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England disunited: How the soul of English football came to be broken

Taken as an extract from Jonathan Liew's brilliantly written article on Saturday 30th July 2016 in the Daily Telegraph, I wanted to emphasise a point raised by Chartered Psychologist and elite performance specialist Steven Sylvester - how individualism has such a devastating effect on our self esteem and performance whether that be in our family, in our business or representing your Country. A link to the full article can be found at the bottom of this page. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Fifty years after English football's greatest triumph, the national game looks broken We’ve returned to London to meet Steven Sylvester, a cricketer turned sports psychologist, who might have some answers. After starting out in youth football at Oxford United, he played a handful of county games for Middlesex and Nottinghamshire in the mid-1990s, but failed to make the grade. His response was to go back to university to discover why.

In his post-Euros debrief, FA chief executive Martin Glenn made a point of mentioning England’s mental frailties under pressure. These same ideas constitute the basis of Sylvester’s research into “ego”, which he defines as a form of self-interest or self-importance. He has worked with kickboxers and world snooker champions, Premier League players and England cricketers. Last season he worked with AFC Wimbledon, who won promotion to League One against all the odds. And he reckons he knows what has been holding England back. We are sitting in the lobby of a King’s Cross hotel, and Sylvester begins by pointing at the door. “A Premier League player wouldn’t walk in here and sit down,” he says. “For fear of who’s going to come up to him, who’s going to say what. I would argue that the Welsh players were more together, more connected, more engaged.” Watching England’s 2-1 defeat by Iceland, Sylvester noticed something strange. “Some people would call it ‘choking’,” he says. “My interpretation would be that we chose to act selfishly. Every individual player thought about what it would mean to them if we lost. That thinking slows you down. “My work with AFC Wimbledon has shown that players are milliseconds slower to the ball when they’re thinking of themselves, as opposed to the team.” So this isn’t just a mental block? It’s physical, too? “Yep. If you get groups working and talking, and thinking about working as a group, they are quicker to the ball. I’ve got data which proves that.” English football encourages individualism, braggadocio, avarice CREDIT: GETTY During his research, Sylvester worked with world champions across a range of different sports, and found they had something in common. In pressure situations, instead of retreating inside themselves, they began to think more selflessly. Whether it was for their colleagues, their community or their country, they saw themselves as part of a greater cause. Unfortunately English football – with its untold wealth, its global reach and its culture of instant, screeching judgment – is perhaps the worst environment for breeding these sorts of values. It encourages individualism, braggadocio, avarice, a fixation on results at any cost. In this respect it is a mirror of English society, with its angry public discourse, its immense wealth at the top, its immense new housing development on top of a children’s football pitch at the bottom. There’s no deep sense of community in English football CREDIT: GETTY Plenty of other countries have market capitalism, high expectations, a scathing press and toxic public debate. But only England has all these factors in such high concentration. “I think we’re very hard and very judging,” Sylvester says. “There’s no deep sense of community. Which totally fits the framework of my research. If you have individualism triggered by wealth, then it’s very hard to get community.” Does any of this constitute an answer? Possibly not. Maybe there are no answers. Maybe English football will never be saved. But if there is one thing I can take from my journey, it is that there are still plenty of people determined to keep trying. To read the full Telegraph Article, click this link. Our thanks to Jonathan Liew, Telegraph Sports Writer who is currently in Rio at the Olympics. To buy a copy of DETOX YOUR EGO - Steven Sylvester's groundbreaking self-help book that has stories of elite athletes, World Champions, Premier League Footballers and high flying executives all going through their own Ego Detox, click here.


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