03. Performance

The Similarity of Prison and Professional Football

October 9, 2018

When I delivered emotional literacy in prison, I noticed that the behavior of those in professional football (soccer) and prison are similar. Both environments are highly pressured, silent on feelings and loud in emotions, with a lack of communication being the life of the theme. People within both spaces resort to pulling information from the environment, in their attempt to make sense of what’s going on. Becoming hypersensitive to tones, body language and actions.


Inmates must tread lightly to learn about –

  • The rules set by other inmates
  • Who they can trust on their block
  • Which version of self they will project in that space to survive.

In prison if you get it wrong, you can find yourself in a position where your life is on the line. A situation which leads to a physical altercation, resulting in an extended sentence, injuries or death.

Professional Football

Players must tread lightly to –

  • Not upset their manager
  • Assess who they can trust in the game (relationships in the game – parents, staff & agents)
  • Learn about which version of self will they project in that space to survive.

In professional football if you get it wrong, you can find yourself in a position where your career is on the line. A situation which leads to clubs giving bad references, being released, (as a senior player) you’re told to train with the youth team and forced to run everyday. Resulting in moves to teams below your expected standard, performance levels drop or leaving the game altogether.

Fight or Flight

In both prison and football, it’s a lack of safety that makes people project a character they feel is needed to survive within that environment and sometimes they will behave inline with the character they project (which is out character). Forcibly resisting those in that space or withdrawing themselves from those and/or the space. This behavior is not ideal but is a method of survival. Vulnerability can have us behaving in unfortunate ways in our quest to achieve this objective.

How to Learn from this

Within football, communication can make the world of difference. Communication gives clarity, reassurance and safety. A Football Manager/Coach is a leader first and a football facilitator second. Understanding leadership will increase your value of human science and empower your role as the performance as leader. If your players feel safe you will get more out of them, on and off the field of play.

Tips –

  • Take the time to inform players about any changes e.g. dropping them, changing their position etc.
  • Checking in, what’s going on in their personal life?
  • Win, lose or draw, the team is a team. This should be the same with player behavior too, if they make mistakes in their life this is when they need you! Be there for them. This does not mean there’s no punishment if the mistake bypasses your boundaries. You can fine or drop a player and still be their pillar of support.

For more on leadership and the psycho-emotional elements of football and gangs, be sure to buy my book Soccology here.

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