Analytical Psychology of Football
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Analytical Psychology of Football

Professional Jungian Football Coaching

John O'Brien, Nada O'Brien, John O'Brien, Nada O'Brien

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eBook - ePub

Analytical Psychology of Football

Professional Jungian Football Coaching

John O'Brien, Nada O'Brien, John O'Brien, Nada O'Brien

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About This Book

Jungian psychology of football is a new and cutting edge approach being applied by Champions league teams and used in youth football training. Implications for the wider role of football organisations in society as models for the diagnosis and management of trauma and tension in our changing world are highlighted.

Analytical Psycholog y of Football: Professional Jungian Football Coaching provides for youth trainers, accessible, scientifically based tools and techniques to develop resilience and sustain motivation in grass roots and elite footballers. The values and psychological make-up of best in class international trainers are revealed, and commented upon by a Champions League manager. Theory is traced from the early history of the game through to the present day, equipping trainers with the guiding psychological concepts which are shaping the future of the sport. Case examples of how the game can support society through periods of change, and in fact, advance civilisation are described.

A Jungian appreciation of the transformational power of the football is a step forward for psychologists, and educators who wish to keep up with advancements in their professions, for football students and for trainers wishing to remain competitive.

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Part I

Warming Up

1 What Is Football?

John O’Brien

What Is Football?

A Global Sport

From late August to May, at all major towns in England, football matches are played in stadia large and small. Similar scenes take place in major cities around the world. We can only guess the precise number of the 1.9 billion boys and girls from all nations in the world who play every day with friends, on improvised pitches, schools or clubs. It is the most popular sport in the world, crossing all national, geopolitical and ethnic barriers with 265 million male and female players and 5 million referees registered in more than 200 countries. More than 1 billion people watched the 2019 World Cup on television and as of October 2020, more than 36 million play virtual football at home.
Any child in any part of the world can create a makeshift ball and start a game with other children in the street on a rough patch of ground, play a virtual game or somehow connect with others through the language of football by talking about favourite teams and players. But where did football begin, and what is it really all about? How does analytical psychology help to answer these questions?
Football involves the fundamental elements of playing and kicking and a ball. Are these elements natural to human beings? If so where did they originate, and how did they evolve into the World Cup?

It Is What It Is

We should perhaps begin with an answer to the question ‘What is football?’ given by Garth Crooks, the BBC football commentator, former Manchester United player and former chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association.
Football’s football, if that weren’t the case it wouldn’t be the game that it is.
Garth Crooks (Brandreth 2013, p. 130)
While frequently cited as an amusing comment, a deeper meaning and wisdom can be read into the definition. It roughly translates into ‘it is what it is’. Gabora (2014) offers her view that when this comment is made ‘the speaker is letting the thing exist in all its rich uniqueness without having to categorize it or analyse it’. But most players and fans recognise that football has a special spirit and that there is more to a ‘thing in itself’ than its superficial appearance, an idea common to a important strand of philosophy. (Kant, 2019). However, an intellectual understanding of the game is not a replacement for the experience. The thud and smack of the ball when it hits the goalkeeper’s glove or strikes the bar, the smell of the grass pitch, the feeling of winter mud on the clean shirt, the pleasure in the stretch of the muscles and the pain of passing injury, the sound of cheering and chanting, the duel with a tough opponent, dribbling the ball with the inside and outside of the foot, moving left and right, surges of joy, fatigue and determination, tribal feeling, winning and losing; all are phrases describing the experience of the game. Helping us to become better people, they do not require historical or psychological analysis. They are experiences of the human senses. But as well as sensing the game; we can gain a deeper appreciation of it by also thinking about it, feeling its emotions and using our intuition. This is what footballers are trained to do.
We do not need a complex explanation either for what football is or where it began. Simply put,
The impulse to kick a round object has been present as long as humans have been humans. The first game of football was played when two or more people, acting on this impulse, competed in an attempt to kick a round object in one direction rather than in another.
(Guttmann 2004)
The basic impulse idea is humorously stated by Phil Woosnam, the former Welsh football player, head coach of the US national team, and commissioner of the North American Soccer League from 1969 to 1982.
The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does (as cited in Bell 2013).
But fascination and curiosity and might lead us to discover that there is more to football than meets the eye, and that it can reveal secrets of our own natures which can be practically applied to other spheres of life.

How Can We Enquire into Its Early Beginnings?

Hard evidence of the activities of early humans disappears in the mists of prehistory. Into these mists we project our modern ideas, claiming that football most certainly began here or there, with this or that. Our most certain statements reveal more about us than they do about the origins of football. We try to fit football into a convenient theory. We claim that after all it is really a fertility rite. Or that it is merely an expression of primal instincts or a way of practicing for warfare. Arguably, our speculations are part of the natural human quest for origins of things. We discover these origins in the different images of our common creation myths, and football has its own.
On this search we can draw upon those sciences especially designed to penetrate the fog of prehistory, as well as those which help us to understand the projections of our own ideas and images onto the game. The former include the study of animals (ethology and zoology) with whom we share evolutionary commonalities and by which theories can be made about human behaviours. These can be tested through related disciplines such as socio-biology. Concerning our own projections, many psychological ideas have been developed through the clinical science of Jung’s analytical psychology, using the process of analogy.
Furthermore, attempts have also been made to infer ancestral equivalents from the observation of present human behaviour (Barnes 1940). For example, kicking occurs in the womb and the playful delight of running after a ball happens in early infancy. And as ‘homo erectus’ appeared around 1.89 million years ago (Wayman 2012) it seems reasonable to hypothesise some sort of prehistoric play involving kicking and playing. But as with many journeys to the origin the enquiry becomes more compelling when the snake is considered.

