Expert opinion: So what is it about Luis Suarez?

Dr Andrew Evans, a performance psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, discusses the nine game and four-month ban imposed on Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez, following his bite on an opponent during a World Cup game.

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Suarez found the net twice for Uruguay, but his World Cup is now over

Dr Andrew Evans, a performance psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, discusses the nine game and four-month ban imposed on Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez, following his bite on an opponent during a World Cup game.

This punishment won't serve as much of a deterrent to Suarez in the future as it's too similar to previously imposed sanctions. What is really needed now is a psychological programme capable of promoting long-lasting behaviour change.

He no doubt keeps finding himself in these situations because of his demand for success and the incredible pressure he puts on himself to achieve it. In cases where the likelihood of success is under threat – as was the case for Suarez in the Uruguay v Italy game – some athletes with a 'win at all cost' mentality are susceptible to aggressive acts.

Learning not to act aggressively requires practise and time to correct. Those with a tendency to be aggressive could benefit from changing their core beliefs about their sport and minimising the demand that they put on themselves.

That is not to say that Suarez should not care about being successful – success is important and something athletes should value. But having preference rather than demand is linked to more healthy and beneficial emotional responses, such as being angry rather than aggressive.

Anger can be a positive and adaptive response, helping an athlete to increase effort, for instance. Aggression, however, is negative and maladaptive, potentially resulting in a loss of focus and performance.

Athletes consistently and regularly work on their physical attributes. From first entering their sport, athletes practice their technique and are encouraged to develop their strength, speed, and power. Psychological skills such as learning to prepare, being able to control emotions and changing beliefs about situations require consideration and constant practice. Regular psychological support will be useful if Suarez is ever going to control his aggression in football.

Key points and messages will need reinforcement from continued psychological work if Suarez is to learn to react differently in pressurised situations.

Research suggests that in competitive encounters individuals can have increased testosterone responses if they perceive their territory to be under threat – and this could be another explanation for Suarez's conduct.

This increased testosterone response can trigger aggressive acts and an individual will attempt to show dominance.

In reptiles, for example, a King Cobra will rear up its body, extend its neck, show its fangs, and hiss loudly when confronted with another species to show dominance and protect their territory.

The threat of being knocked out of the 2014 World Cup could have served as a real threat to Suarez which may have increased his testosterone causing an act of aggression. Changing Suarez's perceptions of competition, rivalry, and success could be a useful strategy to prevent further aggressive acts being displayed in the future.

Dr Andrew Evans
Performance psychologist
School of Science and Technology
Nottingham Trent University

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Expert opinion: So what is it about Luis Suarez?

Published on 30 June 2014
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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