Physical Mental Social and Emotional Development in Football



Whenever you are evaluating your own personal or team performance, or watching Match of the Day on a Saturday evening, more often than not, it will be physical factors that impacted on a player or team performance that is discussed by the pundits. Given that the game is built around physical components it is natural that this is what we are immediately drawn to however, it is hugely important to understand the other factors that can have both a positive and negative impact on not only football but most sports that are mental, social and emotional. We will discuss these key factors in later articles but for now, let’s focus on analysing physical factors, how we can evaluate our performance and what methods of approach can we adopt to make significant improvements.


One key physical factor that can often separate the good players from great, are technical skills. These include; timing and execution of a pass/shot, consistency of the skill, imagination in possession of the ball, how capable and able the player is to play with flair and freedom. In youth football, the freedom to express and be creative is slowly diminishing and should always be encouraged in the right areas of the pitch at the right time.


The second key physical factor that can often win or lose a game to consider is tactical. We currently live in a society where online tactical analysis is readily available with some being of a very high standard. Some basic means of tactical awareness can include; what are my strengths and weaknesses for a specific match/role, what are the opposition strengths and weaknesses and how can we exploit them as a team, what is the current time in the game resulting in a greater intensity or a more controlled manner, who are we playing and what type of match should we expect, what are the external factors that may play a part such as surface, referee, weather conditions, opposition support etc. It is essential to carefully analyse these factors before each match and prepare effectively to combat as many factors as possible. In situ analysis can be difficult yet extremely effective. You may have planned for A but the opposition are doing B, how do you react? Once the game is finished, it is essential to spend quality time to reflect on your tactical performance and what areas worked well and what requires improvement.


The final physical factor that can have an impact on your performance is of course fitness. Areas of personal consideration should include; aerobic, strength, speed and power. Physical training should always be made specific to the individual strengths and weaknesses and consideration should also be made to the position in which you play. The levels of strength required for a centre back will be greater to that of a winger who in turn requires excellent speed to effectively execute his role within the team driving past opposition full backs offensively and tracking back defensively.




Repetition drills – identify the skill you want to improve which is specific to your position and practice, practice and practice some more! Grove the move until you can do it automatically!

Unopposed and opposed practice – practice the skill in a controlled environment with no opposition then add limited pressure before making it game realistic with defenders working at 100%. 


1.   Modified games/situations – take the skill you want to improve and develop it in a game like situation such as 2v1 for full back and wingers working in partnership.

2.   Walk/run through – using the ball, walk through the movements required for each phase of play and ensure you fully understand your role in and out of possession.


1.   Conditioning drills – identify the key physical factors that are appropriate to your position and work on drills which address them.

2.   Specificity – make all conditioning work specific to your position and actions such as crossing followed by a recovery run for a full back.




It can often be read or heard in the mainstream media that ‘they don’t quite have the mental strength to play at this level’ which then often raises the question ‘well what does it take and how do you get it?’ If we look more closely at the hugely important mental factors that can influence and impact performance, we should consider the following areas;

*   level of arousal (under and over)

*   motivation

*   decision making

 *   problem solving

*   mental toughness

*   processing information

*   anticipation

*   cue recognition 


Looking at levels of arousal and I am sure we can all think of a player who is super charged for a game and rarely controls himself and equally a player who plays without a care in the world. Whilst neither is right or wrong, it is however important to understand them and strike the correct balance that works for you. I often wonder what motivates the modern day elite level football player given the amount of money that is being earned through salaries and sponsorship. Are they motivated to make personal improvements each day, do they want to be recognised as the best player in the world or do they want to win trophies, earn a new contract and make even more money. At the very top level of the game where players and generally all at peak fitness with similar skill levels, decision-making can often be the difference between the excellent and world class players. Knowing when to pass or dribble or drop off or press is a mental skill that can be trained through experience, knowledge and repetition and one that can make a huge difference between you and your competitors. With current society not being conducive to players playing in the street or public park for that matter anymore, it has often been said that the regular organised coaching culture which has been created for all youth players nowadays has reduced the ability for players to make decisions on the pitch for themselves and I have to agree. Players should be given the opportunity to make their own decisions (which alongside this will come mistakes) and then develop this mental factor making them more accountable on the pitch. This then links to problem solving and the ability to have the awareness and knowledge to spot something on the pitch which is either a strength or weakness of the opposition and making an educated problem solving decision to combat it.  



