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Rooney argues yet again and is disciplined.


Aki Riihilahti wrote an excellent article describing how workinging referees during a game disadvantages the player and their team.


"Football maybe be considered to be gladitorial in style and fans may not want to see disciplined play". Johnson


Aki in action Firm Fair Football!



"Tackling is very much part of the modern game and losing it would change the culture of the British game" Johnson

Beattie not for the first time in an Everton shirt 'loses it' and in this case just after 6 minutes of play!





Is this what we really want?


"You cannot be serious?" Genuine or tactical approach?






This research and more recent research will be presented at the Science & Soccer Conference in Liverpool 15/16 May 2008.


£6m: 6 minutes play hit the team for 6 too!









On Field Discipline: Red Mist :Published by RAF FA Jan 07


On Field Discipline : Emotional control, Positive Discipline, Winning Performance:   by Phil Johnson B.Sc. Dip Psychol, Dip Sports Psychol, Dip Psychol Football Chartered Sport Psychologist; FA Licensed Coach

Significant press coverage within the game of football highlights a perceived decline in standards of discipline amongst a growing number of football players. Their disrespect for referees and officials have direct consequences. This investigation considers the potential for loss in player performance as a result of on-field indiscipline and how both player and team may be disadvantaged by such behaviour and importantly and what to about it. Indiscipline refers to the lack of self-control and the breach of rules and conduct according to the Laws of Association Football.

 Approaching the problem.

1.     Rational Analysis to understand the reality of your behaviour. How much does it help your team to play with ten players? Does your challenge of the referee or his assistant ever change the decision?

2.     Imagery and visualisation to work through indisciplined behaviour, mood change and performance loss. What sparks you to ‘lose’ it.

3.     Emotional Intelligence to assist you in understanding your thought processes and the potential for change in the control of thinking (cognition), behaviour and performance. ….I can master this!

Rational Analysis challenges existing beliefs and their associated psychological responses. In this situation the belief that arguing verbally with, and sometimes physically abusing referees and their assistants, results in a change of decision.

The use of imagery is common amongst sport psychologists and indeed everyone, but is often used solely to picture high performance. In this approach it is used to understand poor performance and then to reframe the visual experience to alter that negative experience and replace it with positive ones.

“ I went into the tackle knowing it was a 40/60 ball, I’d already lost possession on the edge of the penalty box in front of the biggest crowd I’d ever played before. There was a bit of panic in me, but I was too embarrassed not too make a challenge. My challenge was thigh high and he went over in agony. Before I could even get up the ref had shown me a red card. I didn’t realise what had hit me until I faced the ref standing. Calling him a ****** knob-head was my frustration. My mates pulled me back. I was humiliated walking off in front of my home crowd. Then this player mouthed at me as I left the pitch, I’ll never forget it”

This was the clear image recalled by a player at a Premiership club. He experienced all the anger, frustration and embarrassment some twelve months later as he did at the time of the event.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI) and how can it be applied with positive affect to football performance? “We have in effect two minds, one that thinks and one that feels. “The more intense the feeling, the more dominant the emotional mind, the more ineffectual the rational” ”(D Goleman 1995) EI.

Rational Analysis

Aki Riihilahti (Crystal Palace) gave a graphic and real commentary on how indiscipline, lack of concentration and focus loses it for the player and the team.“ When a referee awards a penalty….Players are approaching the referee threateningly, most are abusing him. This one takes it all and the players can see it. That increases the volume of moaning and insults. Another referee may have given a yellow for the first abusive language. Players often try to test how far they can go”

Riihilahti continues “ one player seems focused on the referee and uses his energy on the referee’s actions. He is completely off his game, plus most of the calls go against him. The other player instead is communicating (respectfully) with the referee, or actually Keith as he calls him ! He seems to get many calls in his favour and he escapes an almost certain yellow card. Keith wouldn’t have wanted to book him”.

The ensuing discussion with players in a Rational Analysis concludes.         