Ethology Ritual and Analogy

Rattlesnakes and Football Rattles

From the study of animal behaviour (ethology and zoology) come numerous speculative theories concerning the origins of football including the idea that it began with small groups of prehistoric hunters competing with each other for territory and chasing small prey (e.g. Morris 1981). The leap from animal behaviour to human can be made by using the discipline of analogy. It can be argued that with evolution, as societies became more complex, hunting became ritualised into a sport, forming an evolutionary bridge between prehistoric and contemporary humans. The process of ritualisation has been usefully described by scholars of natural behaviour. For example, Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1996) suggests that over time, ritualised behaviours give early warnings of impulses of threat/attack and courtship intent. One might regard this as an early form of diplomacy. He gives the examples of porcupines and rattlesnakes. From the basic behaviour of tail twitching (excitement in response to threat) both creatures evolved organic means of giving off warning sounds. The porcupine developed hollow spines at the end of its tail, and the rattlesnake its rattle.
Is it therefore reasonable to consider human rituals as having evolved in a similar way? We can wonder about the use of rattles and drums by football fans in earlier times. According to Brown (2017) rattles were used by policeman in 1880s Britain to raise the alarm (before the police whistle came into use). Apparently, rattles were also used by troops during the First World War to imitate machine gun fire and they were banned at football matches during the 1920s as the sounds scared the footballers! It is interesting to note that they were banned again at many grounds during the 1970s as their ritual use broke down and they became increasingly used as weapons by football hooligans (Brown 2017).
But as people are neither snakes nor porcupines and as football rattles have not yet developed as parts of the human body, the animal and human behaviours are not identical but may be considered as possible analogies. The patterns are thematically linked.

Definition of Analogy

Analogy is extensively used in classical analytical psychology (Jung’s seminal work). Samuels (1985, p. 7) points out that analogy can lead us to ‘deeper levels of experience and understanding’ and that:

hunches guesses and intuition play an important role in scientific discovery
An intuition, like an analogy can bring together two ideas that have not previously been connected.
Citing Hubback (1973) he further explains that Jung also made use of analogy to demonstrate that in a unitary world all ideas are connected.
For the purpose of this chapter, the author uses the following definition of analogy:
An analogy is a mapping of knowledge from one domain
onto another 
 The objects
have specific attributes and are linked by a system of relations
The strength of an analogy depends on the interdomain consistency of the relations rather than the attributes
 In an analogy, the relations are shared
but the attributes are not.
(Brown & Salter 2011, p. 167)
This definition helps to avoid the potential misuse of analogy noted by Samuels (1985, p. 7) and described by Brown (1961, p. 45) where similar ideas in a sequential chain are mistaken as identical.
The examples above show the evolution of ritualised behaviours from basic impulses, and the regressive acting out of the impulse (in this case aggression) when the ritual breaks down for whatever reason.
We might also consider crowd behaviour such as rattling fences and banging seats as analogous to historical military ‘sabre rattling’, spear shaking and shield banging. In all cases the rituals serve the dual and sometimes contradictory purposes of avoiding and provoking mortal conflict as they stimulate the fight/flight/freeze response in home crowd and opponents alike. These behaviours have come about through evolutionary processes and therefore have survival value for human groups. Their careful study yields valuable diagnostic and predictive information about the psychological states in play and of the likelihood of aggression.

Ritual and Evolution

As ritualisation is a slow evolutionary process, the idea of football as ritualisation of basic tribal instinctual behaviours does not seem unreasonable, and if it holds good that the breakdown of the rituals which transform naked aggression into diplomacy leads us back to warfare, then this has profound and practical implications for the way we think about and train football. Could these ideas help us to look at the game as a ritualisation of tribal instincts which inform us about the themes of war and peace?
Social psychological explanations of football generally support the idea of evolutionary football ritual. For example, be its political and social function as a proxy for warfare is described by Beck (2013). This builds on the earlier theory of progression from hunting as noted. Similarly, Reichard (2009) traces the development of the Mesoamerican game from a simple structure to an elaborate ritual, and expanding on Durkheim’s work, Collins (1982) argues that all ritual points towards the ultimate ‘reality of society’.
One way or another, ritual speaks to the collective human condition. The ritual of the ball game spoke of conflict, power, cooperation, trickery, conquest, triumph, and loss. It may be that these social realities, emotionally and physically apparent in sport, informed the mythology more than the mythology informed the game.
(Collins 1982, p. 5)
On this note, it is also contended by Schele and Miller (1986) that ‘decapitated heads and skulls were also used as balls and placed into play’ and this idea travelled into the foundation myths of the English game.

Ritual and the Numinous

But is this all that there is to be said? How then can we now describe football as, ‘the beautiful game’, o jogo bonito, as it has come to be known since its popularisation by Pele? How can we account for the special moments when the game lifts us out of everyday reality into an experience of the extraordinary, the numinous? It is this aspect of the game which demands further analysis, a different method of enquiry. And that is the rationale for a post-Jungian analytical psychology of football. Our starting point is ‘ritualisation’ which in analytical psychology has additional meaning to that used by the ethologists and social psychologists.
In Jungian discourse, ‘ritual’ encompasses the idea of the transformation of excess energy into new activities leading to transformation ‘which must be called cultural in order to distinguish them from the instinctual functions that run their regular course according to natural law’ (CW 8, para. 91).
Football ritual is not only evident in the rites and ceremonies accompanying the sport, but is also brought into sharp focus by the facts surrounding the incorporation of the sport in England in 1863. The first president of the Football Association (FA) Arthur Pember was a ‘ritualist’. At that time in Victorian England, ritualism was a movement which attempted to incorporate Catholic ritual into the Anglican Church (Kollar 1985). It could be regarded as an attempt both to retain important elements designed to facilitate the religious experience, to unify ‘opposites’, and to protect the loss of congregat...

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