The penalty of biofeedback in sport

biofeedback in soccer

The penalty shootout in football competitions comes about when after normal and extra time have been played there is still a need to settle the affair. This is often terrifying for those players who have to step up and take a turn at scoring from the penalty spot.  The stakes are high. The players are tired and a crowd of partisan spectators are making their feelings felt. The hopes of a nation are on the players shoulders etc etc

The England soccer time haven’t faired too well at this over the years.  Im not a great football fan but I do remember Gareth Southgate’s decisive penalty miss in England’s Euro 96 semi-final against Germany.  Poor old Gareth was the only one of 12 penalty takers to miss his penalty kick.

I remember this occasion more for the fact that Southgate decided to make some money out of his heartache, posing later in a Pizza Hut advert with a bag over his head.

Thinking about the situation, it is certainly one of those situations where you would want to be in conscious control of your mind and body.  We can all imagine placing the ball whilst listening to the baying crowd and noticing the glares of the opposition. All the time a little voice in your head is whispering, “You aren’t good enough for this - for goodness sake whatever you do don't miss”.

So what do you do?  Your heart rate rises, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, your palms are sweating and you become aware of the pulse of blood in your head. The goalkeeper seems to have grown bigger and goal is so small. Your shoulders are tense but you don't notice the changes in muscle tension as you run at the ball. You are in full flight or flight mode and you aren't thinking clearly that’s for sure. You watch in horror as the ball sails over the bar and you take your infamous place in the record books.

This type of scenario is why football at the highest level is embracing biofeedback techniques. Not so the players can wear biofeedback systems on the pitch - but so they can learn to be more aware of how they as individuals react to stress and learn strategies to manage and diffuse that stress. The goal is high performance under pressure.

Before the World Cup soccer finals in which Italy was playing France, players from the Italian national team used biofeedback techniques to assist them in their mental preparation. The aim was to improve their ability to relax and concentrate during both practice and the games themselves. The players used HRV (Heart Rate Variability), EMG and EEG biofeedback to prepare for penalty kicks, assess muscle fatigue and recover from demanding training sessions.

The use of biofeedback in sport and soccer in particular has grown significantly with major teams in most nations embracing the ideas. Of course the protocols and details of how they use it is often not published. After all, a competitive edge is still needed.

Wilson, VE, Peper, E and Moss, D (2006)
“The mind room” in Italian soccer training. The use of biofeedback and neurofeedback for optimum performance.
Biofeedback, 34(3), 79-81