The psychological ‘secret weapon’ England used in the 2018 World Cup

In the 2018 World Cup, England's team was aided by an unconventional team member: a psychologist who equipped players with tools to navigate the mental and emotional sides of the game.


England will not win the 2018 World Cup after all. But despite a loss to Croatia, this year’s team deserves applause, as The Guardian put it, after earning a spot in the semifinals in the face of less-than-optimistic expectations. This year’s team was different than past clubs—younger, less storied, and ultimately more victorious. But what was perhaps most unique was the team’s in-depth experiments with an unconventional tactic: integrated sports science.

In late 2017, the FA hired psychologist Pippa Grange as Head of People and Team Development. The 47-year-old naturalized Australian, a former athlete who graduated from Loughborough University with a degree in sports science, was tasked with transforming the club’s culture and equipping players with psychological tools to help them better navigate the mental and emotional aspects of the game.

“There is a dawning understanding that it will take more than the carrots or sticks to get people to keep performing and to keep striving for excellence,” Grange wrote in her book Ethical Leadership in Sport: What’s your Endgame? “Athletes, like everyone else, want something to believe in, a vision that they can invest in and an organisation that they are proud to belong to.”

The players, who in the past were only offered access to a team psychologist if they requested it, seem to have embraced Grange’s views on sports culture.

“She’s an amazing person,” England midfielder Dele Alli said on Monday. “Everyone listens to her when she talks.”

Grange doesn’t just instruct players, though, but also encourages them to get to know each other rather intimately. In small groups, the players shared life stories, anxieties and ambitions, with the goal being, as team manager Gareth Southgate said in a profile on Grange from The Guardian, to make “them closer, with a better understanding of each other.”

It seems to have helped.

“We’ve spoken to the players about writing their own stories,” Southgate told The Guardian. “Tonight they showed they don’t have to conform to what’s gone before. They have created their own history… We always have to believe in what is possible in life and not be hindered by history or expectations.”

Grange has also encouraged the players to put down their smartphones and play games with each other instead; limit their use of alcohol and social media; complete daily wellness questionnaires; and use individually tailored visualization strategies to score during penalties.

In a 2013 article, Grange wrote that she’s interested not only in the wellbeing of a sports team, but also in how a team’s ethos impacts the broader culture.

“For me, sport is a gift; an opportunity that we can choose how to use as a means of cementing our values—national and personal. If it showcases national identity, what do we want to showcase? What commitment does each of us make to representing, evolving and renewing that identity? If it is a deep part of our lifestyle, how will we continue to invest and protect that lifestyle? One thing is for sure—it won’t happen without our intent.”

Here are some of the tactics encouraged by Grange.

Stay motivated in the face of challenge

In her 2005 thesis titled The Stress Is Unbearable; I Hope It Lasts, Grange wrote about how athletes can use various tactics to shift to preferred “states” and “frames” of mind when under pressure.

“Using the tenets of reversal theory and metaphors (such as the pendulum swinging both away from and towards the preferred state) may give the athlete a sense of optimism that a shift does not necessarily equate to a catastrophe, and the preferred state, if lost, will be available again.”

Don’t fear failure

A preoccupation with success can be unhealthy if it leads one to avoid the possibility of failure, according to Grange.

“It’s a funny paradox,” she once wrote. “Our successes are achieved through trying, and trying most often ends in failure. Every day in our general lives and our sporting lives we will win some and lose some; it’s just part of the way life should be. It could be missing out on a promotion, being pipped at the line in a running race or bombing out in an exam—it doesn’t matter—the important lesson is to learn from our failures, reassess, rethink, move forward (sometimes in a different direction) and keep those dreams and goals alive.”

Reframe emotions

As Southgate said, there’s no reason to be “hindered by history” once you understand that you can control how emotions are framed. A good example comes from the midfielder Dele Alli, who told reporters he was “excited, not nervous” about upcoming matches.


