How to avoid imposter syndrome affecting you as a professional footballer

How to avoid imposter syndrome affecting you as a professional footballer

It’s well-established how important a positive mental attitude is in being successful at the highest level of sport. That’s why making sure that imposter syndrome doesn’t affect you is key in being the best professional footballer you can possibly be.

Imposter syndrome is a rather strange phenomenon. It involves persistent feelings of inadequacy and the belief that your achievements are false or undeserved, despite being evidently successful.

A recent interview with former Reading manager Brian McDermott and published by the Athletic in October goes to show just how detrimental imposter syndrome can be.

McDermott made more than 300 senior appearances in his playing days as a midfielder, before turning his hand to management.

Spending a year at Leeds United in between, McDermott was most successful and well-known during two spells at Reading.

He led the Royals to a Championship play-off final in 2011, which his team ultimately lost to Swansea City, before guiding his side to Premier League promotion the following season.

Yet despite McDermott’s objective success in football, the former manager opened up to the Athletic about his personal battles with imposter syndrome.

No matter how hard he worked or how high he climbed, McDermott described the sense of failure and imposter syndrome he felt, even leading to a dangerous relationship with alcohol.

McDermott’s story will not be the only one of its kind across football, but it goes to show just how destructive imposter syndrome can be for professional players and managers.

So, keep reading to find out how you can banish imposter syndrome so it doesn’t affect you and your game.

Work out your triggers

Firstly, it’s worth taking some time to try and work out your triggers for symptoms of imposter syndrome.

Your triggers will be personal to you, but some common ones that can affect professional footballers include:

  • Losing a significant match, cup, or league title
  • Negative feedback from your manager, teammates, or even fans
  • Your own perfectionism, thinking that your performances aren’t at the level you want them to be.

By working out what your triggers are, you may be better placed to cut off negative feelings before they start to really affect you.

Remember to take time to celebrate successes

When you’re building your career, it’s important to keep your nose to the grindstone and work hard. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to celebrate successes.

Celebrating the victories, whether that’s an individually strong performance or winning a league or a cup, can help to reaffirm that you’re doing something right. In turn, this can banish that internal voice of imposter syndrome.

Do this to remind yourself that you are a high-level performer with an impressive career.

Reflect on failures and move on

Of course, celebrating successes doesn’t mean ignoring the moments you would consider failures. Whether it’s individual mistakes and errors or losses in big matches, defeat and failure are simply inherent in professional sport.

The key in preventing these failures from manifesting as imposter syndrome is in properly reflecting on them, dealing with the feelings, and moving on.

There are many ways to do this, from watching back videos and seeing where you can improve, to leaning into these thoughts and accepting that sometimes things won’t go your way.

By taking the time to properly reflect and deal with the emotions of these moments, you can use these setbacks as motivation to be even stronger next time.

Don’t read negative comments on social media

The last thing you need if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome is to have your feelings corroborated by the opinions of other people. That’s why you may want to be especially careful on social media if you’re struggling with these thoughts, so that negative comments on the sites don’t make you feel even worse.

Unfortunately, whether it’s pundits or rival fans, social media is full of scathing reviews and harsh criticisms of footballers.

We recently wrote a blog on this subject discussing just how serious the effects of reading social media can be for footballers, noting how destructive it can be to read negative comments.

If you’re going to use social media, only view the content you want to see and try to avoid reading negative press about you and your performance if you’re struggling with imposter syndrome. Otherwise, you may end up internalising some of this feedback, creating a vicious cycle of feeling badly, it affecting your performances, and so on.

Talk to someone about your feelings

Perhaps most importantly of all, if you’re really struggling with imposter syndrome then consider speaking to someone about it.

Whether that’s your club psychologist, manager, teammates, or even just friends and family, talking to someone about the way you feel can make a world of difference. It can be incredibly cathartic to be honest and open with another person, and can make the issues you’re experiencing seem far less burdensome.

Having a conversation with someone will also help you out of your own head, giving you an objective, outside perspective on you and your career. This can be a welcome reminder that other people see the value you bring, even if you sometimes don’t feel it.

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Please note

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.