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Brazil’s mindset meltdown a perfect paradox

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Brazil’s mindset meltdown a perfect paradox

By Warrick Wood

Brazil’s dramatic meltdown at the semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup was a classic paradox of maintaining a ‘winning’ focus, instead of simply performing in the moment.

Performance, in any discipline, requires engagement. When we shift attention from the task at hand to something that may, or may not, happen in the future, we undermine our ability to perform ‘in the moment’. This is when we typically experience momentary lapses in performance due to poor decision-making, hindered motor control, or lack of concentration.

When our attention shifts to outcome, we are also likely to experience heightened hindering anxiety or, potentially, complacency – with both having adverse effects on our ability to perform. Perhaps the loss of two key players and the immense pressure to perform, set anxiety and arousal levels too high before the teams even made it on to the field

For the Brazillian team today, the moment seemed to overwhelm them. The magnitude of the event, the loss of key players, and the quick succession of goals by Germany rapidly shifted the team’s focus to the prospect of losing, and that’s where it appeared to stay. Instead of simply staying focused on their performance and using their well-honed skills as professional football players to dig in and get the job done, they buckled under the pressure. Any ‘home crowd’ advantage they could have used instead transformed into immeasurable pressure, opposed to support.

Their coach has described today as ‘the worst day of my life’ – and it is a dark day for Brazillian football, but he and the team can learn from their mistakes.

By maintaining their focus on their performance, and taking the potential outcome out of the equation during the game, the Brazillian team may have turned this game around before it got out of reach. By being fully engaged with their performance on the field, using the tactics and strategies they already know so well, and focusing on the aspects of the game that they could control, it could have led to a different outcome. After all, the game isn’t over until that final whistle blows.

Warrick Wood is a lecturer in sport psychology in the School of Sport and Exercise at Massey University. He has a Master’s degree in Physical Education and researches elite athletes’ performance. He also works with various elite and junior athletes and teams, and regularly blogs for Psychology Today.

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