The deadly combination of over arousal and under regulation reared its head again yesterday. This combined with excessive level of hope and expectation led to the sad display we witnessed on the pitch in Ukraine. Both the England team and the nation were left exposed and disappointed. This experience will undoubtedly add to the questions about our nation’s sense of belonging and collective self-esteem.
Where did Gerrard disappear to during the match? How could substitute Theo make so little difference? As for Rooney being our Pele. I can’t help feeling that the weight of expectation on this young man weighed heavily on him and may even have disrupted the balance in the whole team. I felt the sense of collective gloom as the two Ashley’s fired their blanks, draining away final drops of hope and optimism.
The Yerks-Dodson Law, that empirical relationship between arousal and performance remains immutable. When we are over-aroused, the “positive anger” that drives us gets out of control, we become anxious and enter a state of internal “collapse”. The commands from brain to body become less efficient, simple programed behaviours become an effort and we underperform.
Who is not familiar with the “butterflies” which can cause our expected and programmed responses to break down as if they were never there? I believe that the whole team, with the possible exception of Joe Hart, suffered from both cognitive and bodily anxiety ie worried thoughts and a loss of bodily control and regulation. This was the result of a wave of expectation and hope and the physical expression of anxiety through the body.
We seem collectively unable to resist the hope expressed through our team that England – as a nation – could produce something positive, exciting, valuable to the world. In the first fifteen minutes it seemed the dream was going to happen, yet slowly, inexorably that familiar wave of “learned helplessness” seemed to overtake us. You only have to witness Roy Hodgson’s body language slumped in his chair.
There has been much mention of the England team’s “ego”. This is a misuse of the word. Our English boys suffer from under regulation, their egos seem under formed both individually and collectively. As a consequence they are able to achieve moments of explosive brilliance but not to sustain themselves.
It is hard to believe that one for one, in terms of pure talent, the Italian players are better than either Gerrard, Rooney or Hart. Yet, even as a mediocre team compared to Spain, Germany or previous Italian teams, they seemed to have in them a belief that kept them going and kept them solid.
Pirlo was the master, in charge at every moment, dominating and controlling the whole game. He is reputedly a quiet man of few words and appears to hold his emotions internally. In this way he is able to regulate himself and control his level of “arousal”, his positive anger output. Pirlo regulates himself and is able to lead the team on the pitch and control the pace of the game, spreading his passes and dictating the play.
By contrast Rooney seems less formed inside himself. Think of him as a building with girders that are over flexible. He is reliant on bursts of explosive energy to achieve his moments of inspiration but less able to regulate himself over the course of a whole match. The burden of expectation weighs heavily on him and the comparison to Pele was undoubtedly an error of judgment.
We experience an English culture which lacks the self-belief to nurture us, a dependence on history, antiquated symbolism and “God Save the Queen”. By contrast the Italian national anthem says, “Let us band together, we are ready to die, Italy has called us”. I couldn’t help but feel uplifted when they sang.
Thus it is likely that the roots of yesterday’s failure lie not in the shortness of Hodgson’s tenure prior to the Euros or the toughness of the Italians but in individual and collective expectation.
I imagine each England team member will retreat into the bosom of their multi-million pound home and take comfort from the material environment which will gradually help them forget yet another dismal failure.
Yet for the rest of us, we have once again given up hope and with that a bit more pride in our national team. And with that, the anger will slowly rise.