France Football Team Dreams

Before the South Africa World Cup, nobody could ever imagine that the runner up of World Cup2006 would fall down that badly with two defeats, one draw, foul-mouthed squabbles in the dressing room and a team strike. So what happened with the French players psychologically?
The start of all things came with the bad words by Nicholas Anelka to his coach Domenech during half time game with Mexico. Put aside his inappropriate saying, the worse thing was that somebody leaked that information to the media. In sport psychology terms, a norm in a team was broken. Norms are the standards for behavior that is expected of team members. Norms are not formally adopted by the team but result from a gradual change in behavior until a consensus is reached. Norms are different from rules in the fact that rules are formal for everyone and there are normally some punishments for breaking the rule. Because norms are unobtrusive, they are sometimes taken for granted and only become important when violated. In the case of France team, for some reasons, the norm of keeping team issues inside the locker room was violated. And the result was really destructive.
 Worst of all, the team represented by Patrick Evra boycotted training and some players showed the intention of avoiding playing the last game. In this case the whole team was united under the same cause: to protest against the decision to send Anelka back from the French Football Federation. In sport psychology terms, the team displayed very high cohesion. Team cohesion is defined as: "the resistance of the group to disruptive forces". When a team is highly cohesive like French team, it would be able to tolerate a great deal of negativity arising from the occurrence of unfavorable events, such as losing games, or receiving criticism in the media... Team cohesion is also divided into 2 type: task cohesion (regarding team goals and performance) and social cohesion (regarding relationship outside the task). In France team, the players showed very high social cohesion that led to the boycott and protest to support their teammate.So what could have been fixed in that case? Obviously, there are many issues that had to be solved (from behavior of players to coach, setting up norms for communication with each other and to the media...). However, there is one main issue I believe should have been tackled. By interacting with players in an informal approach, a sport psychologist could help players restore and re-affirm their team goal. Obviously, they came to World Cup to represent their country and to make French people proud. As a national team, they carried the image of the whole nation and should behave accordingly, especially in front of foreign media. By reacting aggressively to coaches, they were successful in showing their team cohesion, yet failed to show their responsibilities for their nation and their fans. By re-aligning the team value and team goal to the players, a sport psychologist could help players redefine their priority and their purpose. This could potentially have led to different behaviors and performance by French players.
Although France team issues were rather extreme, it gives a very clear picture of many sport psychology issues that should have been addressed before and during the tournament. By being aware of norms and cohesion level in your team, you can prevent and address problems as well as improve team performance.
Dzung Dao Tien is a Master student in Sport Science & Sport Psychology from Lund University, Sweden. He is also a practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Program which helps training athletes to achieve peak performance.