A young 20-year-old football player with the world at his feet. Erling Haaland, who is currently at the centre of a media circus, with his agent Mino Raiola attempting to gain a transfer this summer for his client. All the clubs want him, and a contract of one million pounds a week is what Raiola is telling the press. Haaland is at the centre of a storm, his ability and his agent are in tandem at creating a media frenzy around a young excellent football player. However, Haaland is only human, and with humanity comes difficulties, and with humanity comes the mind. Everyone is different, and every individual faces scrutiny in their own way, but how the media may affect an aspiring superstar has been seen many times before.
Different athletes describe media attention as affecting them in different ways. Increased anger, frustration, depression, stress, and anxiety are just some of the detriments that athletes report, as well as decreased concentration. These factors could ultimately all be detrimental to individual performance.
Many athletes also report using media scrutiny as an inspiration, using mental preparation techniques to understand the pressure, and using it as a tool to thrive. Media hype can also improve one’s motivation, communication, and confidence if used correctly.
This post will look at the potential impact that media scrutiny can have on an individual, and how this can ultimately affect their performance.
Anecdotal evidence gives us an insight into how media attention may impact an elite athlete. As stated, some will have positive influences whereas some may have negative. A quick look at a number of high-profile athletes evidences this.
Mike Tyson’s quick rise within the world of boxing made him one of the most publicised boxers of all time. His personal turmoil also made him one of the most criticised. As his life became mired in legal difficulties the media increased the negativity surrounding him. This negativity and struggle in his life correlated with the loss of all his titles. Tyson was clear in stating he was past the point of being affected by the media before his final career fight, however seemed to acknowledge the effect it had previously had on him.
For a collegiate and professional NFL player, shyness is something that you would not expect. However, Ricky Williams supposedly suffered from extreme shyness and crippling social anxiety at times. The aggressive media attention he faced made him uncomfortable and frightened. It is claimed that Williams used marijuana as a coping mechanism for this intrusion he faced, ultimately failing drugs tests, and facing further media scrutiny. Ultimately this spiral lead to the end of Ricky Williams career as a professional footballer.
Venus and Serena Williams
Two sisters have stood tall at the top of tennis for almost two decades, despite this, they appear to receive more than their fair share of negative press. Whether this stems for a systematic racism or not is a debate for another day, however they constantly come under undeserved scrutiny from the media. Despite this, both girls used this scrutiny as a tool for success, countering the media, and using them as a motivator, and ultimately raising the bar for women’s tennis.
The world of social media has led to much easier contact with elite sportspeople. This has led to further scrutiny, not only from newspapers and articles, but further influence from fans and ‘internet trolls’. The troubles of social media are rife, with Swansea City, Birmingham City and Rangers all currently undergoing media blackouts in attempt to combat the ongoing vile abuse. The impact this abuse can have on athletic performance cannot be understated, with horrendous racist and sexist abuse being just some examples of the awful levels of abuse players can face. A further discussion on this is warranted in its own article, however for the purpose of this blog it is vital to consider the level and diversity of the media in todays society.
So, we can see that media can impact athletes in varying ways, but what specific impact might this have a young elite football player in Erling Haaland?
Experience, confidence, and self-belief all affect the pressure one feels. For Haaland, experience is lacking, however confidence and self-belief appear too not be. Pressure will come from a fear of failure; however, it appears Haaland has a need to achieve (NACH) personality over a need to avoid failure (NAF) personality, therefore will likely feel little pressure.
Haaland seems a NACH athlete and will therefore strive to further his career away from Borussia Dortmund. The media surrounding him will emphasise this belief and therefore increase his confidence and reduce the pressure he feels. Haaland will crave more and more success as his career progresses and strive to achieve as much as possible. NACH can be a detriment however, as without success athletes could lose motivation, in theory Haaland must see success to stay motivated, and ‘success’ will be whatever he defines it as. Pressure also allows athletes to understand the gravity of a situation, Haaland may become arrogant and misidentify a situation as not pivotal. This belief and lack of pressure may lead to a lack of effort from Haaland, believing he has a god given right to be successful.
