BC Radio London with Vanessa Feltz – Playing behind closed doors: A psychological perspective

The psychology of playing behind closed doors. A short summary

I am not sure that we will see a great deal of difference in results or performances due to the fact teams are now being asked to play behind closed doors. Footballers train every day ‘behind close doors’ playing highly competitive matches and celebrating when goals fly in! So in terms of outcome, I don’t expect too much difference to what might be expected under normal conditions.

From the perspective of a fan, it will be strange, and the addition to IFA game sound effects will be quite amusing for televised matches, where thousands of chants have been made available for TV broadcasters. It has been slightly amusing watching a player score and the first reaction is to run to the crowd to celebrate!

The three psychological considerations

There are, however, three main psychological considerations that will have some impact on what we will see during these strange times of, particularly Premier League games going on behind closed doors.

1. Social Facilitation

2. Home Advantage

3. The training player syndrome

1. Social Facilitation.

This is the finding that many people will tend to perform well in front of others. Fans can be hugely motivating, particularly for high-ego footballers – and I say that with the greatest of respect. High-performers need to have an ego just to cope! Fans can fuel that ego and help in two ways – 

  1. Effort tends to increase (by around 10%) when there’s a crowd, support, banners and singing 
  2. The crowd is also a great distraction from fatigue so players will feel less tired in front of fans than behind closed doors/ Both of these facts will have an impact n player stats and I’d imagine distance covered will be slightly less than normal but perhaps not significantly.

Fans add energy to any occasion. They can be the fuel that inspires high-level performance. Players visualise scoring a goal in a full stadium and thrive on the adulation and admiration they receive for performing well. It’s adrenalin and it’s now missing. Instead, they need to draw all their motivation from within, their intrinsic motivation – and having coached many teams. One thing players at this level do not suffer with is a lack of intrinsic motivation.

This may be the single biggest factor and it would be interesting to compare the player game stats for these closed games to their previous values. Affecting both teams equally.

2. Home Advantage: Feeding off the fans

Home advantage is a real phenomenon. Teams tend to perform better and get better results at home. The main reason, apart from familiarity, is the crowd factor – both in terms of support and influencing the officials. Home teams tend to get more decisions to go their way – more penalties and even more time if the game needs it. In the current situation, we’ll see this advantage pretty much dissipated, although of course, the travel aspect will still be a factor. Apart from the travel time, staying in hotels that may be empty could be a strange experience.

A small but significant contributor against the home team.

3. The training player

Most teams will have a player that in training is superb, but just doesn’t replicate that on match day. Part of the reason could be the anxiety of playing in front of a crowd – so an interesting scenario maybe one or two players coming through and getting over that underperformance syndrome during this period. Watch out for the manager who gives an opportunity to their unsung training hero during these strange times.

A Fan’s perspective

We mustn’t forget the impact of the decision to play behind closed doors on supporters. Many fans follow their club fervently. For some, match day us the highlight of the week In terms of socialising (a basic human need) matches fulfil a massive part of our socialising instincts. Watching on TV is just not the same, even with the FIFA included game sounds. So there could be some frustration being felt by supporters wishing to attend. Patience is key here and whilst lock-down continues it slowly unwind, we can all look forward to attending larger events sometime soon. Overall. Strange times, strange situations, more from a fans perspective than a player perspective. Not a great deal of difference in results but goal celebrations may well take a step backwards