1.   Visualisation – close your eyes and picture yourself scoring that last minute winner of saving the decisive penalty in a shoot out. Play the scene over in your head and have an understanding of how it feels and what is required.

2.   Positive Self Talk – have a short script prepared and ready to use should you be feeling down and lack of motivation in a game such as ‘I am a good player, I am going to impose myself on this game’ this can help flush out negative thoughts and focus on the positives?




Football of course is a team sport made up of 11 unique individuals. To create a winning and successful team, it is essential that Social factors are identified, addressed and improved. Within social factors that can impact on performance, there are two sub components that are Group Dynamics and Cultural/Societal Issues. We can look deeper at each and the role they play in developing a strong team spirit. 


Group Dynamics include cooperating with team mates, contributing towards the team objectives, working in isolation, relationships with team mates, staff and how you fit in as an individual to the over team dynamics. Being a good team player requires you to fully understand your role and that of others. A phrase used by many is ‘a hard working team is difficult to beat’ which of course requires more than hard work but it undoubtedly gives a solid foundation to build team success upon. 


More and more important nowadays is the importance of addressing Cultural/Societal Issues which should be the cornerstone of our game. They are basic values which give us rules and parameters to play within. Without these, there would be no structure and discipline. Whilst we always want to strive to win, we must do so by playing in the correct sporting manner. It is important when playing to always adhere to the basic ROOTS of the game. 


Rules - play hard but fair and always within the rules of the game. Don’t cheat to simply win a game as it will ultimately devalue the success. Be honest and truthful at all times which will result in gaining more decisions, good luck in the future.  

Opposition - respect your opponents and always treat with respect. The better the opponent, the harder you should try allowing you to continually make improvements to your game.  

Officials - without match officials there would be no organised games and we must always bear that in mind. The officials always try their best and honest mistakes will happen similar to that of players so we must be mindful and respectful at all times. Shake hands before and at the end and don’t be afraid to ask them their real name, it is not often REF!!

Team mates - show respect and encouragement to your team mates at all times. Whilst you may not always agree with a choice of pass or shot, you will always need them to help and assist during the game and a supportive team mate is a good team mate.  

Self - never let yourself down by making rash decisions or acts of ill discipline. You owe it to yourself to play hard but fair and push yourself to be the best that you can be. 



1.   Role models – identify a player that you admire (preferably in your position) and watch as much of them on and off the pitch. Watch how they get off the team bus, how they enter the field, how they warm up, how they deal with immediate setbacks and try to replicate. Also, be aware that you can also be a role model for others (even if you don’t like it!) be it a younger sibling, youth team player etc so always aspire to inspire!

2.   Building Team Dynamics – organise and fully participate in team building events such as go-karting, paint balling etc. These really help to shift the focus from football for a while and can often lead to increased levels of team morale and leadership.




We can all think of a player who is a little hot headed and one that plays with a sense of calmness and composure. I am sure most will agree that a balance between both is an ideal blend. Without the passion and enthusiasm, a player will struggle to impose themselves on a game and too much, they run the risk of ill discipline. 


If we look at areas of sporting emotion we automatically think of the following;


Happiness /sadness – this can have a serious impact on confidence, self belief, resilience, optimism/pessimism and realising true potential. There will always be external factors that impact your mood such as personal issues, school/college/work problems etc and it is essential that you try and not let your emotions over ride the other factors impacting your performance.  

Anger – is an emotion often associated with tough tackling central defenders or combatitive midfield players but it can affect rationale decision making, self control, aggression, hostility and lower levels of tolerance and greater levels of frustration. 

Fear – unfortunately many players (particularly young players) play with fear be that of making a mistake in a match or receiving harsh criticism from a coach, parent or team mate. The emotion of fear can impact decision making, confidence, realising true potential, panic confusion, stress, anxiety and nervousness. Training and playing in an environment that has a culture of learning, rewarding hard work and effort and accepting that mistakes will happen is a great way of alleviating internal fear but unfortunately this is not always the case.


1.   Team Talks – participate and contribute in a positive manner in team talks (as and when appropriate). This can help to reduce many emotions and realign focus on the match and away from any uncontrollable external factors.

2.   WIN Routine – it is inevitable that you will make mistakes during every training session and match and that there is acceptance that this will happen. What you must focus on is What’s Important Now and have a routine/ritual to override any negative thoughts. These may include counting to 5 in your head, tapping the badge on your jersey, wiping the sweat from your brow. These actions should be a personal signal to yourself that what has happened is done and you must focus on WIN!