Arrogance is confidence that is false to reality. An arrogant athlete may believe they are too good to prepare or too good to set goals. They believe they have a license to behave in ways that are superior to others. Arrogant athletes attribute success to themselves and will rarely listen to others, potentially leading to a breakdown with teammates and a detriment to overall team performance. Haaland potentially shows this in his interviews, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he uses one-word answers, and refers to himself in the third person (illeism). So, is Erling Haaland arrogant or just an incredibly confident individual?
Self-confidence is the degree of certainty that you have in your ability to be successful in each situation. (Haaland is clearly not lacking confidence). Thinking and behaving confidently will lead to an increase in performance. However, arrogance could lead to a detriment in performance.
In theory, whether Erling Haaland is confident or arrogant is defined by the extent we believe his confidence to mirror reality. If he is too confident for his success, then he is arrogant. This is where we need to understand his sources of confidence, to see if his confidence could be arrogance and therefore possibly detrimental.
The sources of confidence are – Mastery, Demonstration of ability, Physical and mental prep, physical self-presentation, social support, vicarious experience, coach’s leadership, environmental comfort, and situational favorableness.
Physical self-presentation is a massive part of Haaland’s confidence, by the way he structures his interviews and celebrations. Physical self-presentation is about gaining confidence from the perceived support and encouragement from others. He uses the media to increase his popularity and therefore his perceived support. However, the hype around the transfer speculation of Haaland may lead to unwarranted support and encouragement. (Haaland is effectively getting headlines whilst doing nothing, through the help of Mino Raiola). He must be careful that this source does not heighten his confidence uncontrollably and that his confidence is still grounded in his achievements and ability (internal as opposed to external variables). This media source must not become his main source of confidence, as this could lead to a dangerous spiral.
Haaland also uses vicarious experiences, he gains confidence by watching his idol and inspiration, Cristiano Ronaldo. Erling Haaland believes he can be just like Ronaldo and takes great confidence in seeing someone else achieve such feats.
As discussed in my previous article with Liverpool.com, automaticity can be lost if focus is redirected If Haaland begins to be distracted by transfer speculation he may feel the need to perform well and become distracted. If he begins to ‘try to hard’ he may lose his automaticity, leading to mistakes. As described in the aforementioned article, this may be an explanation for Alisson Becker’s recent form for Liverpool. The spiral of losing focus cannot be underestimated, and for a young man it is important that Erling is focused on the correct stimuli.
So, what can an elite athlete do to combat this loss of focus?
Erling Haaland is a well-known lover of meditation, displaying this in his famous ‘zen’ celebration. Meditation has numerous benefits to athletic performance, and Erling seems to revel in this. As the media begins to redirect Haaland’s focus, meditation can bring him back to reality. Meditation teaches athletes to focus on the process at hand and emphasises being in the moment. Haaland can use his meditation as a way of removing unwanted attention and focusing on himself.
Meditation can also help to alleviate stress. With such a media circus surrounding him, Haaland clearly has many stressors surrounding him. Meditation can create significantly less anxiety in athletes and may be the source of Haaland’s calm demeanor.
Meditation is ultimately about the self. Tuning one’s thoughts and body to themselves. Meditation is highly personal and is a vital tool in Haaland’s kit to distract from the attention surrounding him.
Ultimately, Erling Haaland appears to be an extremely confident individual, who is aware of his own ability. His goalscoring record speaks for itself and it would be unwise to speculate that he will not have a phenomenal career. However, with Mino Raiola looming over him, Erling must be careful to stay grounded in reality and not be distracted by media attention. Haaland is only human, and Mino Raiola may want the best for his client, however equally, may be using Haaland as a means to an end. Haaland is now no longer a boy and seems very capable of looking after his mindset in the correct way.
This article has stated the numerous ways in which the media circus could impact Erling Haaland’s performances, if he is able to use his meditation and mental techniques to combat the negative impacts of media scrutiny correctly, we could well see a phenomenal athlete of this generation.
“The stones that critics hurl with harsh intent – a man may use to build a monument”. Arthur Guiterman.
Also, for a more detailed look at a lot of the discussion here, please read;
Does the Media Impact Athletic Performance?