The Psychology of Returning to the Premier League

Head of the School of Psychology, Sport and Physical Activity at AECC University College, Professor Stewart Cotterill, was recently approached by BBC commentator, Kris Temple, to share his thoughts ahead of the return of the Premier League on 17 June.

Stewart was asked to offer his expert opinion on what challenges playing behind closed doors, without a crowd, would bring footballers. You can read his predictions here.

In the interview, he spoke about the impact of losing the usual interaction with the crowd, the physical risks that players might be under, and the very real risk of burnout.

He predicted that the lack of interaction with the crowd would reduce the high levels of emotion and arousal that players normally get, making play difficult. He also spoke about the increased physical risk to players, as they become more anxious about becoming injured. He explained how the practical risk of burnout would increase and how psychologically draining matches would be for players.

We asked him to look back on his predictions and share his thoughts on what has happened since play has returned. He said:

“Watching the first two weeks of the return of Premier League football has made for interesting viewing. My initial thoughts about the challenge to players in achieving the right emotional state seem to have been borne out.

“Listening to the commentary on a number of games, players have been accused of not showing enough passion, and not caring about the clubs enough. An accusation which I think is unfair: they are just struggling to get to grips with the psychological reality of the situation.

“Players have also been asked to play a lot of games. For example, Aston Villa played their fourth game at the weekend in an 11-day period. Their manager put their poor performance down to fatigue and directly referenced the number of games as a cause of injury to one of his players.

“In an attempt to negate the negative effects of volume of games, managers have been rotating their players to reduce the possibility of burnout, but these changes have in some instances further disrupted the functioning of the teams.

“The challenges of re-start have been felt most acutely by the teams towards the bottom of the league fighting relegation. The bottom five clubs have hardly picked up any points since the restart. The teams who adapt quickest now will stand the best chance of avoiding relegation.”