Education resources › Blog › Does momentum in football matter?

Does momentum in football matter?

Does momentum in football matter?

4 min read
  • Sport psychology

We usually say a team has momentum when it’s on a winning streak. Some researchers believe that a team with momentum stands in good stead for future matches – they’re in the “flow” of winning. However, even though there is a lot of research on psychological momentum, psychologists are still divided as to whether or not it actually makes a difference, or if each match is essentially a clean slate.

Here at InnerDrive, we’ve been gearing up to the World Cup by taking a closer look at our home team, and whether the concept of momentum might predict Team England’s performance throughout the fast-approaching World Cup.

So, should you pay attention to team momentum in the run up to Qatar 2022? Here’s what you need to know to decide…

The research in support of momentum

Momentum has great ties with the “hot hand myth”, the belief that an athlete’s performance will improve after every consecutive success they have. This can be seen in this study where athletes continuously scored against their opponents, creating a “string of successes” which further fuelled their momentum.

For footballers, this means that if they are on target throughout the game, they’ll have better momentum and a higher chance of doing well by keeping up a successful flow of the match. In their recent match against Italy, England’s stats show more off target shots in comparison to Italy. If the “hot hand myth” is true, they had not discovered the key to unlocking it.

However, momentum doesn’t just apply to in-match successes, but also previous successes. Research shows that players relate their momentum to how well they did in previous matches. Athletes said that knowing they had achieved success before had given them confidence that they would achieve the same success again. This increased their confidence and self-belief levels, showing that with greater confidence comes greater performance.

The research against momentum

So, we’ve looked at why momentum could be important for success. But do athletes place too much importance on it?

Research has found that past performance isn’t always a good indicator of future performance, with teams sometimes winning after several losses and vice versa. There doesn’t have to be a pattern – performance can vary depending on any number of factors.

For instance, the team are never solely in control of whether they win; the strength of their opposition is a huge factor in deciding their success. If the opposition are stronger, faster and simply superior, then it shouldn’t matter if your team have had a good run. They might have just been playing the less advanced teams up until now. And that’s without accounting for supporters, individual confidence levels, personal issues, bad luck…

Train your mind as well as your body. Unlock your full potential with sport psychology coaching.

Can momentum be a bad thing?

Say you flip a coin 3 times and each one lands on heads. What are you predicting the next flip will be?

Research suggests most people will say tails, because it just seems unusual to flip heads 4 times in a row. The same logic can be applied to football matches: when a team has had a good winning streak, the public often assume they are due for a loss. This is known as a negative momentum, where we expect a team to do badly following a surge of wins because it almost seems too good to last.

When athletes experience numerous wins in sequence, they can develop a fear of not winning, which can in fact trigger this negative momentum. Athletes can begin to think about avoiding mistakes and not letting victory slip away, making them perform nervously. This does strengthen the argument for the existence of momentum – without it, athletes might not overthink their play and let their thoughts and performance spiral out of control.

If momentum matters, what does this mean for England?

It’s fair to say that in the Nation’s League, England’s performance has been pretty subpar. With 2 draws and 4 losses, they have finished at the bottom of their group and fallen short of their Euros achievements.

If momentum is a thing, this doesn’t bode well for England in the World Cup. However, we witnessed England come very close to making history, with the team getting into the Euros final – we know they are capable of going far, but was this because of their skill, or did they just happen to have the momentum behind them?

Final thoughts

Regardless of whether momentum is real or myth, there is no doubt England are a skilful team with a lot of potential. Although their recent performances may not inspire much confidence, England have had success in other matches and have got the nation on their side.

Momentum is not the only factor at play: England have talent, confidence and national support. So, do you think momentum is real? Can you predict how well England will do in the World Cup?

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn