Five psychological lessons the England team have learnt that you should be using too


Some people talk about the past as though they’re carrying it around on their backs, tattooed permanently in big letters. For the England football team that past is the psychological spectre of penalty losses – usually to Germany – and the pressure to replicate the success of 1966. Pressure, failure and disappointment have been the main watchwords in recent times.

But events like this only become a burden because you let them – you have a choice about letting factors like this infect your current mindset.

A useful trick when ridding yourself of an attachment to past events of failures is to ask: What I’m thinking right now…is it helping or hindering me in doing that I want to do? If it’s anything other than a help, bin that thought and consign the past to where it belongs – the past. Don’t let the past steal your future.


Yes, losing on spot kicks to better teams is disappointing but the lessons learnt from previous defeats set the team up for their victory against Colombia. This is a great example of how you can switch perspective on its head. The England team clearly aren’t viewing the past 28 years as a failure, but as a learning and growing process that’s lead them to this successful summer.

Think of perspective as two sets of sunglasses; one is browny-grey and things look dull, uninteresting and depressing when you look through them. The others are tinted bright yellow so the world looks sunnier, happier and positive. Now ask yourself: what pair of glasses do you have on when you’re looking at a situation? Is this perspective a positive appreciation of what’s happening? If not, change it. 


If you don’t back yourself, it’s a tough ask to get anyone else to back you. Looking back at England’s 2006 penalty shoot-out loss to Portugal following a rocky preparation, and it’s a fair assumption that confidence was low. The team missed three out of four penalties to hand victory to Portugal with seasoned professional free-kick takers Lampard and Gerrard both missing.

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win” said Carl Lewis, one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Fast-forward to 2018 and England scored four out of five penalties to register their first ever victory in a World Cup penalty shoot out. Confidence clearly restored, both before and after the shoot-out.

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win” said Carl Lewis, one of the greatest athletes of all time.


Gareth Southgate last looked at his Twitter account in 2015 – and he’s urged his players to stop reading social media comments too. They’re professional footballers at the top of their game so what value could they gain from listening to the Joe Bloggs telling them what formation to play (or something less constructive or polite)? Very little.

Social anxiety in wanting to please others and a lack of confidence in ourselves causes some people to listen intently to what others say about them, when often the best course of action is to trust the person who knows you the best – yourself. Trusting yourself in a measured, thoughtful way (but not blindly following every instinct you have) is a great tactic for developing an internal sense of power and control over situations – one of the key facets of great mental health, and a major part of The Thrive Programme.


This England squad contains several members who’ve either grown up in comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds or have made a hard-won rise from lower-league football to where they are now in a relatively short space of time. Many have talked about how thankful they are to be in their current situation.

For example, Raheem Sterling’s father was murdered when he was two and he grew up on one of London’s toughest estates, before being told: “If you carry on the way you’re going, by the time you’re 17 you’ll either be playing for England or you’ll be in prison” by a teacher. We know how that prediction panned out, and Stirling comes across as a humble, polite young man. 

Jamie Vardy spent years working in a factory and playing lower league football for next-to-no money before hitting the big time

Jamie Vardy spent years working in a factory and playing lower league football for next-to-no money before hitting the big time

Across the squad, there are several other stories featuring rejection at a young age, tricky loan spells at basement-league clubs, difficult family backgrounds, working in factories to make ends meet and overcoming serious injury. But when the players speak about their life so far – like Harry Maguire has done – it’s always in terms of being grateful for what they have and where they are now. They’re smelling the roses and taking stock of what they have in their lives, right now, as we all should do on a daily basis. 

If you’re interested in learning how to achieve great mental health, buy The Thrive Programme’s main book today. Over 30,000 people around the world have used the revolutionary tools and techniques developed by author Rob Kelly to overcome mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and phobias to be the best version of themselves. A young person’s edition for eight to 18-year-olds is also available.