I never used to ‘get’ sports psychology.
I found it incredibly odd that the same players could put in an impressive performance one week, and a lacklustre one the next.
That despite a football pitch being roughly the same size and shape the world over, teams could be so good at home and so poor away.
That when there was speculation over a player’s future, it affected him; either positive or negative.
After all, it’s a few guys kicking a ball – what role can psychology really play?
Well, the truth is, a lot.
We’ve seen it time and time again. The team with the manager who can motivate his side the best. The team that can make their home stadium a ‘fortress’. The team that plays as though crippled by fear when they’ve been through a bad patch.
The last of those is what I’d like to touch on briefly now: the team that plays with fear.
Because that team has been England, through and through for almost the last two decades.
If we level with each other, England have had some fabulous players in the last 20 years, but they simply haven’t enjoyed anything like the success of some other sides possessing players with similar levels of talent.
Why haven’t England enjoyed the same spoils as the likes of France or Italy?
To me, it’s simple: psychology.
The whole England set-up have been so paralysed by fear that they haven’t been able to live up to their potential.
They’ve been so scared of losing that they, well, lose.
Their ‘flair’ players – the ones with prodigious skill – have been encouraged not to take any risks and to concentrate on keeping possession.
Their defenders have been told to ‘get rid’ rather than backing their skills and playing the ball out from the back.
Their attackers have felt the weight of a nation whenever they’ve been in with a shooting chance and have either bottled it and passed to someone else or miscued.
All of those things define England over the last few years. But on Saturday, they looked different.
They went two goals down, but they didn’t look beaten.
In fact, those two goals seemed to kick-start them. All of a sudden their players, the ones they needed to step up, stepped up and turned the game around.
And the reason why this was possible is – to me at least – very simple.
They’re not scared anymore. These players aren’t scarred by past chokes, penalty misses and underachievement. They’re damn good footballers and they know it; and if they’re given half a chance, they’re going to show it.
All this makes this summer’s European Championships a wonderful prospect; but for all England fans, it’s vital that we recognise the fact that although we’ve got much more chance of being successful now that we’re free from our shackles, it’s not a foregone conclusion.
If we fail – as we might well do – let’s not berate these players too harshly. Let’s make sure they can keep playing without fear.