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Diary of a Social Footballer: The thinking game

One of the things I relish most about playing football is the opportunities it affords to get you out of your head. Not (necessarily) in a team building BYO dinner and then hitting the clubs on a Friday night sort of a way, but rather the lack of thought that playing the game actually requires. Which, frankly, is bliss.

As someone whose first instinct in recent mornings is to reach for my phone and check the Euro scores (this has admittedly been somewhat dulled by England’s latest attempt to outembarrass itself in an international tournament), and more likely than not muses on all things football when not pondering on my thesis at any given moment, advocating not combining thinking and football sounds counterintuitive. But, believe it or not there’s method in my madness.

Without wanting to sound big-headed, games where I’ve found myself playing well are ones where I don’t realise I am. Equally, however, I’ve noticed that as soon as I become conscious of the fact that I’m having a good game, I tend to then trip up over a simple pass or rush and scuff a shot.

Playing up front I know that the second I start to consciously think about what I’m doing is the same one I end up fluffing my lines, or clattered by a defender when I try to get past them. If you’re running at a defender and slow down for a split-second while deciding whether to go right or left or maybe nutmeg them then, quite often, you might as well forget it. You’ve handed the defender the initiative in this battle of wits: they have the opportunity to take control over the situation and force you to make your move first, as opposed to you forcing the defender to commit early.


Just… try not to think about it too much.

None of this is to say, of course, that charging onto the pitch and running around with as much direction as Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kicks of late is a good idea. Make a decision about what you’re going to do in the game, but don’t fixate on the specifics of it.

A couple of goals I scored in my last two games illustrate my point: one directly from a corner last week, and one from the edge of the penalty area this weekend just gone.

While placing the ball for a corner last week I got a glimpse of the goal, and decided that shooting rather than crossing was worth a crack. With the traction afforded by Wellington’s turf pitches (and to be honest, you’re almost guaranteed a timely gust of wind to help the ball on its way), if you’re of confident and foolhardy mood it’s worth whipping the ball in and seeing what happens. Luckily for me, on that particular occasion the ball escaped the keeper’s attentions and went in.

This weekend’s effort was a bit different, in that I don’t really remember what I did – far less what I was thinking as I did it. According to a team mate the ball was played in and I controlled it, turned and shot. In those scenarios, you’re really only reacting to play and the bodies around you without properly taking in what’s going on. All I remember is feeling relieved as I saw the ball was nestled in the bottom left corner. Obviously the aim was to score at some point in the game, but until it was happening I hadn’t much of an idea how exactly it was going to happen. To a point, you just roll with the rhythms of the game and wait for your moment to pounce.

Without wanting to sound glib, I suppose it’s like a lot of things in life. When you spend more time thinking about what might happen if you make a mistake or get something wrong, inevitably the very error you’re ruminating on somehow manifests. In saying that, obsessing a little too much over scoring the perfect goal will invariably see you miss an absolute sitter (giving you something else to agonise over). You could see this in the final minutes of the England vs Iceland game: Marcus Rashford’s energy when he was brought on was a stark contrast to his older teammates playing as if simultaneously mentally composing the grief that the English press was about to give them.

But I’m trying not to think about it too much.

Categories: Diary of a Social Footballer

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Ella Reilly

Waiheke Islander currently in exile in Wellington. Supporter of Nottingham Forest and England, through thick and thin (there's been plenty of that). As a player is somewhat averse to the offside rule.

4 replies

  1. Excellent yarn, Ella. My playing days are long over, but I can dimly remember the almost out-of-body experience of playing when you are really “in the zone”.

    Addendum: when you hit a cannonball special so perfectly, the curious thing is it feels like you’ve hardly hit it at all as it heads goal-ward.

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