Deep insights from the Euros


With all the excitement of the Euros, it seems appropriate to use football as a guide or metaphor for the inner life, or as one book title puts it, the game of life and how to play it.

The image of a football club or of a country’s team is like your image in the world around you. Whatever your present reality, the glories or otherwise of your past have created a mass of associations which are held by many others. Like a club, you will have fans and opponents, and their beliefs about you will change only slowly.

The image of the England team is a great metaphor for how past problems can affect our present reality. The early match against Scotland had episodes of the England football we dread (remember going out in a match against Iceland). But the impressive series of wins encourages us all to remember that positive change is possible!

The players at the club are like the aspects of your personality. Some are wild, some are quiet. Some break the rules often, others keep their nose clean. Some appear on the pitch often, some stay mostly in the reserves. Your players could be called sub-personalities: the romantic, the geek, the angry hitman, the princess, the saintly sage and so on. And you could stretch the analogy and explore soccer roles as subpersonalities: do you have a mercurial, darting Sterling striker, a brilliant defender who attacks too (Shaw, Rice et al), a stylish maverick like Grealish?

Often you may be only aware of one of your players at a time: the geek may lead in a work task, the romantic may lead on a hot date but be substituted by the lonely moper if you are losing the match. But although only one of your inner players has your attention, i.e. the ball, other aspects of you are on the pitch, in the team, and it can help you to draw them into the manoeuvres.

Do any of these reflect your own inner manager?

One of the things I love about soccer is the astonishing difference the manager can make. Gareth Southgate deserves massive credit for England’s long, successful run in the Euros. He’s shown courage in picking a relatively young squad, and real intelligence in his training and tactics, such as intense practicing for set-pieces. He has really embodied steady calm under pressure, and has got the team imbued with that as well. What’s the analogy for your inner life? As in football, your inner manager needs to bring a combination of intelligence and inspiration, technique and passion, to your inner team.

Just as different football teams respond to different managers and approaches, there’s no one prescription for your inner life. But somehow, you need to connect with your sense of purpose and passion, so that your inner players go out with fire in their hearts, and can pull themselves back against impossible odds. Remember Newcastle’s legendary recovery from 0 – 4 to 4 – 4 against Arsenal?

Looking at successful teams like England (!) or Manchester City, it’s so clear that it arises from brilliance in both method and motivation. Your inner manager needs to know what training and techniques will help your players face the challenges of your life. He or she needs to find the right team choices among your inner players, so that you bring a mix of skills to bear on every situation. The coaching team are also vital in the morale and the skills of your players. Your coaching inputs may come from friends, professionals like counsellors, blogs like this, or resources from the Natural Happiness website.

Probably the question most English supporters are left with is, why did we lose? Both teams were good, and the margins between them were very fine. My theory about this question is that it relates to the passion and the soul of the team. We know that Gareth and his team were totally committed, and… if you observed the Italian manager, Mancini, his passion was out there for all to see, both gesticulating from the touchline, and also in his intense briefings to his team. Whatever he said at half-time clearly galvanised the Italians in the second half, and a penalty shoot-out is as tough and raw a test as any individual would want to face.

My local paper in Bridport, West Dorset, had a caption which nearly gave me heart failure. It read Here’s to the Premier!, over a picture of a team with bubbly at the low-key ground of Bridport Football Club. They are celebrating promotion to the Toolstation Western League Premier Division. It’s a useful reminder that few of us as individuals will be in the limelight of the UK Premier League, let alone the England squad. Most of us will be in the equivalent of the Toolstation Premier Division. Local football clubs have just the same dramas and delights as their big brothers, so whatever your league your personal club may be in, find the passion and wisdom to manage it well.

So here’s another life lesson from the Euros: we could easily be preoccupied with the deep disappointment of losing this Final by such a narrow margin, or we could celebrate all the superb performances and wins which got us into the final. In these uncertain times, the art of fully appreciating what we have is a crucial one!