2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Holland – The Art of Not Choking


Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Holland, a perennial favorite and runner-up at the previous World Cup in South Africa 2010. Holland has drawn one of the more difficult groups that includes Spain, Chile, and Australia, and plays their first match against Spain – a rematch of the 2010 Final won 1-0 by Spain in extra time – on June 13th.

Holland’s defeat to Spain in Johannesburg in 2010 was not the first World Cup Final that the National side has lost; they finished runners up to Germany in 1974, and again to Argentina in 1978, and they also lost a close semi-final to Brazil in France 1998.  This string of disappointing performances and failure to perform under pressure has been termed “choking”, and a lot of research has been done on the psychological and physiological aspects of choking under pressure in soccer.

A comprehensive review of literature on choking was done by Geir Jordet of the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, the findings of which were presented at the 7th World Congress on Science and Football in Nagoya, Japan, 2011 (a conference I also attended and presented a poster at).  One of the key findings from this review was that soccer players who choke under pressure have a strong perception of being “under threat”.  Players then underachieve when they “engage in self-defeating self-regulation strategies that are initiated to escape the unpleasant affect associated with the pressure.”  For the Dutch team, which boasts a plethora of world class players including Robin Van Persie, Wesley Snejder and Arjen Robben, these self-defeating strategies could well be the cause of their underachieving performances in big games.

In order for Holland to be successful not only in their tough opening match against the reigning champions but also in the rest of the tournament, the Dutch players will need to replace their negative self-regulation with positive strategies that are focused on the joy and pleasure associated with winning.  This type of mental strategy takes the mind’s focus away from the pressure and worry about negative effects of losing, and could be the key to the Dutch team finally reaching their full potential and winning their first ever World Cup trophy.  We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.



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