In the football physiology posts on (maintain) maximum actions and (maintain) quicker recovery between actions, it was explained that the heart and lung only partly contribute to football fitness. As a result, (maintain) maximum actions and (maintain) quicker recovery between actions are only components of football fitness, they are not the same thing as football fitness. At best, they can contribute to a players football performance. The reason they can only partly explain a players football fitness is because there are other body parts that also play a role in the football ability and football capacity of a player. One particularly important body part is the brain.

Imagine a striker that is responsible for pressing the central defenders of the opponent.

The central defender receives the ball and the striker begins pressing him. The striker is making a maximum pressing action. As he gets closer to the central defender, the central defender easily passes the ball to his holding midfielder that is totally free. The striker recovers back behind the ball.

A few moments later, this same sequence repeats itself.

And again.

And again.

The fifth time the central defender receives the ball, the striker is fed up. Instead of making a maximum pressing action, he makes a sub-maximum pressing action.

By the eighth or ninth time, the striker stays in his position and doesn’t even bother pressing.

The coach begins shouting at his striker from the sidelines and cursing him towards the bench players. “Keep Pressing!” “How is he already tired!?”

The coach begins warming up a substitution while the assistant coach addresses the attacking midfielder. The assistant coach says, “You have to mark their holding midfielder tighter when our striker presses the ball.” He then encourages the striker to keep pressing.

The tenth time the central defender receives the ball, the striker makes a maximum pressing action. This time, the attacking midfielder player has taken away the opponents holding midfield player. As a result, the central defender makes a pass that is easily intercepted by the attacking midfielder. They then make a transition forward towards the goal.

For the remainder of the 1st half, the striker makes maximum pressing action after maximum pressing action.

The coach, still upset about the earlier pressing actions, continues to curse the striker, “He waits until I start warming someone up to keep pressing…”

What happened in this situation? Did the striker become less fit and then more fit moments later? Or, was something else going on?

The striker had no problem with his lungs. He had quickly recovered between each pressing action. The reason why he stopped pressing was due to another body part: his brain.

Every player has a brain. This brain allows them to think, amongst other actions. During a football game, these thinking actions will influence a players football actions. The striker didn’t all of a sudden grow a bigger heart or achieve greater lung capacity during his 10th pressing action, his thinking had changed.

During pressing action number five, the striker was thinking, “I’m not pressing anymore. Their midfielder is open every time.”

During pressing action number eight, the striker was thinking, “Not again. I’m just going to stay here and cover the midfielder.”

But, during pressing action number ten, the striker thought, “Thank God, our coach has fixed the problem. Now, I can press again.”

Obviously, this is a fictional story, but the point is that the thinking of a player can also play a role in their football ability and football capacity.

At the beginning of the match, the player was 100% focused on his football actions. Particularly, his pressing actions. As the game continued, he realized that his pressing was pointless. He wasn’t causing any miscommunications in the opponent or creating chances to win the ball or make interceptions. Therefore, the thinking of this player became his primary focus.

In the actions versus movements post, the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary perspectives on motion were described. In addition, it was said that players are primarily focused on interacting with the football context. These are football actions like passing and pressing. Simultaneously, players also make actions that support their football actions, such as breathing, walking, and thinking.

Usually, these other actions stay in the background. However, there are many situations that occur in a match. Sometimes, these situations will cause certain actions to move to the foreground rather than the background.

For example, a player that is fouled and kicked hard in the shin will spend the next few minutes primarily focused on walking. He is no longer primarily focused on getting open or passing, but on his walking actions. He will be seen “hobbling” around the pitch as he regains his walking actions. If he cannot switch his focus back to football, he will eventually need to be substituted.

No longer focused on football, but on walking.

Another situation that can occur in football is a red card. During a red card situation, players may primarily focus on their thinking actions. Some players may think, “Oh no, now we are going to lose” or “are we fit enough to play man down for 83 minutes?”

These thinking actions can “take-over” and lead a player to only secondarily deal with the football context. In other words, his focus is no longer maximum football actions, but thinking. As a result, he makes sub-maximal football actions and the performance of the team and that player will drop.

Sometimes, game situations overload a players thinking and he no longer is focused on football, but on his thoughts.

In our example above, the ‘tactical’ situation led the striker to primarily concern himself with his thoughts. As a result, he made sub-maximal pressing actions. From the outside, it appeared as if the player couldn’t catch his breath, or was being “lazy”. Oddly, the moment he stopped thinking ‘what are my teammates doing?’ or ‘this isn’t working’ and instead, focused on his football actions; the player appeared to have miraculously recovered his ability and fitness. All of a sudden, he could ‘catch his breath’ and his ‘laziness’ had disappeared.

These examples demonstrate that shifts in a players thinking actions correspond with shifts in their football ability and football fitness.