•      Arguing with the referee almost never changes his mind

•      Remaining hostile towards the referee affects concentration

•      Continual abuse of the referee may affect decision-making against your team

•      Respecting the referee may affect his decision-making positively

•      You can influence a decision BEFORE it is made, rarely afterwards.


Replaying moments of indiscipline in their football careers, players recall such incidents all too easily. In these moments, freeze-framed and relived, they can break down to almost milliseconds, emotions and senses that lead to their outbursts of confrontational verbal and physical behaviour….and understand its process. Then with similar approaches rework the experiences to produce more effective and desirable results.

“This time when you lose possession pause at the moment you lost the ball, what is the feeling.”

“I’m embarrassed, I had no excuse. My first thought was I must get the ball back…at all costs….”

“Now look up and around you, what do you see?”

“ The defenders are shouting cover Jamie, cover. I can approach the player with the ball and shield the defence. I can push him out to the line and force a throw”

How do your team-mates respond to that?”

“They applaud me for the recovery and shout encouragement at me. It’s so different to how I thought it might be”

“You are still on the pitch, how do you feel about that?”

“ I’m no use to them in the dressing room and being banned for 3 games and being fined”

“In freeze-framing the moments of your action what is your experience of that?”

“I’m really surprised, I didn’t think you could do that especially after such a long time. I still get angry when I think about it”

“Do you know where the anger comes from?

“Yeah, its my self confidence and self belief. I’m calming down now as I work harder in training and try not to blow so quickly”

 Beattie leaves the field after just 6 minutes.

Emotional Intelligence

Using imagery at a ‘deep’ level to relive experiences of emotional flooding (feelings of being overwhelmed) and ‘Freeze Framing’ the sequences, allows Emotionally Intelligent (EI) responses to determine future play. That split-second delay in response to rationally challenge the emotional responses, results in a better outcome.


The Rational Analysis certainly led all concerned to challenge their views and beliefs about arguing with referees over decisions. Noting the perceived aggression of some referees, the opportunity to create changes in thinking before a decision is made by a referee was significant. Riihilahti’s article and experience seems not so unusual in practice.

The use of imagery was conceived to translate the change in belief and perception into new behaviour. By demonstrating to the players how they might do this for themselves and how the ‘deep’ feelings they were able to recreate seemed to surprise them. Their capacity to create new opportunities in their minds was the real challenge.

The Freeze Frame technique appeared to greatly assist players to specifically identify a point of their performance and thinking when it could go wrong and how even a partial second of thinking could introduce another possible outcome. It certainly seemed to enable the concept of Emotional Intelligence in this context to be understood. In essence this is the control of emotions through thinking.

There may well be a case to examine the Emotional Intelligence of coaches and managers. The emergent measure of Emotional Intelligence in a useable and practical form enhances and supports changes in memory and behaviour. It adds an additional dimension of controlled thinking and opportunities for higher-level performance, whilst being respectful to oneself as a person and as an athlete. If referees are to be treated with respect, who knows how many cautions, dismissals and penalties will be rescinded that split second before rationality breaks in?

 Brian Clough’s teams had high levels of professional discipline. It saw him win many trophies. He was also considered the referee’s friend.

Discipline can win games; win friends and who knows how referees may judge?

Phil Johnson March 2006

Publication RAF FA Jan 2007.

Theory into Practice

Rational Analysis

Questions and topics led by team-manager/coach/psychologist

Group discussions (4-6 per group) and feedback to larger group

Consider why you know it is irrational but still do it!!

1 : 1 meetings are often needed

Imagery & Visualisation

It depends on the experience people have of using imagery, but ideally this should be done in 1:1 meetings or in working pairs, one as listener one as active participant. This is also good where mentor’s are involved.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

It is a simple concept in itself, but training your behaviour to change needs discipline and commitment. Use breathing to split second create calm and allow more dominant rational thinking to challenge emotion. Practice with it in live training sessions.

EI is a meeting of emotion and rational analysis, not totally over-ruling emotion.

Copyright Phil Johnson 2006