I studied Computer Science at University, but one of my favourite courses was first year Psychology. I liked it so much that I attended lectures in 3 different years, despite my not needing it for my degree. Now this actually had very little to do with the class content, and much to do with ratio of females to males in the class, but on the rare occasions that I actually listened to the lecturer, I found one aspect of Psychology particularly interesting:
Confidence is such a strange phenomenon:
So strong and yet so fragile
So quickly garnered but so quickly lost
So invisible but so easily noticed
So immaterial but so important
When you think about it, being self-confident should not actually have a material effect on a person’s ability to perform a task. Either they can do it or they can’t. But that’s just not how it works. Truly believing in your ability to get something right dramatically increases your chances of doing so. And it’s not just self-belief that has this effect. If someone else really believes in you, you’re also far more likely to get it right.
Think back, if you will (and as a Gunner, you really should) to the 26th of February. Arsenal were at the end of a miserable week, having said goodbye to Thierry Henry, lost to Sunderland in the FA Cup and been humiliated in Milan. Confidence amongst the fans was at absolute nadir. Thankfully our next game wasn’t against our fiercest rivals, who weren’t 10 points above us on the log and whose fans hadn’t been ramming it down our throats.
Except it was, they were and they had. And at 2-0 down after 34 minutes, it was definitely not looking up. Spurs had good fortune for both of the goals, with a massive deflection looping the ball over the Szczesny and into the net, before Gareth Bale did his own looping over the keeper, allowing Adebayor to give them a 2 goal lead. The crowd was on the players’ backs, the players were playing with their heads down, and I was sitting at home fearing that it was about to get Carlos Tevez. As in, very ugly.
But something just clicked at that point. Bacman powered in a header, the crowd went absolutely mental, and to be perfectly honest, I never doubted that we’d win that game from that moment. Don’t ask me why, I just knew that we would turn it around and judging from the crowd noise and buzz on that day, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
Every time Arsenal have a flat performance, I think back to that day and wonder how we could turn on that switch? What would give the team the lift they needed to become that confident side which ripped Spurs to shreads.
Every time I see Theo Walcott running into a defender, I think back to that day, and I wonder what Theo needs to become the man who made such intelligent runs that day. Does it require a piece of luck like he had on his first goal? Was that the moment that Theo suddenly thought that it was his day? Was that the moment that gave him the confidence to dominate the rest of the game, when he could, and possibly should have been subbed off after a disastrous first half?
And every time I hear the crowd groan after another misplaced pass, or boo at half time when we are behind, I wonder how it affects the player’s confidence. I wonder if they get a little scared to try something that might go wrong, and that’s why we see more and more sideways passing, and less and less penetration.
I’m certainly not blaming the fans for poor performances, I feel similar frustration when players do simple things poorly. It just gets me thinking. And of course, the worse the team’s form, the earlier in a game the crowd gets frustrated, so the earlier the confidence from the crowd drops, and the earlier Arsenal start to look pedestrian.
I call it the Spiral of Confidence. It’s a 2-way relationship between the team and the fans, where each feeds off the other to a point where it creates an unstoppable force, either positive or negative. I like to think that it’s one of the reasons that Arsenal score such a high percentage of goals early and late in games. If the team makes a strong start, the crowd get right behind them, and the players feel that lift and press on to score. However, if the team haven’t scored early, the crowd gets a bit flat, the players get a bit flat and the game seems to meander. Think of how many times Arsenal have gone into half-time at 0-0 over the past few years. How often do we score early in the 2nd half? Rarely, if ever. The game inevitably ambles along until the obligatory substitutions, and then suddenly Arsenal realise they are running out of time, so they start to lift the intensity, the crowd feels the change in momentum, gets more boisterous, the players feel the crowd energy and put in some extra effort, and so on in the spiral of confidence.
Theo Walcott is a perfect case study for this. When Arsenal are playing badly, and the crowd is low on confidence, Theo is generally underwhelming. When the side is on top and the crowd are in good voice, Theo looks dangerous and makes a difference.
We often hear about how the crowd can be the 12th man for the team, but I wonder if it doesn’t run even deeper than that. I wonder if a crowd devoid of confidence isn’t actually a negative for the team or individual player. Does the negative air around the management of the club actually affect the team on the pitch? Are the emotions of the fans so powerful that the team can actually suffer because we as fans are unhappy with the club as a whole?
Could the Spiral of Confidence be the predominant reason that teams often experience a bounce when hiring a new manager? The fans feel the new start, and go into the ground with a positive, confident mindset. The players feed off the energy of the fans, and the confidence breeds confidence.
How much of an effect can the Spiral of Confidence have on the team? What can anybody do to reverse it when the spiral is aiming downwards? If only I hadn’t spent so much of the Psychology staring at girls, I might know the answers.------------
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