How to Overcome Fear of Failure in Soccer

Carragher suits up with the Best (Photo: Ben Sutherland)

In a recent interview with BBC Sport, veteran England International Jamie Carragher has admitted there is a fear factor playing for England.

“One mistake and you could be absolutely slaughtered,” the Liverpool defender told BBC Radio 5 live.

“At your club, you know you will not be criticised as much and perhaps three days later there will be another game.

“With England, it could be months before you have another fixture. There is a fear at times when playing for England.”

Carragher, speaking a year after England’s elimination from the World Cup, said players sometimes buckled under the media scrutiny.

“The intensity of the press does get to the players,” said the 33-year-old. “Sometimes I think players would prefer the press guy to think they had played well, rather than the manager.”

Earlier this year, I wrote this in Chapter 6 of my book, Peak Performance Every Time.

In the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa, England performed well below par. There were several possible reasons given for the performances. On a number of occasions the Manager sighted ‘fear’ and ‘pressure’. Many people would logically deduce that this was linked closely to the media coverage and the hype that had been created in the lead up to the event. However, the media coverage and the hype will only be perceived as ‘pressure’, if we buy into it. Just like any other expectation, it’s born out of the imagination. Anything that is future orientated must come from our imagination because it hasn’t happened yet. The only place it can come from is our imagination. In this case, it was the imaginations of the journalists, the public, The Football Association, the sponsors and possibly even the players and staff of Team England. However, there may well have been an extra dimension.

Normally the issue becomes further exacerbated when our ego becomes involved. It’s possible that the England players bought into the media hype because they have tied themselves so closely to the media. The media is the vehicle that provides them with a public image and a public profile. Without that public profile and image, they would not be paid tens (or hundreds) of thousands of pounds every week to kick footballs around. If it wasn’t for the media’s insatiable appetite for football in the UK, the players would not be household names. So, there is far more likelihood that the players will care about what the media says and how they are portrayed. Their image and their profile becomes paramount. All of a sudden the game is more than just 22 blokes playing on a grass pitch with a ball, two goals and a trio of officials. It becomes an exercise in making sure that the papers stay on side and that the nation is behind them. The players are likely to focus on the sizeable difference between doing well (and the media benefits that brings) compared to doing badly (with the negative media coverage with its knock on effect to the players’ lives). If this happens, the chances are that the players will get the job wrong. They might start thinking that their job is to impress the papers or protect their image. They may perceive a ‘need to win’ so that they can save face and be portrayed well. Perhaps they become focused on the need to become a hero, or avoid becoming a villain, rather than focusing on playing football. They will probably project forwards an image of a future where they have performed badly, where they have been knocked out and returned home under a cloud of criticism. That’s a future most English players would want to avoid. Consequently, the tendency would be to worry about what would happen if that future became reality…

…and so the illusion of pressure is born in their minds.

So, how do we overcome the fear of failure? What do England players need to do if they want to overcome fear of failure?

Stick to the very simple job and play the game. In reality the job is very simple. It does just involve 22 blokes kicking a ball around a rectangle of grass. Everything else is just the circus that goes on around it.

  • Focus on the game. Forget the circus.
  • Control those things that you can control; your performance.
  • Leave those things that you cannot control; other people’s expectations, opinions and reactions.
  • Leave your ego at the door, and focus on doing the simple job well!

To learn how to help your team overcome the fear of failure caused by pressure, download the webinar: Pressure…What Pressure?.


Hartley, S.R. (2011) Peak Performance Every Time, London: Routledge.

Hartley, S.R.(2011a) ‘Pressure…What Pressure: Athletes in Sport’, Podium Sports Journal, February2nd 2011. Available online. HTTP: <> . Accessed 20th June 2011.

Hartley, S.R. (2011b) ‘Motivation in Sports: Discovering Your Reason’, Podium Sports Journal, June 5th 2011. Available online. HTTP: <>. Accessed 20th June 2011.

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Simon Hartley

Simon is a sport psychologist, performance coach and author. His website, Be World Class, helps athletes and business people to get their mental game right. Simon has worked at the highest level of sport with Olympic gold medalists, world record holders as well as Premiership and Championship soccer teams in the UK. Simon has produced a soccer webinar coaching package on how to coach focus, confidence and motivation in your teams.

4 thoughts on “How to Overcome Fear of Failure in Soccer”

  1. It is alot easier said than done.One of the most difficult traits to slay is the ego.The good news is that it has been done.Hence it is achievable.
    I had mentioned in a previous comment- the best example of a humble sports star is Sachin Tendulkar. However, you hardly read about his humility in the press.
    Would you know of any other humble super sports stars.


  2. I agree there was a lot of issues with the media in the England squad. Lots of issues with players within the squad. Specifically JT stripped the armband (due to circumstance we don’t have to discuss) and then having to be paired with Rio who got his armband. And now, JT has been given the armband back. Then there was the Rooney incident that made the papers and he went on a horrible spell. The players just seemed to not be able to stay out of the media, and at the wrong time.

    Any international or professional athelete is set to a high standard profile. They are expected to never make a mistakes so when they do do something wrong, it makes the papers. The amount of pressure this puts on them I am not sure. To me, you are give an opportunity to represent your country at the highest level possible. There is no excuses for England’s performance in the previous World Cup. They made it out of the group stages only to get embarrassed 4-1 by Germany.

    I think a lot of their results are due to their aging squad. I think they need to give players like Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere, and Andy Carroll some more experience. They are the future of the team. Lampard and Gerrard only have so much more gas in their tank and it’s been obvious the last couple of EPL seasons as they spent a lot of time nursing injuries. England is in rebuilding stages. Their U17s just lost to Germany in the quarterfinals in the World Cup in Mexico yesterday. Going down 3-0 they showed a lot of heart to at least make it a game with a 3-2 final result. It’s time to England to look past the Lampards, Gerrards, John Terrys, Rio Ferdinands and to start to rebuild with the youth. I think the United States are in a similar situation.


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