Back in April of 2017, the Eels were four games into a losing streak when I wrote a post about the sequence of losses. Titled, “The Importance of Winning” , it conversely examined the psychology of losing and began with this quote from legendary NFL coach, Vince Lombardi:
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
I then made the following observation:
“When losing becomes a habit, there’s zero to be gained. The simple things seem strangely complex. You start to overthink every aspect of your play. In working harder and trying harder the errors seem to mount. You lose faith in the footy instincts that made you a success in the first place. Worse still, you begin to lose trust in the players around you.”
At this moment, this tells part of the 2018 story for the Parramatta Eels. It’s not the entire story, because other factors started the sequence of losses. However, this “habit” is now becoming a major contributor in Parra’s current inability to secure victories, even when they are the better team or have significant opportunities to win matches.
In 2017, following that early string of losses, winning became the habit. The Eels secured the victory in 14 of their next 18 regular season matches. Often, their performances were pitched just a little bit above the level of their opposition, no matter what form the opposition was in. In other words, the team found a way to win.
In 2018 the opposite is true.
No matter the opposition, apart from a couple of blow-outs, the Eels are performing at a level just below the team they’re playing. If the opposition is playing poorly, the Eels go that little bit worse. If the opposition is playing well, the Eels are not quite good enough. They manage to find a way to lose, even when they deserve to win.
Just this past week, I was sent a message by a fellow Eels fan, “DOC”, via social media. In his detailed message, DOC likened the team’s performances to a golfer having the “yips”. He further stated that it provided an answer as to why there was a stark contrast between their preparations and their execution on match days.
This clearly resonated with me and I found myself referring back to the 2017 post.
* Atrocious completion rates or critically timed incomplete sets
* Poor body language
* Lack of faith in the player beside them
All of these factors were explored in that post, and I believe it to be as true now as it was then.
Consider last week’s loss to the Knights.
At one stage, towards the end of the first half, the completion rate sat at 51%! That’s ludicrous. Even more frustrating was that it wasn’t forced errors – we saw mistakes in the play the ball and forward passes. Then to amplify the problem, you could see the heads drop after each of these errors.
And we witnessed the classic example of not having faith in the player beside you – or having a negative mindset – George Jennings and Corey Norman in the in-goal. Norman fields the ball with chasers closing in. Instead of staying wide, Jennings moves behind Norman in case something goes wrong. Had he stayed positive, there were open pastures in front of him as the chase hadn’t shut down support runners. Norman was ready, Jennings played it ultra-safe.
These aren’t complex aspects in football. They come naturally to NRL players. Even more so to those who’ve played representative footy.
Now reflect on how we as supporters are impacted by the negative mindset of our team.
Hands up anyone who immediately began thinking negatively when Gutherson shanked that conversion attempt. The team was on fire, they’d just gone up by ten points after a brilliant try, and my first thought was how those two points would cost us. I wonder whether any of the team reacted similarly?
Could this be symptomatic of the negativity prevalent in the team during matches? I’ve watched BA and the coaches deal with this at training. When the players vent at their own errors during opposed sessions, the instruction is to stop blowing up and stay in the game. Errors will happen, and they can worry about that in the dressing room or the review session. For now, there’s a moment to stay in, a game to play.
How do we find something in this season, with the roster as it is?
Last year I stated that it was as simple as jagging a few wins. Indeed, that eventuality came upon the team soon enough.
This year it’s a deeper, darker hole. The season is nearly over. The victories seem tantalisingly close and yet frustratingly out of reach.
With the rationale that essentially the same coach and players shouldn’t fall so heavily within 12 months, it was suggested by DOC in his message that it may be time for a sports psychologist. Though I should disclose that I hold a psychology major in my own degree, I am not certain how beneficial a sports psychologist can be in a team sport. Those experienced in that field can best answer that.
The Club’s review into this season will obviously have ramifications for the longer term. Recruitment for next season has added three players to this point and I believe the youth in the club will be given their opportunity. But even in a season entering its last seven rounds, we need to look at whatever methods can grab some victories before the year is out.
Answers have been sought. Training has been kept fresh and positive. New staff have been added. Whatever criticisms have been levelled at the quality of the roster, the fact remains that the team have put themselves in a position to win matches. Indeed, look at the number of games statistically lost on goal kicking.
However, none of us are naive enough to believe that goal kicking was the sole reason for the losses. There are reasons that the Eels have not measured up, but we cannot deny that the losing habit, or footballing yips, has taken hold.
Even though we can expect important roster changes for next year, the current team has so much more ability than they’ve demonstrated this season. Maybe it’s as simple as the players realising that they are merely suffering from this short term lack of belief that many sports stars go through. Some players have been accused of not caring enough. Perhaps, for a number of them, it’s a case of caring and worrying too much.
Let’s hope a short term solution can be found. After all, there’s no yippee to be had in those yips!