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7 brilliant Japanese words we need in English

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Culture & Religion
  • English is a phenomenal language, but there are circumstances where words seem to fail us.
  • Often, other languages have already found a solution to expressing the complicated ideas that can't be succinctly conveyed in English.
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Don't get me wrong. The English language has some very excellent words. There's petrichor, the pleasant smell of the first rain after warm and dry weather. Paraprosdokian—which describes sentences that end surprisingly, forcing the reader to reinterpret the first half—is both oddly specific and fantastic to say out loud. I'm even a fan of new inventions, like tweetstorm, even if I'm not a fan of the experience.

But English-speaking culture—like any culture—has a limited perspective on the world. Just like English, Japanese also has some five-star words that English could stand to borrow. The Japanese have an entirely different perspective on the world than many English-speaking cultures—as proof, it's tough to imagine that the politely reserved Japanese have a word for defenestrate, or the act of throwing somebody out of a window. Here's the top 7 Japanese words that we could use in English.

1. Ikigai

(Flickr user Raul Pacheco-Vega)

Literally translating to "life value," Ikigai is best understood as the reason somebody gets up in the morning—somebody's reason for living. It's a combination of what you are good at, what you get paid to do, what you love to do, and what the world needs.

We often find our ikigai during flow states, which occur when a given task is just challenging and absorbing enough that we forget time has passed, that "in the zone" sensation. But it's more nuanced than something that is simply absorbing or a passion; it's a fulfilling kind of work that benefits oneself and others.

2. Karoshi

Karoshi, or death from overwork, provides a nice contrast to the concept of ikigai. Japan's work culture is so over the top that dying from working too hard is not uncommon. This word covers a range of ailments from heart failure to suicide, so long as the root of their cause is in working too hard.

As another hardworking nation, the U.S. could stand to better appreciate the dangers of overwork. Americans put in an average 47 hours a week, which is demonstrably bad for our health.

3. Shinrin-yoku

(Flickr user jungle_group)

This word translates to "forest-bathing," which sums up the activity fairly well. It's getting outdoors to de-stress, relax, and promote well-being. While the concept is familiar, we clearly don't place enough importance on getting outdoors to honor it with its own term.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend about 87% of their time indoors, which is clearly too much. Meanwhile, being in nature is associated with a slew of benefits, like improving memory, reducing stress and anxiety, and even lowering inflammation. Scotland has the right idea—doctors in Shetland can now prescribe nature to their patients.

4. Shikata ga nai

Used interchangeably with shouganai, this term roughly means "it cannot be helped." You can think of it as the Japanese equivalent of c'est la vie´or amor fati. It's the idea that one should accept things outside of one's control with dignity and grace and not implode from the pressure of having no control over a terrible situation.

This concept is a bit controversial. During the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans resigned themselves to their mistreatment, characterizing the situation as shikata ga nai.

On the other hand, when a tsunami devastated Japan in 2011, many outside observers commented upon the stoic way the Japanese carried on with their daily lives, an example of the positive side of shikata ga nai.

5. Tsundoku

(pexels.com)

While it's a little less high-minded than the previous words on this list, it's certainly one that I and others could use. A combination of tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books), tsundoku is the practice of buying a book you swear you're going to read, obviously not doing that, finding a new book you swear you're going to read, and then letting these abandoned books pile up in your house until it's a certifiable fire hazard.

6. Irusu

Garden State (2004)

You're in a terrible, anti-social mood and don't want to see anybody at all today. Suddenly, your doorbell rings; you lie as still as possible in your bed (surrounded by the hordes of unread books you purchased), praying the unwanted visitor leaves. This is the practice of irusu, or pretending not to be home when somebody rings your doorbell. It's a very common experience, although maybe the modern-day equivalent is responding "Sorry, I just got this" hours after you actually saw a text.

7. Age-otori

Not everybody practices tsundoku, and I'm sure some extroverts are entirely unfamiliar with practicing irusu, but everybody can identify with getting a bad haircut. Age-otori is the feeling one gets after leaving a barbershop looking worse than you did going in. It's an ingenious word for the unique blend of regret, suffering, and shame you feel after you foolishly trusted your elderly barber when he said "Yeah, I can do a hard part."

Bonus words

While Japanese has some phenomenal words, there are some that the English language probably doesn't have need of. For example, a nito-onna is a woman so obsessed with her job that she doesn't have time to iron her blouses and so resorts to wearing knitted tops constantly. It's a wonderfully specific word, but its specificity probably doesn't translate to English-speaking contexts.

