Visualisation and Innonence

Leading Sports Psychology expert Dan Abrahams in his highly recommended book SOCCER TOUGH refers to a young Wayne Rooney visualising a perfect performance before going to bed the night before a game. 

Abrahams  says  that, visualisation if done in the right way can become a very important tool where this technique can be used  to help players develop a “rehearsal script“ to help them manage their thinking and build self-belief.  Seeing as the brain has a tendency towards a negative bias i.e to remember the things that go wrong, positive visualisation techniques can shift the players mindset to a more confident image.

This got me thinking about the innocence of street football from my childhood in Cork City Ireland as we dreamt up fantasy professional careers for ourselves, commentating as we played, copying our heroes, visualising our faultless performances in World Cup finals.  We were Brazils JOSIMAR hitting 30 meter thunderbolts (8 meters in street terms) past helpless goalkeepers and how did we celebrate…. YES like MARCO TARDELLI. I knew a lad who wanted to leave his hair grow long just so that he could play like Argentinas MARIO KEMPES. Hours were spent on our own in back gardens or on the streets  living out famous sequences from games that we watched on TV, all while the commentator in our head continuously found new superlatives to describe our incredible footballing deeds.  

In essence and innocence it can be argued that  we were using what modern sports psychologists refer to as positive visualisation techniques. It helped us learn the game, it helped us love the game, it helped us live and relive the game and it made us laugh … it was fun.

Then it all stopped. Adolescence came calling, we were expected  to  behave a certain way,  we became less creative as we fell into structured schooling with its standardised testing and structured football coaching with its adult expectations . We were expected to make less mistakes or at least cover up our mistakes. Failing was once part of our creative process  and now to paraphrase Becket, no more could we “Fail and fail better !”

Sometimes to develop as footballers we need to take a step back in years.

By Mark O Sullivan (UEFA B Academy coach at BOO FF Stockholm and sports director at


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