Psyche-a-thon lessons for Black Stars towards winning 2023 AFCON
Black Stars with President Akufo Addo
Recently, there has been a resiliency test to the sense of being ‘Ghanaian’. Some notable Ghanaians have tried to break the Guinness World Record (GWR) in various endeavors.
Afua Asantewaa Owusu Aduonum concluded her captivating GWR attempt for a singing marathon after an impressive 126 hours and 52 minutes.
Simultaneously, Failatu Abdul-Razak also completed her task by setting a new GWR by clocking 227 hours.
Incessantly, Ghanaians in the country and the diaspora provided unrelenting support for these individuals as they trooped to the event locations or followed them on social media.
‘Psyche’ activities are part of what it takes to exhibit such an excellent performance in competitions like these.
The primary goal of any individual or group before competitions is to produce an outstanding performance leading to victory.
However, performance and winning are subject to preparations before and during the competition.
In Sports, excellent performance is a combination of psychological, physical, technical and tactical preparations.
The Ghana National Teams, particularly the Black Stars, have struggled to win trophies in major competitions. Football has become more scientific in this modern times.
The focus of the Black Stars’ preparation has predominantly leaned towards other preparations, neglecting the crucial aspect of the psychological.
Psychological preparations and focus are not limited to talk-therapy alone but specific interventions extended to players to reduce their stressors and improve performance.
The overarching objective of this article is to draw psychological wits from the accomplishments of these two individuals of the sing-a-thon and cook-a-thon narrative, and also enumerate some of the psychological skills required by the Black Stars to be ‘psychologically fit’ for such competitions, and to propel them fully for an excellent performance for AFCON 2023 and other competitions.
Lesson 1: Football is a mind-game; Include professional sports psychologist in backroom staff
The excellent performance displayed by Afua in the Sing-A-Thon and Failatu Abdul-Razak Cook-A-Thon was achieved due to the supportive efforts of the balanced group of experts consisting of coaches, psychologists, doctors, and other professionals.
Each member of these professionals played an integral role in improving performance outcomes. However, when the Black Stars are preparing for competitions, the inclusion of Sports psychologist in the backroom staff is downplayed.
The sports psychologist guides the team, either individually or collectively through Psychological Skills Training (PST) to ensure psychological readiness.
Aligning psychological preparation with physical, technical and tactical readiness is crucial for delivering an excellent performance.
Lesson 2: The 3-rule; focus on process and performance goals as well as outcome goals.
One factor that propelled Afua to sing and Failatu to cook with perseverance is the unique goal they set for themselves individually and collectively with their backroom staff.
They did not set only outcome goals of breaking the GWR, but process and performance goals to achieve the outcome.
Timelessly, goal setting has proven to be directly correlated to the performance of footballers of varied age groups or ability levels, and positively linked to positive changes in relevant psychological states such as anxiety, confidence, and motivation.
Some coaches and players unfortunately, underutilize goal setting. While outcome goals are essential, process and performance goals have shown to be more effective.
Emphasizing on process and performance goals creates more significant opportunities for the Black Stars to achieve good outcome.
Thus, the Black Stars can thrive on a huge win by applying the 3-Rule premise.
Lesson 3: Concentration; offering your full attention
The exceptional performance and resilience by Afua and Failatu in the Sing-a-thon and Cook-a-thon respectively reflects how full concentration to any activity merits success.
Concentration is the ability to focus and the capability to offer full attention to an activity without being distracted by external and internal factors.
Aside the noisy support from the spectators and negative self-talk or some family and personal problems that comes to mind when performing certain activities, these notable Ghanaians broke the GWR by focusing and proffering full attention to their respective tasks.
Concentration throughout a game continues to be a problem for most Ghanaian National teams.
The ability to concentrate is one psychological skills the Black Stars players need to develop, before and during the AFCON 2023.
Lesson 4: Check negative attitudes on and off the Field
The brilliant performance of Afua and Failatu in the singing and cooking marathons became a reality due to the positive attitude exhibited by these two individuals. Attitude is everything in football.
It can make or break a player’s career, and it can also impact the reputation of the sport as a whole.
Unfortunately, there have been instances where the Black Stars have gone for tournaments and players’ bad attitudes have overshadowed their skills on the field, creating unnecessary drama and disruption and affecting their concentration.
Players with bad attitude may clash with their coaches, ignore their advice, and create conflicts within the team leading to poor team cohesion.
The Sport psychologist of the Black Stars should help players develop positive attitudes of respect, discipline, humility and the willingness to learn. It does not matter whether the player is local or foreign.
Lesson 5: Resilience; the agile ability to bounce back
The performers of Sing-A-Thon and Cook-A-Thon were resilient in their competitions. Both Afua and Failatu coped psychologically and emotionally with the difficult challenges in their respective competitions.
One area of challenge for the Black Stars is their ability to recover strongly when they find themselves in difficult and challenging situations during a game.
To win the AFCON 2023, the Black Stars ought to build resiliency and bounce back when at the losing end of a game.
The team Sports Psychologist can help players develop their resilience by driving them through various psychological interventions.
Lesson 6: Overcome anxieties and worries
One factor related to Afua and Failatu’s hurdles during the competitions is their ability to deal with the uncertainties of such competitions.
A little bit of anxiety is healthy for every competitive endeavor. However, unbridled anxiety can spillover to the competition, and cripple performance.
For competitions like AFCON 23, some factors such as the uncertainties surrounding such competitions, players appearing in such competitions for the first time, the pressure of win the AFCON after many years of draught, are some of the reasons why anxieties in players should be addressed.
It has proven that there is an inverse relationship between anxiety and outstanding performance.
For an excellent performance in the AFCON 2023 competition, issues of uncertainties and anxieties in the players should be addressed with various psychological interventions by the sports psychologist.
Lesson 7: Intrinsically motivated; the key to win
Afua and Falaitu’s Sing-A-Thon and Cook-A-Thon achievements were not strictly limited to external rewards they would have earned after breaking the GWR.
Though that was part of the reasons why they competed, the spotlight of placing Ghana on the world map and adding their names to this feat speaks volumes to intrinsic motivation.
It has been shown that for more complex tasks, intrinsic motivation helps to drive higher performance than extrinsic motivation. However, the best way to utilize extrinsic motivation is when it is harnessed to complement intrinsic motivation.
The challenge on intrinsic motivation behooves each member of the Black Stars team to search and harness the power within to focus on the innate accomplishments or satisfaction, sense of identity associated with winning AFCON for the fifth time after a long draught, rather than focusing on the external rewards.
The successful attempts by Afua Asantewaa and Failatu showcase the importance of a well-balanced technical team that provides a holistic preparation for the players of the Black Stars.
With the right mix of expertise, the team should be able to find its “optimal performance zone”, maintain focus and manage stressors.
When this happens, the possibility of the Black Stars players improving their performance and achieving success at AFCON 2023 will be high.
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Samuel Yawson is a Ph.D. student in Sports Psychology at the University of Ghana, Legon, and a practicing Clinical Psychologist.
He provides consultations to various organizations and has served as a “Sports Psychologist” with some Ghanaian League Football clubs. He can be reached at [email protected].