A Mental Super Bowl (By Dr. María Marentes Castillo)

A Mental Super Bowl


Dr. María Marentes Castillo

Postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Valencia, Spain.

Football has not stopped, at least at a professional level that even with limitations and restrictions we could continue enjoying NFL during perhaps the most atypical season in the history of this sport, a scenario worthy of being analyzed from a psychological perspective.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady shouts “Let’s go!” before the NFL Super Bowl 55 (David J. Phillip/AP)

Super Bowl LV has concluded and with this the entire season, the BUCS are the Super Bowl LV champions and now we ask ourselves, how did we get to this scenario? I am a sports psychologist, and I will not talk about statistics or game plans, but how the team mentality could determine its final stage in this long journey. Every time an NFL season starts, sport professionals, specialists and fans choose the contenders for the next Super Bowl, but that there are two types of elections, on the one hand, it is chosen based on the antecedents (percentages, statistics, games won, etc.) of the team, free agency, draft and coaching staff, but it is also chosen in a subjective way, that is, either in favor of the team of which one is a follower or the most winning teams or that team where that superstar player is.

For me, the best choice is the first, but we know that we generally choose based on our own personal wishes and motivations. The great thing about these decisions are the most interesting stories between media TV, social media, etc. during the season. There are several things that are clear to me, the first is that success is not achieved by winning andwinning is a quantitative element, but success is a qualitative factor. Therefore, not always a winning team will succeed in the Super Bowl, and this is the case that applies to Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs came to the Super Bowl as the defending champion with a QB with a high level of physical abilities, dominance of the game and a high level of psychological skills and until Super Bowl day we had known him with adequate psychological stability during the game, with effective leadership, good pressure management and adequate self-efficacy in its execution. In this sense, games like Super Bowl remind us that football is still a team sport and not a sport that depends on one super player.

At the Super Bowl we saw a major contrast, Chiefs who were psychologically affected and Buccaneers in FLOW and with strong belief that they could win the game. And I say again,it´s a team sport because it did not depend only on Mahomes or Brady. We all observed both an offensive and defensive line of the Buccaneers playing with the adequate activation to pressure, blocking and tackling, then “activation” that is usually defined as a psychophysiological element that is necessary to perform and the consequences of not having an optimal activation are anxiety or concentration failures, consequences that were seen in the offensive and defensive line of the Chiefs, this then leads us to the mental performance of the QBs. Tom Brady is a player who without talking so much about what we already know about him, had something very clear, winning the Super Bowl and with the experience in so many games like this one, he did nothing more than enjoy the game every moment, even leading him to face other Chiefs athletes, claim them, etc. behaviors that could be analyzed but if something was clear to him is he wanted and could win, this self-confidence leads him to adequate leadership and effective communication, which of course adds to a group performance, however on the opposite side we saw Patrick Mahomes who from the beginning He didn’t look as confident as in past games, which leads me to think there was some external factor that took place before the start of the Super Bowl that led him to not show that psychological stability that we had seen in his short professional career and which also included a Super Bowl championship. The lack of stability then manifested itself in a lack of leadership, ineffective communication, frustration, anxiety, and concern.

Patrick Mahomes (15) is chased by Shaquil Barrett (58) in the second half during Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. (Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

There is another element that is clear to me in football and is this sport is not about individual mentalities, but a team mentality, the mentality or psychological state of a leader (coach, QB) can be transferred to the other elements of the team, for what we need a systemic view to be able to evaluate the performance of a team. The Chiefs’ offense spent very little time on the field which also prevented them from getting a psychological rhythm in order to have those little achievements that could carry them forward. Little time of the offense translates into a long time of a defense that with the same group affectation could not contain the outbreak of an aggressive offensive that played to win throughout the course of the game, and the psychological message that an aggressive offense sends is the determination towards the goal to score and finally win, and if on the other side there is no strength to endure and respond, little could be done. On the other hand, the Bucs’ defense playing at Flow along with their entire team insistently bothered a psychologically affected offense. Team sport? Yes, the Bucs totally played as a totally balanced team, who knew how to believe that being in the Super Bowl they could win, it is not just an element, it was not Tom Brady, Brady was a player who came to strengthen a belief, yes, a leader with experience, yeah, a player with an insatiable hunger to win, but a single athlete cannot win a Super Bowl, it all started with a strong defense that knew how to give freedom to his offense to score points on the board, everything fit, everything flowed.

Finally, what could be the external and / or extemporaneous factor that could lead the Chiefs to show such mental performance? My hypothesis turns around the way the week leading up to the Super Bowl was conducted. We know that during the week leading up to the big game, both NFC and AFC teams travel at the same time to the place where the game is taking place, and during the week they do the same activities, test the field, etc. which leads them to adaptation, to being in the same conditions. However, during this week leading up to the Super Bowl, each team stayed at home and the Bucs being from Tampa Bay, where the Super Bowl was played, had the quality of being local, local in their own home, a phenomenon that had not occurred in the entire history of the Super Bowl in the NFL, and the idea is that the Chiefs traveled through Saturday as if they were traveling as a visiting team in a regular season game. The psychology of high-performance sports suggests that part of the psychological preparation for a fundamental competition is the adequate adaptation of the team to the place of competition, which led me to ask myself … Did both teams have the same psychological preparation for competition? Did traveling the day before the big game affect the Chiefs’ psychological adaptation and perception? The Super Bowl concluded, we have a new champion and the hypothesis that I propose cannot be proven, which again highlights that the NFL teams also need a team of sports psychology professionals and that the game system if not leads to parity for both teams of course it can affect the mental performance of a sports team. We know it wasn’t the only factor, but it was probably a factor that decreased the Chiefs’ psychological stability.

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