Anyone that has coached or played football is all too familiar with situations where the team appears to fall into a ‘negative spiral’. For example, a team that gives up one goal, all of a sudden gives up two or three goals in succession. Conversely, a team that scores a goal, all of a sudden goes on to score two or even three. These moments demonstrate that the thinking actions players make can have a considerable impact on the quality and quantity of their actions.

A player that is ‘fed up’ with his task, like the striker above, will make a lower quantity of actions because he is thinking ‘this sucks’. A player that is thinking, “there are a lot of scouts at this game, I hope I play well” might make a lower quality of action because he is primarily thinking rather than playing.

Football Thinking

What these examples teach us is that the brain also plays a role in the football ability and football fitness (capacity) of a player. We are primarily concerned with the football fitness of players on this website. Therefore, let’s consider the brains role during a football fitness session.

Let’s say that we are doing football sprints with minimum rest. Football sprints are 1v1 situations in training where the players must sprint inside of the football context. This exercise is intended to overload a players ability to maintain maximum actions. This football physiology characteristics can contribute towards maintaining good actions.

During football sprints with minimum rest, players must sprint at a maximum. After about 10-30 seconds of recovery, the players must sprint again. During this exercise, the players will experience discomfort in their body. Their muscles will burn and they experience very heavy breathing. If the players begin paying more attention to their muscles and lungs rather than out-sprinting their opponent, the training effect will decrease. The players that focus on their lungs will sprint sub-maximally as the discomfort from the training overload is “too much” for them to handle. As a result, this player will not be training to maintain maximum actions, but training to maintain sub-maximum actions. Obviously, this is not the intended training effect.

Think fatigue or think win the ball

This example shows that the exercise only creates adaptations “in theory”. On paper, the players are improving their ability to maintain maximum actions. In practice, if their thinking and attention is primarily concerned with their tired muscles and burning lungs, there will be no training effect. In these situations, the limitation begins with the thinking of the player, not their phosphate system.

To create a training overload, the players need to focus on their task, not external factors like fatigue. In other words, the thinking of a player is a prerequisite for improving the football performance. During a match, players that think about external factors like the score, the referee, or the spectators will perform at lower levels of football ability and football capacity. During a training session, players that think about external factors like fatigue, heavy breathing, or discomfort will perform underloaded versions of the training session rather than overloaded versions.

Obviously, there is a limit to this concept. The thinking of a player is only a limitation to a point. For example, a person that runs 10 miles a day may need to overcome their thinking in order to overload themselves by running 11 miles. However, overcoming their thinking wouldn’t allow them to all of a sudden run 30 miles without severe consequences like muscle tears, or severe muscle breakdown.

Think Action

The brain plays a critical role in the football ability and football capacity of a player. In the post on football ability, a players ability to perform the CDE cycle contributes to the football performance through better actions. When discussing the football ability of a player, we are discussing the action itself.

During the execution of the strikers pressing action from earlier, what was the player focused on? Was he thinking about pressing? Or, while he was pressing was he also thinking about external factors. Did he have a thought like, ‘this is a waste of time, they’re just going to pass around me.’ If the player is thinking about external factors, the quality of their action will go down.

At a higher level of play, the quality of an action needs to go up. As a result, players need to learn to think action not think external factor. This is the first football psychology characteristic.

The football psychology characteristic think action

Maintain Think Action

We don’t want players that only think action in the first half, but for 90 minutes. In fact, many games are lost in the last moments of the match. Players that think “the game is over” can make lower quality actions at critical moments of the match like during late game set piece situations. In the football world, many coaches refer to this as “switching off”. What this basically means is that players are no longer thinking action. Instead, they are thinking external factor.

In our earlier example, the striker was thinking action during his initial pressing actions. As a result, his pressing actions were maximal. As the game continued; however, the player began to make sub-maximal pressing actions. Instead of thinking action, he was thinking external factor. During the execution of his pressing actions, the striker was concerned with the actions of his teammates, how open the holding midfielder was, and how his coach was yelling at him for something that had nothing to do with him. The player could not maintain think action.

Obviously, the quality of his initial pressing actions demonstrates that the player has the ability to think action. But, the lower quality of his following pressing actions demonstrated that the player cannot maintain think action – another football psychology characteristic.

The football psychology characteristic maintain think action

Takeaway

The brain plays a crucial role in the football ability and football capacity of a player. The player can either think action or think external factor. If the player thinks external factor, the quality of his football actions will go down. If the player thinks action, the quality of his actions can remain at 100%. Therefore, the football psychology of a player also contributes to the football performance. The football psychology characteristic think action can contribute to the football ability of a player by contributing towards better actions.

Players that only think action in the first half or when things are going well are not in control of their thinking. Therefore, players need to learn to maintain their ability to think action. The football psychology characteristic maintain think action can contribute to the football fitness of a player and his ability to maintain good actions.