The concept of play is not only an essential element of player development, but also a key ingredient of performance. Founder of New Edge Performance & regular PDP contributor, John Haime discusses some psychological strategies for decision-making.


If you are a football player, you know that overthinking in matches causes problems. Too many thoughts lead to hesitation, confusion and a lack of uncertainly in your abilities on the pitch.

So, I’d like to introduce you to a strategy that might help you get into a great playing frame of mind. The strategy was initially developed by my friends Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott – world-class golf coaches – using the Think Box and Play Box with leading professional golfers. For you, the Think Box and Play Box is a practical approach for your football to help you use your thinking brain to your advantage, introduce you to your “supercomputer” and let all of your training, instruction, experience do the work and allow you to play the way you are capable of – using your well-developed instincts.

In all of the work I do with some of the world’s leading athletes, including some young, football players, we’re always working toward the idea of “just playing” or “just play”. You have probably heard it many times from coaches and others in the game. Take out the interference, narrow the focus and allow talent, coaching and training to hit its mark.

The Supercomputer and the Calculator

You see, you want one of the world’s most complex supercomputers, your subconscious mind, to run the show when you play. This supercomputer contains everything about you, your experiences, your memories and can do a million things at once. It seamlessly runs all of your body’s systems and functions beneath your consciousness. For perspective, it is estimated it is 30,000 times more powerful than the conscious thinking brain.

Conversely, you want the calculator, your thinking brain or prefrontal cortex, to stay out of the way. It is slow and weak and can only process a small amount of information at one time. The tendency for performers is to overload this thinking brain with so many thoughts that you hesitate, get confused and don’t allow the supercomputer to run the show. This is what you commonly know as overthinking. In high performance, when many things are happening at once and the landscape is constantly shifting, there is no place for slow processing.



So, instead of responding to what’s in front of you on the pitch with your well developed instincts and enjoying your play in the match – your thinking brain gets in the way, you become anxious and too many thoughts in the calculator short circuit your play …

  • “Should I pass or shoot”
  • “Should I take another touch”
  • “Is this what the coach wants me to do”
  • “I have to play perfectly or I’ll lose my starting spot”
  • “I might make a mistake so I won’t try it”
  • “It’s too risky, I can’t do it”
    “I wonder who’s watching?”

Sound familiar?

The Think Box and the Play Box

I’d like you to consider a strategy that you can use at matches that will allow you to use your supercomputer and keep the calculator in check.



Before you walk onto the pitch for your warm-up or the start of the match – you will be in the Think Box. In the Think Box you can consider coach suggestions, review your role in the match in your mind, think about last minute details of the match. You want to distill all of this down to one key thought for the thinking brain. The thought should be a positive, proactive idea that will help you highlight your strengths in the match – “shoot the ball”, “take some calculated risks”, “check my shoulders at all times”, “make accurate passes”.

When the time to play arrives and the whistle is about to blow, immediately when you step on to the pitch, you are now in the “Play Box” where your supercomputer or subconscious is in charge. You are on autopilot trusting your instincts, experience and training. Once you walk into the Play Box, keep one thought in the thinking brain to get things started in a positive way – and then just play and allow the subconscious to respond to what’s in front of you and run the show. It knows what to do – trust that everything you need is there!

So, consider the Think Box and Play Box for your football performance. When you’re in the Think Box, take the last minute details from your coach and bring that one, simple key thought forward in your thinking brain to help your performance in the match. When you cross the line onto the pitch and enter the Play Box, trust the supercomputer will bring the training forward and just play. I think you’ll find that “just playing” will lead to better performance, take out the indecision and help you enjoy your football that much more.


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