‘Football is not a matter of life and death.
It’s more important than that!’
I thought I’d spotted a potential new client in Luis Suarez this week.
He’s done it twice before but, with the eyes of the world trained upon him at the football World Cup, you would have expected him to be able to manage to hold back his frustration and extreme anger, and resist the urge to bite an opponent on a third occasion.
At first he said he accidentally hit his face on the shoulder of the Italian defender. More recently, he has apologised. It all sounds very childish until you consider the implications.
A fine of nearly £68,000 and a four month ban by FIFA will give him time to consider just why he acts in this way and may also provide a window of opportunity to seek out appropriate treatment.
So what is going on? Why would a fully grown rational human being, a sports professional at that, risk such an expression of extreme anger jeopardising his reputation and possibly his career in such a way?
The answer lies in how our brains function.
Some children bite; out of frustration, extreme anger or sheer aggression, but most grow out of it as they mature into their adult selves and find other ways of self-expression and resolution. Most become emotionally intelligent enough to be able to respond to a trigger rather than simply react.
But responding takes longer and needs good internal communication between the brain hemispheres.
The divided brain
A bit like a game of football, we have a brain of two halves.
Like two opposing teams, these hemispheres are often locked into a competition for supremacy and dominance.
A simplistic view is that the left hemisphere is largely rational and the right emotional. The picture is, in fact, far more complicated, but the truth is that most incoming information arrives at the emotional brain first as a necessary part of our survival mechanism, but from here, it can quickly engage fight or flight.
If the fight or flight button is pressed without referring to the rational brain, instinctive, adrenaline-fuelled reactions occur. This is called ’emotional hijacking’. There are many evolutionary reasons why the emotional brain has the ability to switch off rational thought.
Truth is however, that even the world cup is not a genuine fight or flight situation. Although it wasBill Shankley who famously said ‘Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s more serious than that!’
My client Luis Suarez
If Luis Suarez approached me for help with this problem, ( I charge £95.00 per session if his manager is reading this) I would begin by;
1. Giving him some basic information about emotional hijacking. Knowledge is power.
2. I might use imaginal exposure techniques to unearth and pull out the roots of the problem behaviour, to break old patterns.
3. We might then work together on improving his emotional intelligence, using my S.T.O.P System tm to improve the control exercised by his prefrontal cortex, buying him time to step back from a trigger situation.
4. Some positive mental rehearsal techniques would help him establish more appropriate coping behaviours for future episodes.
The final piece of advice to my client would be ‘Next time you feel like biting your opponent, get your internal referee to blow his whistle and buy you some time, so that you respond with maturity rather than react like a child.’
Harsh but fair I think?