Sport psychologist: Burnley’s leaders need to step up

Peter Turchi Peter Turchi
Kevin Robinson October 10, 2012
Jamie Smith
Would be classic Burnley to produce a performance against a ... 3 years ago

A leading sport performance psychologist has told Kevin Robinson that Burnley are suffering from ‘paralysis by analysis’.

The Clarets have lost 13 points from winning positions in the first ten games of the season, a Championship high, squandering the lead five times in the last three games. Speaking exclusively to No Nay Never, Michael Inglis told me he feels it is a purely psychological issue.


Michael Inglis

“The primary psychological issue for Burnley is they are choking as a team,” he explained. “Choking is anxiety base where an individual (or team) experience ‘paralysis by analysis’.”

Inglis has a Masters in Sport Psychology and operates his own clinic in Melbourne working with Olympians, athletes and teams across a variety of sports.

“The most common way we see this is putting in golf, but it can happen in teams as it becomes contagious within the group. Such example in a team sport is cricket where a team drops consecutive catches in the field.

“What happens is the choking spreads collectively – this means that it may happen coincidently 1-2 times, but as the focus on it increases, so do the players thoughts about it.

“These thoughts lead to worry, which leads to anxiety, which then overtakes their concentration levels on what they need to do to hold their lead.”

Eddie Howe’s Clarets have enjoyed success going forward despite their defensive woes and this, coupled with the recurring nature of their failing to hold a lead, leaves Inglis clear that the problem is a mental one.

“For Burnley, it is completely psychological as they have the physical capacity to gain the lead in the first place.”


Burnley Football Club

These problems have grown in prominence despite the big-money signing of Jason Shackell in the summer. He was widely expected to be the leader we have lacked since Steven Caldwell and Graham Alexander left the club, but No Nay Never’s Jamie Smith made special note of how quiet he was when the going got tough at Crystal Palace.

At 2-2 there was only going to be one winner of the match. Heads dropped on the pitch and in the stand. Shackell, supposedly the leader and organiser who would lift the side in times of crisis, was quiet,” he noted in his report of the 4-3 Selhurst Park defeat.

Inglis called upon the likes of Shackell and other senior squad members to stand up and be counted as Eddie Howe cancelled an extended break through the international period to focus on cutting out the problems.

“Going by the comments, the management have discussed it openly with the players and vice versa. That can be a positive thing and going by those comments it was identified as a positive process.

“But now it is action time. No matter how much they talk, it needs to translate into action to ‘get the monkey off the back’.

“How is this done? I would focus on the 3-4 leaders of the playing group & getting them to have a few key messages for the group.

“As it is self-talk that leads to choking and lack of concentration – and in turn to goals scored against them – they need to be reminded of the job at hand.

“It is important that they ONLY focus on what they can do NOW. Nothing else is in their control but the next moment. So I’d focus on what are the technical and tactical things they need to do as part of their role on the field.

“And to eliminate any thoughts on the score or the result.”


Rebecca Symes, Sporting Success

Rebecca Symes has an MA in Sport Psychology and runs UK-based consultancy Sporting Success. She echoed Inglis’ sentiment on removing pressure by encouraging players to apply focus purely on their immediate game rather than the eventual result.

“You don’t win by focusing on winning,” she explained to No Nay Never. “You win by focusing on your strategy, playing to strengths, working together, never giving in and then consequently letting the result take care of itself.

“Belief in your own ability and the ability of the team are absolutely fundamental and this is especially so when the chips are down.

“Maintaining this belief right to the very end is essential but in order to do that the belief has to be strong enough to weather out the tough times – we can all have belief when things are going well, but it’s those who maintain that belief during challenging situations are the ones who will come out on top.

“When players are of a similar technical ability its the mentality that will differentiate teams.”

Eddie has two weeks to work with the squad before the Championship’s worst defence face Blackpool, who Burnley replaced as the league’s top scorers at the weekend, in front of the Sky TV cameras on October 20th.

“When you’re playing Saturday-Tuesday, you’ve no time to do anything really other than recover the players and get them ready,” he admitted to the Burnley Express following Saturday’s defeat.

“Now we’ve got a bit of time where we’ve got to work them. We’ve got to have a better mentality, defending all the way through the team.”

What do you think Burnley need to do to stop dropping the lead? Comment below.

Follow Michael on Twitter at @sports_psych101 and Rebecca at @SportingSuccess

  • Mike Mada

    In my view we need to have a better plan for each phase of games.

    When we are winning, there needs to be an understood plan to consolidate for a while (not giving the ball away – at all for 10 minutes is my current bugbear!).

    When we lose a goal, we need to have a plan to keep calm, do what we do well and focus on doing it again and again. For the most part, good teams have players who do what they do well consistently (boringly even).

    Shacks needs to be shouting his head off at them all to play to that plan – all the time – or the leadership is inconsistent, after all, as they say ‘the tough get going when the going gets tough’.

    Eddie’s job – simple though it might sound – is to get them to understand the plan in each phase of the game and get tough on individuals who don’t deliver. There is an element of ‘niceness’ in this management team, which is good when the going is good – and there needs to be a hairdryer option too.

    I also suggest that in this break, Eddie needs to do something differently otherw2ise, as the sage says, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcomes’.

    This is a new test for the inexperienced management team and they will do well to take stock and do something differently – maybe even engage a sports psychologist – and quickly please, while we have this gap.

    Does someone get Eddie to read this stuff?

    • Jamie Smith
      Jamie Smithin reply to Mike Mada

      I’d be interested if some of our stuff does find its way to Eddie, especially given what we’re publishing later in the week…

  • Pete Bentley

    Lack of ability, foresight, capability or talent morelike!

    • Kevin Robinson
      Kevin Robinsonin reply to Pete Bentley

      I disagree. On paper we certainly have talented and capable players but there are a number of factors coming between that and success on the pitch. The way we set out is one, but its not lack of talent that has lead us to bottle all of these points away. An average group with bottle is worth much more than a talented group without it.

  • Andy

    Interesting little read again! Think it might need sending to the Burnley management team! Need big improvements for the Blackpool game on tv, that could get embarrassing!!

    • Jamie Smith
      Jamie Smithin reply to Andy

      Would be classic Burnley to produce a performance against a good team though.

  • Jonas

    A paralysis of analysis indeed. I think Mike has one simple part of the solution, consolidate after scoring. Against Wednesday we conceded twice within a minute of scoring. Same against Boro. I think we lack steel in central midfield and if you add this to a less than solid defence we are going to be vulnerable.

    I saw it said on a message board recently that as a club we are weak, from boardroom to pitch and I have to agree, we certainly seem to be.

    Who are the winners in the dressing room? Who looks really upset after a defeat? Where’s the Steven Caldwell, the Kevin Ball or even the Robbie Blake or Andy Gray? I don’t see them anywhere in this squad, we just don’t have the players that would rather die than lose – and that is a real problem. I only really see anything like that in Pato.

    • Kevin Robinson
      Kevin Robinsonin reply to Jonas

      Couldn’t agree more Jonas. When writing about leaders in the squad I got ‘the likes of Shackell and…” before I was stuck. There is nobody. That McCann was captain last season speaks volumes.

      • Jamie Smith
        Jamie Smithin reply to Kevin Robinson

        Duff. I see your point.