World Cup Emotions and Great Teams

The World Cup and Wimbledon are over – what are we going to do for our entertainment?  Even people who don’t usually like sport have been drawn into England’s world cup journey to the semi-finals.  The reason for this is that sport engages our emotions. The Greeks and Romans knew that the best way to get people engaged is through their emotions – the Greeks used tragedy and the Romans used gladiators.  Sport is our modern-day equivalent.  When watching the England players, we feel involved, we feel their joy and their pain, and we go back for more.  We like experiencing emotions – it’s part of being human.

Since being knocked out at the semi-final stage, praise has deservedly been lavished on the team and their manager – there is even a tube station temporarily renamed Gareth Southgate.  Many factors contributed to their success and many psychological explanations have been given – all of which undoubtedly played their part.  I want to add one more theory about the way Gareth Southgate has removed the fear from the team and replaced it with a positive emotion, a sense of adventure.  This theory is about our needs when we relate to other people and the helpful or unhelpful emotions these can generate.

Self-worth and Emotions

Our sense of self-worth comes from our social needs to feel significant (that we matter), competent (that we are respected) and likeable (that others like us).  If these needs are satisfied, we feel confident and positive and this helps us perform better.  But if they are not satisfied, then we feel fears – the fear of being excluded, the fear of being humiliated and the fear of being rejected – and these undermine our confidence and make our performance more hesitant, leading to worse results.

Throughout the World Cup tournament, the England players were able to maintain their sense of self-worth and this gave them the confidence to play without fear and to perform on the big stage.  The fans and media were supportive throughout which meant that the team felt that they mattered, they were respected and they were liked.  Instinctive fears were removed and they could play with a sense of adventure.  When asked if he was nervous, Dele Alli replied “excited, not nervous”, turning a negative emotion into a positive one.

The players returned to the UK with their self-esteem intact, not having to apologise to the media and fans as previous teams have done.  Add to that Gareth Southgate’s style of using praise rather than blame to motivate, and you have a winning formula for creating a great team.   And of course this applies to teams outside sport too!