In football it is very important to pay attention to actual behavior rather than cognitivist constructs. Behavior can be distinguished between internal and external behavior. To check to see whether something is external behavior there is the MARCO acronym:

  • M stands for measurable. External behavior can be counted. Passing is external behavior as it can be measured.
  • A stands for active. Someone needs to be doing the external behavior. There is a dead man’s test here: if a corpse can do it, it ain’t behavior. Lying on the pitch ain’t behavior as a corpse can do it as well. Tackling is external behavior as a corpse can’t tackle someone.
  • R stands for reliable. External behavior can not only be measured, but most people will reliably come to the same conclusions when counting external behavior.
  • C stands for control. External behavior has to be under the control of the agent. “Go and win this match” is a bad suggestion for a manager to make as it suggests something that is not under the control of the agent. “Go and score a goal” is a good suggestion as scoring is under the control of the player.
  • O stands for observable. External behavior can be observed by third parties.

Here is a great example of external behavior:

Our subjective experience is internal behavior. We all understand that in order for our body to produce external behavior, our brain has to do a lot of processing. The same goes for our subjective experience. Subjective experience is not a mental state, but the end product of a lot of unconscious processing in the same way that our external behavior is not a state, but the end product of a lot of brain processing. 

Internal behaviors basically boil down to:

  • Feelings and emotions.
  • Visualizing by remembering what the past looked like.
  • Visualizing by making a memory like fantasy about the future.
  • Inner self talk.
  • Remembering what other people said or how music sounded.
  • To be complete: memories of taste and smell are also internal behaviors. But for most people these are so unconscious that they have very little subjective experiences of these and therefore we can ignore them most of the time.

For scouts it is crucial to make sure that when they report on a player they only report on external behaviors if they can’t actually interview a player to ask him about his internal behavior. For coaches and the manager internal behavior is very important. Each player has a distinct set of internal behaviors that help him achieve his best performance. This depends a lot on the biological hardware structure of his brain that most people think of as the player’s personality. For some players it is important that they feel good or that they feel relaxed. For other players, it is important that they feel tension and excitement. Knowing which player needs what kind of internal behavior makes a great manager.

Visual internal behavior works differently. When we create memory like fantasies about the future our conscious mind thinks we are contemplating that future. But our unconscious mind sees those memory like fantasies as instruction videos to be carried out in the future. Therefore it is important that players refrain from visualizing mistakes or setbacks that make them feel bad. It is much better to first visualize setbacks and see upfront that even though there is a setback, the player keeps on feeling whatever feeling helps him perform at his best. After having visualized these conditional negative scenarios that are less negative as the player sees himself reacting correctly to setbacks, it is time to visualize positively. It helps players to achieve their best performance to actually see them doing inside their mind’s eye before they actually go out and do it.

Inner self talk seldom helps players achieve their best performance. Players need to learn to trust their body and unconscious mind. All those training hours improve their technique and game intelligence. During the match for most players it is best to actually be in the moment and perform rather than overthink situations.

Avoid mental constructs

Behavioral analysis as described above was mainstream in the period of the late nineteenth century up until the mid sixties of the twentieth century. Around that time behavioral analysis was replaced by cognitivism. Cognitivism took the functional behavioral approach of cybernetics and started to create mental constructs inside our mind. Examples of mental constructs are:

  • Motivation.
  • Will power.
  • Intuition.
  • Respect.
  • Trust.
  • Confidence.

Current thinking in football is heavily influenced by cognitivism. Yet, cognitivism is failing because neuroscience is not finding brain cells that produce these mental constructs. So rather than using mental constructs and fooling yourself into believing that these mental constructs explain anything, it is much better to go and look at the actual external behaviors combined with internal behaviors if you are capable of interviewing the player.