Recently the BBC reported that Alan Pardew, manger of Newcastle United Football Club was seeking help from a sport psychologist as a result of his recent touchline behaviour. Over the last few years there have been a number of instances where football managers have been sent to the stands, sent off and even fined large amounts of money due to their behaviour.

  • 2013: Blackpool manager Paul Ince was banned for 5 games for showing violent conduct towards match officials.
  • 2014: Alan Pardew was fined £60,000 and given a 7 match ban for head butting Hull City’s David Meyler.
  • 2014: Jose Mourinho was fined £8,000 as a result of his conduct towards match officials after a loss to Aston Villa. Mourinho was even sent off in 2013 when Chelsea were beating Cardiff 4–1 at home and let’s not forget that Mourinho was sent to the stands 3 times when in charge of Real Madrid.
  • 2009: Arsene Wenger was infamously sent off against Manchester United in 2009 for kicking a bottle.

Why is it that football is a sport where managers can’t seem to control their behaviour? Why are we seeing so many managers being sent off or fined large amounts of money? Surely Sport Psychologists are involved in every club trying to help not only players performance but managers performance as well?

Managing emotions is not easy for any manager. Football is a high intensity sport where teams can go from winning 4–0 at half time and the resulting elation, to then conceding 4 goals in the second half to draw 4–4 and complete despair. Yes Arsenal, we are talking about you and that infamous match against Newcastle United. What about the recent thrashing that Bayern Munich gave Porto in the champions league quarter final. In the first leg Bayern Munich were beaten 3–1 by Porto. However in the second leg it was a much different story. Munich gave a fantastic performance and beat Porto 6–1 to progress to the next stage of the Champions League. Just think how frustrating this experience must have been for both managers. Porto manager Julen Lopetegui must have been overjoyed to beat Bayern Munich the 5 times champion league winners. Just when you think you are going through to the next stage of the Champions League you then get thrashed 6–1.

With the business end of the season approaching across all major European leagues the pressure will be mounting and football managers across Europe will be having many restless nights. Anxiety will heighten, frustrations will kick in and only those managers with the right psychological tools to cope with these stressors will succeed.

We want to know what you think about recent touchline behaviour and different ways that managers can keep their emotions in control. Leave your comments in the section below, drop us a tweet and lets get the discussion going!

  • Ian Cookson

    The pressure at that level, both from internal (pressure to keep your job!) and external (fans, media and respect of the players) must be intense so it’s unsurprising. On the flip side the manager of the team I support (naming no names) has a calm and professional demeanour for the most part. Unfortunately, the team have been guilty of surrendering the lead in a number of games, and I attribute this to the managers language, verbal and non-verbal. So maybe displaying passion isn’t such a bad thing, it just needs to be kept in check when it goes too far! :D

    • Thanks for sharing Ian. Do you think football clubs need sport psychologists to help managers to deal with this pressure in a better way?

      • Ian Cookson

        Of course I do :D Although from what Alan Pardew said in that interview, about being aware of the triggers, in terms of undesirable behaviours I’d think any sort of psychological intervention such as counselling would be beneficial, anything that raised self awareness.

  • Clare Churchman

    I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a Sports Psychologist and I use Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT; developed by Albert Ellis) as my preferred approach when working with both populations. Whereas a common way to think about emotions such as anxiety and anger is to consider them on a continuum (a little bit is ok or even good, a lot is not), REBT considers these two ends of the continuum to be conceptually distinct concepts. If we take anger as the example, as that’s the nature of this article, acting in a way that uses violence, verbal aggression, intimidation, getting sent off, fined etc would by its nature be considered unhealthy and unproductive anger as it does not get us nearer to our goals. It’s based upon a set of irrational beliefs (demanding “we should be winning!!!”, condemning others/the self/the world “he’s sh*t!!”, low frustration tolerance “I can’t stand this!”, awfulising “this is AWFUL!!”) that we might hold in response to an adversity, such as losing an important game. Typical CBT programs would likely work on trying to reduce this angry response, however, as Ian says below, paradoxically perhaps a calm demeanour just does not cut it motivationally, so maybe a passionate response would be better. Passion, or healthy anger, is considered healthy as it is motivational and productive, steers people in the direction of their goals and differs from unhealthy anger due to its foundation in rational, flexible beliefs about the (same) adverse situation, e.g. strongly preferring/desiring “come on, we want to win this!”, acceptance of others/the self/the world “that was a weak performance” not “you are a weak player”, high tolerance to frustration “I can stand losing” and anti-awfulising “Ok this may be bad but it could be worse”. REBT helps clients to identify their irrational beliefs, dispute them and change them into rational, flexible alternatives so that they can achieve their goals when faced with adversity. This is useful to anyone learning how to deal with frustration, football managers included!