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A focused Ina Birkelund in a match between TIL2020 and Hønefoss, 1st division, at Romssa Arena

This is how the coach can get football players to perform better

It can be beneficial to create a mastery climate where individual development and effort are prioritised.

New research from UiT the Arctic University of Norway shows how mental factors affect match performance in female football players. The researchers have looked at both the training environment and personal characteristics among women in the two top football leagues in Norway.

"The findings show that players who perceive a mastery motivational climate perform better on the football pitch," Susann Dahl Pettersen says.

She is a psychologist and researcher at the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare (RKBU Nord) in the project Female Football Research Centre at UiT.

She explains that a coach-created mastery climate is about what the players feel the head coach emphasises in their approach. In a mastery climate, the coach focuses on individual development and effort rather than results.

The opposite of a mastery climate is an ego-oriented climate where the coach is more focused on results, unequal recognition, rivalry between team members, and compare the players with each other to a greater extent rather than looking at the development of each individual player, she explains. 

Researcher Susann Dahl Pettersen is participating in the project Female Football Research Centre at UiT the Arctic University of Norway.

"But since we have looked at the players' experience of the team environment, different players can experience the same coach-created environment differently," Dahl Pettersen says.

New method for measuring performance

A total of 156 female football players from 17 teams in the top two leagues in Norway participated in the study.

The psychological factors were measured through multiple questionnaires, while match performance data was obtained from the performance analysis company InStat. InStat gives an individual score based on the players' overall performance in the match.

"What is unique about these new match performance statistics is that they give a position-specific performance score," Dahl Pettersen says. 

Personality traits

When it comes to the personality traits of the players, the study shows that women who are so-called extroverts can take advantage of that on the football field.

"Extroverts may be better at communicating on the pitch both verbally and with body language. At the same time, football performance is a complex thing, where both physiological, tactical, and technical characteristics also come into play," Dahl Pettersen says. 

When it comes to personality traits, Dahl Pettersen underlines that these are relatively stable in a person, and trainers should not attempt to use any measures to alter these.

To make efforts towards creating a mastery climate is easier.

According to research, a training climate that focuses on mastery rather than performance is beneficial for performance on the football pitch. Photo taken during a 1st division match between TIL2020 and Hønefoss.

Important to include everyone

"Coaches can facilitate a mastery climate by making sure that all the players feel important to the team and are seen by the coach," the researcher says.

She explains that you may have to give extra follow-up to those who are not in a permanent starting lineup. So that they also know that they are just as important to the team and feel just as included, even if they haven't played for 90 minutes.

"It is also important that they have their own development goals that are followed up and evaluated," concludes Dahl Pettersen.

According to Susann Dahl Pettersen, it is essential that all players feel important for the team and seen by the coach to perform better.


Dahl Pettersen et al. Beyond physical ability—predicting women’s football performance from psychological factors, Front. Psychol., vol. 14, 2023. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1146372

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