top of page

Wealth, Fame and Power. Time for an 'Ego Audit'?

So after England scrape a less than enthusiastic and passionate win in the recent World Cup qualifier, is it time the England team DETOX their EGO and find their love of the great game again ? Chartered Psychologist Steven Sylvester - author of DETOX YOUR EGO and Team Psychologist to Middlesex County Cricket Club, AFC Wimbledon and Sheffield United has some tips for Big Sam's team. This article is taken from the full piece entitled "Ego at the heart of England's defeat"

1. Believe in ‘mastery' Young players are nurtured and taught to win. Losing is often unacceptable, as the results become everything regardless of level. An expectation of “I am a winner” or “I am a loser” (win-lose mindset) creates stress and anxiety and can lead to poor ways of thinking. Instead, helping players to focus on deeply mastering their contribution to the game leads to a better way of thinking. So, encouraging players to think about how they can master their relationships, teamwork, skills and craft is essential. A player’s enthusiasm and joy at doing this often gives an indication how far they want to go in football. It was fascinating to observe the win-lose mindset of our England players when the pressure to score became paramount. Our players immediately got stopped by their thinking (ego’s) and were unable to express themselves freely. Instead, they needed to be calm and get immersed in the mastery of their skills to the best of their ability. Sounds simple but under stress this is a very difficult task. We would have been far less disappointed if we had come away with the same result but knowing the players had tried and played to their best capability, but in this tournament this was definitely not the case.

2. Love your errors If you attend a Sunday morning youth football match you will often see the coach, parents or both getting emotional and shouting instructions to their young team as the need to win increases. Often there is a clear atmosphere of “getting it right” – but we hear the mantra: “you must learn from your errors”. However, I have regularly witnessed, from youth to Premier League where mistakes are not really accepted and criticism takes over. Such criticism from others only leads to an increase in self-criticism. This is very unhealthy and dangerous. This requires a different mindset. One that is accepting of errors and able to truly refocused on what they needed to do to get back on top rather than let the goal affect them. We must teach our young stars not to resist or ignore errors, but drill down into them, examine them, and in due course, learn to love them.

3. Be open “However we cannot love our errors if we are closed to hearing criticism and negative feedback from others. The players needed to be open to each other and self manage the challenge provided by Iceland. This required a more intense level of communication between players as well as coaching staff. We should have seen more elaborate communication and leadership between the players in the same way as David Beckham did against Greece in 2001 when we faced exit from the World Cup (2002). Here he led by example through being open to the situation that he and his team faced. He didn’t avoid the thoughts of going out of the World Cup. Instead, he openly accepted that it was his responsibility to ensure it didn’t happen by pulling his sleeves up and reversing our fortunes. Against Iceland not one player led by example. Only when Rashford came on did we see a player work with total freedom and joy. Regardless of how difficult the match situation was, here was a young man totally open to facing the challenge – he led by example. His heart and mind were aligned and he was ready to impact the match coming off the bench. We must continue to encourage this free spirit in the face of adversity through paying attention to player’s levels of openness. Such openness enables players to lead by example.

4. Be consistent From the very start of the Euro’s we didn’t consistently play well. We constantly chased the game in most of the group matches and our performances were up and down. Such inconsistency in our play, shows us that our players were thinking inconsistently - feeling one thing but doing another. This was an early warning sign of the impending failure to come. We needed players to align how they feel with what they do. For example, Harry Kane’s performances at the Euro’s were totally different to the levels he achieved during the Premier League. Why? Whilst there may be various arguments for this, one thing stands true that his body language between playing in the Premier League and the Euro’s were totally different. In the Premier League you witnessed a player totally connected and engaged. He appeared to be at one with no inner conflict for much of the time. However, in the Euro’s he appeared panicked and eager to close the gap between how he was feeling and what he was doing. He had separation between his heart and mind and as a result found it very difficult to get into any kind of rhythm and flow. We must enable players to explore how they can bring their emotions, mind and performance together so that they can have greater authenticity and integrity when under the intense pressure of a tournament. This was most definitely not the case against Iceland.

5. Have fun The fun seems to have gone out of the game. Where are the characters that played with a good sense of freedom? Our players looked like that were being forced to go to work. Where did the love of just playing football go? How has wealth, fame and power impacted our players ability to perform? We must get our stars to reignite their childlike enthusiasm for the game so that they are just eager to show how much they love playing. If you're having fun, you're freer - and if you're freer, you’ll perform. We must engender our players to have more fun with their football and do whatever it takes to stop them looking down and miserable.

6. Be a giver - not just a taker During the Euro's, Heimir Hallgrimsson, joint Iceland team manager emphasised how giving is a part of their team culture. He highlighted several important factors in building the team relationships by stating that “everyone had a part to play, everybody is friends, everybody is willing to work with each other. That’s a mentality you need for a small country to achieve things. You can’t do it with individuals. We are a family”. This is where being without ego is essential for success. Another example of such togetherness is the way they celebrated at the end of the match. It was amazing to watch the Iceland players doing the Seal Clap together in perfect synchronicity and unity with their fans. Such community spirit suggests money, fame and position aren’t differentiating the Icelanders in relational terms. What could our players learn from this level of togetherness? What can our players do to unconditionally give in the future? We understand intellectually about 'unconditional' giving, but our selfishness, our ego, means we often end up 'taking' more than giving.

7. Have clarity in Football Having clarity of purpose is essential for success in anything, especially international football on a global stage. BBC pundit Jermaine Jenas said Hodgson "didn't know" what he was doing, suggesting: He didn't know his best team or system. It is impossible for players to serve our nation if there isn’t a clear vision of how we should play. Some other pundits have suggested that the manager’s thinking may have been muddled even before England arrived in France, due to frequent changes of personnel and approach – highlighted by the sudden re-introduction of Sterling. A lack of clarity resulted in England being shown up by the clear direction, hunger and togetherness of the Icelanders. If we look at English rugby we can clearly see the differences in how the players go about their work. How can essentially the same team work so differently under Jones compared to Lancaster? Today, the same players are looking more purposeful than they did at the World Cup because Jones’s leadership creates freedom for everyone in the system. In addition players can clearly see his thinking and decision-making – reducing ambiguity and uncertainty. Here players have greater alignment and personal meaning to perform with each other and for a leader who has transformed their hearts and minds. It remains to be seen if the FA will follow suit and appoint a similar leader who will reduce the impact of fear and ego whilst cultivating the abundant talent of our players.

For more information on the withoutEGO philosophy visit To purchase your copy of DETOX YOUR EGO visit

Steven can be contacted directly at This article is taken from the full piece entitled "Ego at the heart of England's defeat"


bottom of page