Brainmatters | Hand in hand kameraden!


The time for a confession has come: ever since primary school I’ve been a fan of Feyenoord. Initially it was a bit awkward for my parents, and my environment also looked at me slightly flummoxed. After all, I’m not from Rotterdam or the surrounding area, but was born in Utrecht. Nowadays people around me regard it as a likeable flaw.

Of course I could tell some involved tale to explain why I’m a Feyenoord fan: about their perseverance, the loyal fans, the cut-the-crap-and-get-down-to-work attitude, or tens of thousands of voices blaring out the unsurpassed 'You’ll Never Walk Alone' in de Kuip Stadium. All of that may be fantastic, but it’s not why I became a fan.

I used to watch hardly any football as a kid, but when I was nine years old I did collect football pictures. In my Figurini Panini album the Feyenoord players from those days simply had a friendlier expression on their faces in the photo. More vulnerable. More of a smile, less bravado. That appealed to me, for I didn’t used to be such a yobbo either at that time.

In retrospect, the preference for Feyenoord because of its vulnerability can be said to be interesting. When you occasionally mingle with ‘the hard core’ you do tend to suspect that not all of them follow doctor’s orders to take their pills every morning.

Vulnerability turns into fear of failure and doubt creeps in

The way Feyenoord played, during the away game versus Excelsior last Sunday, could be called vulnerable at any rate. Feyenoord made a complete mess of it and were swept off the artificial grass pitch 3-0. Students who in this quartile follow the course of Sport Motivation and Sport Performance know why.

For the first time in eighteen years, Feyenoord is close to winning the national championship. Most players on today’s Feyenoord team have never experienced something like that yet, and in such a case the pressure on young players inevitably starts churning up.

Choking this is called - because there is so much at stake, sportsmen sometimes begin to wonder too much about what should actually be virtually reflex behavior. Vulnerability turns into fear of failure. They break out in a sweat and doubt creeps in. This occurs quite regularly in other areas than sports also - in fact wherever people have to perform under pressure - when making a public presentation, when sitting an exam, or when defending a PhD thesis.

Next Sunday it will be all or nothing. Vulnerability will be shrouded again under a shield of bravado and self-confidence. Hand in hand kameraden! Let us hope that they all have smiles on their faces again in the photo after the match.

Wijnand IJsselsteijn | Professor of Cognition and Affect in Human-Technology Interaction

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