As the inquest into England’s poor showing against Algeria in the World Cup continues, the suggestions as to what the problem, or problems, may be cover everything from individual players to the coach to the formation, to nerves and fear and a lot more.
But what if it is none of those things?
Before putting forward a theory, I should emphasise that I have no insight into the England camp and my theory is based only on what I saw over 90 minutes on my television. Therefore, some of what I discuss may or may not be in place in Rustenburg however, just in case, I shall contribute my two pence worth to the debate.
We often hear the term over-training in sport, where the training load out balances the allotted recovery and the performer ends up feeling weary and the performances are sub-par, leaning towards the mediocre. The symptoms are heavy leggedness, decreased motivation and drive, the requirement for longer recovery, lower concentration levels and a drop in coordination adversely affecting skill. No matter how hard the player tries, it just doesn’t happen for him.
Does that sound like a description of the ‘three lions’ who took to the pitch in Cape Town last night? To me it does and yet it is unlikely that over-training was the culprit for the performance (or lack of) if reports of one training session per day, long recovery periods and more rest and sleep than many of the players are likely to have experienced in their day to day club lives are correct.
And it is in that extended rest and recovery period that the causes of underperformance syndrome take hold, a problem which manifests itself by displaying the same symptoms as over-training. There are no WAGs on the trip, there is reportedly a lack of things to do for the players, and there is a lack of distractions. This can cause players to over-focus on the task in hand leaving some of their performance in the hotel. It can cause players to sleep more than usual, resulting in lower quality sleep than usually experienced.
When the players are at home they have a life and distractions away from training; they have families, homes to look after, some have children, there are sponsor commitments, social lives and hobbies.
Any sportsperson who has been away on training camps or extended camps for competition will tell you the biggest problem to overcome is alleviating the boredom. Not managed properly that boredom can create a vacuum into which performance is gradually sucked.
Having the right distractions at the right time as part of their routine is an essential part of preparation for sport at the highest level. Last night’s England performance left me wondering whether England’s management have considered that in their preparations.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global 2010
(Jim Cowan is a former athlete and elite level coach who has also coached fitness in professional sports including football, rugby union, basketball, motor sport and surfing. He has organised and managed training camps in places as diverse as the Algarve, Oman, Kenya, Australia and Japan).