very lonely figure as he collected his runners-up medal.

How can he recover his self-esteem and self-confidence after such a devastating experience?

We all have social needs to feel significant (that we matter), competent (that we are respected) and likeable (that others like us).  These three needs are associated with fears – the fear of being excluded, the fear of being humiliated and the fear of being rejected.  Karius’s experience on Saturday will have made him feel incompetent and humiliated and his instinct was to hide away, the “flight” response.

What will help him now, is to work on recovering his feelings of being significant, competent and likeable.  He shouldn’t hide away, as he needs positive contact with others to recover these feelings.  So he should:

  • Ignore the put downs and criticism from others
  • Share his feelings with others and ask for their support
  • Stop replaying the scenes in his head
  • Recall the times when he has played well and made crucial saves
  • Work out a plan with his coach to develop his ability to overcome the errors
  • Note down positive feedback from others and remind himself of it every day

Other people can help him to recover his sense of being significant, competent and likeable, by their actions both on and off the pitch.  His team mates, coaches and colleagues could:

  • Talk and listen to him (not avoid him)
  • Include him in activities
  • Give praise and avoid criticism
  • Encourage him and show support (as some are now doing)
  • Be friendly towards him
  • Show empathy for his experience

It will take time, but with the right action plan, mental resilience and support from others, Karius can regain his self-confidence and rebuild his reputation.

In the meantime, there will be plenty more opportunities for football fans and players to experience a range of emotions, as the World Cup gets underway next month!