There's also the hikikomori, a mostly Japanese phenomenon involving modern-day hermits that don't leave their bedrooms for years and years. People like this exist in English-speaking contexts, but we generally characterize these as people suffering from anxiety, as loners, or hermits. In addition, part of what makes a hikikomori is the high pressure and highly ritualized nature of Japanese society, a feature that is mostly absent in English-speaking contexts.

So, write to our good friends Merriam and Webster. Let's see if we can pack a little more utility into the English language.

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  • Between 18 and 25 percent of Tinder users is in a committed relationship while on Tinder.
  • Non-single Tinder users are more likely to report casual sexual behavior.
  • Personality distinctions were found between non-single users and other groups.

Swiping left or right has now been engrained into the cultural vernacular. Across the world with approximately 50 million people swiping on the daily, Tinder has become one of the most popular dating platforms online.

However, it's most certainly not everlasting love everyone is after. Recent surveys suggest that anywhere between 18 and 25 percent of users are in what's considered an "exclusive" relationship. In the United States that percentage nearly doubles to a close 42 percent.

In a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior researchers found that non-single Tinder users were quite different from their single user counterparts. The paper, aptly titled Why are you cheating on Tinder? Exploring users' motives and (dark) personality trait, found that people who cheat on Tinder use dating apps for different reasons than users who are single. They are also more likely to have psychopathic personality traits compared to people in exclusive relationships who aren't on Tinder.

Researchers surveyed students and non-students with questionnaires about their relationship status, Tinder usage, and whether or not they used the app for sexual encounters.

When a round of follow-up questions were asked about their offline behavior between other Tinder connections (or hookups) the researchers found that cheaters were more likely to have reported they engaged in more casual sexual relationships than other single users.

One of the authors of the study stated:

Some people in relationships might want to satisfy their curiosity about the current dating market by downloading Tinder. But we interpret this finding to mean that some people are also looking for a lot more when they download the app.

What some of these people in exclusive relationships are looking for in their side-quest for some digital infidelity might be led on because of some psychopathic tendencies.

​A look into the research of potential tinder psychopaths

The researchers presented an exploratory study with an intent to figure out why people in relationships would use Tinder and looked to see if they'd score higher on a number of dark personality traits compared to single users and non-users in exclusive relationships.

Their results found that non-single Tinder users reported a higher number of romantic relations that included these criteria: "French kisses, one night stands, and casual sexual relationships with other Tinder user…" When it came to dark personality traits, non-single Tinder users scored lower in categories of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, while scoring higher on Neuroticism and Psychopathy compared to non-users in exclusive or committed relationships.

There is still a number of follow-up studies to understand the full implications of this data. For example, researcher Elisabeth Timmermans wanted to be cautious around the fact that partnered Tinder users may cheat more than those in exclusive relationships not on the app. She goes on to sat that:

We also looked into whether partnered Tinder users differ on their Tinder outcomes compared to single Tinder users. Our findings show that partnered Tinder users report significantly more one night stands, casual sexual relationships, and committed relationships with other users compared to single Tinder users.

However, one major limitation here is that we did not specifically ask these users whether they reported on these outcomes while in a committed relationship. It thus might be possible that they are also reporting on these behaviors while being single. As we did not measure this and did not have information on relationship length either, we are a bit cautious about claiming that partnered Tinder users are more likely to cheat on their partner.

Main takeaways and future research

Researchers of the study are working on continuing with follow-up research the complex effect on relationships dating apps are having. "Our findings leave me wondering whether dating apps might be a threat to romantic relationships," said Timmermans. "Of course our findings are too preliminary to make such conclusions, but they already suggest that some people (i.e., with certain personality traits) might be more susceptible to using dating apps for infidelity purposes than others."

The next questions that need to be asked is how to determine if these types of people would have cheated anyways regardless of the platform — although the app makes it easier to do so. The nature and problems of social media still baffles many sociologists and when you add into the mix an intricate human activity like courtship, you'll find we're entering into dangerous territory.

Hopefully future research will help us navigate these choppy dating waters.