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The power of positive thinking – and the destructive impact of negativity – was demonstrated by Brazil’s humiliation at the World Cup. Peter Sear FRSA explores the psychology of the host nation’s team.

Psychology and common sense tells us to think positively to enhance performance. With the home nation fully behind them after reaching this far, the Brazil football team should have been in a confident mood on Tuesday night. Yet Brazil lacked confidence and belief from before they walked onto the pitch; the mood of the team was focusing on the negative.

Brazil’s players entered the stadium on Tuesday, with each member of the squad wearing a Neymar cap. Neymar, the golden boy, the one player the nation could pin their hopes on. And Neymar couldn’t play. Neymar was injured. Absent. Unavailable for selection. The presence of the caps rang alarm bells; bells that grew louder when the team stood on the pitch, all lined up to sing their passionate anthem, clutching onto the star players’ empty shirt. A Neymar shaped shadow dominated the team’s psyche.

Neymar’s absence was a negative when Brazil had to be positive. The team had to move on psychologically in order to succeed. They needed to focus on the present and the 11 players present, not the player absent who could offer nothing. Instead their players reminded themselves of their loss, stamping into their mind the very thing they believed would help them to fail. Neymar’s empty shirt reminded the fans – the whole stadium – that success, in this vital semi-final, on home soil, was less likely. That the 11 players fighting to win were not as good as they could have been.

I do not wonder how the German squad would have handled such a situation. There is no way of even imagining a German team lining up clinging on to a shirt of lost hope. Brazil’s opponents last night, more than any other possible opponents, demonstrate positivity in every tournament. The players have belief in their own success. And more often than not this pans out in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Brazil have often had enough magic in the past to rely less on psychology, but the magic in the squad they sent to Mexico in 1970 and to Spain in 1982 was enough to breed confidence and positivity. In 1970 they won the tournament and in 1982 it was actually hubris, not negativity, which cost them the trophy. In 2002 they again had great enough individual brilliance to maintain confidence. In 2014, however, the squad needed to be confident, it had little magic and therefore little belief, and Neymar’s injury was the tipping point, a tipping point magnified by the reaction to it.

Negativity certainly damages chances of success. Nobody though, could have foreseen just how negative things would get. A lesson to us all?

Peter Sear BSc(Hons) Psychology, MA Jung & Post Jungian Studies, MA Industrial Relations & HRM, Member of the British Psychological Society, FRSA, depth psychologist, artist and writer of fiction and nonfiction.


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