Upamecano's Mistakes in the Champions League: A Lack of Mental Preparation?

The French defender is in the eye of the storm for his repetitive mistakes. Does he lack concentration? What mental factors influence his performance?
Upamecano's Mistakes in the Champions League: A Lack of Mental Preparation?
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 03 May, 2023

Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final clash with Bayern Munich left many people talking about the Bayerm player Upamecano’s performance and his mistakes. The 24-year-old French defender lost the ball 15 times in the match, and one of them ended with Silva’s goal for City that made it 2-0 and essentially made a comeback virtually impossible.

A Champions League nightmare

Why did Upamecano make so many mistakes in such a decisive match? What role does mental preparation play in elite footballers?

We have known for years, from the field of sports psychology, that different factors influence decisive moments on the field of play. The physical preparation and the strategy of the training staff are only a few elements, to which we can add the mental state of the players.

According to a publication in the Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 6 mental factors must be evaluated in training and prepared beforehand:

  1. Motivation
  2. Confidence
  3. Anxiety control
  4. Team play
  5. Concentration
  6. Cognition

6 factors for mental preparation

1. Motivation

Motivation in any area of life is important. It can be internal or external. Both trigger mechanisms that influence how we behave.

External motivation can be the money you earn in elite soccer. Or perhaps the awards that can be achieved with a team; also on a personal and individual level, as with the Ballon d’Or, for example. On the contrary, internal motivation comes from the inside, from what motivates a soccer player to play and enjoy his career.

According to psychological research, semi-professional players are more motivated than amateurs and professionals. This is an interesting fact. It means that not all elite athletes will be able to perform at their full potential all the time, as they won’t be motivated all the time.

2. Confidence

Did Upamecano’s mistakes occur due to a lack of self-confidence? This psychological factor is defined as a player’s self-perceived ability to perform well in the match.

Confidence has a lot to do with each person’s personality. Some will have to work harder on this aspect due to low self-esteem.

In the middle of a match, confidence can drop quickly when mistakes are made. There’s a greater fear of continuing to make mistakes afterwards.

3. Anxiety control

Anxiety is almost inevitable for most professional players when facing a high-level match. How to control stress before a Champions League match?

In soccer, player anxiety is defined as an increased state of nervousness about what performance they will give. It can manifest itself with physical symptoms, such as hyperventilation, but also with mental expressions, such as low concentration.

Scientific studies reveal that internal beliefs are directly linked to anxiety in soccer. Some players have a very poor vision of themselves, which increases their nervousness when they enter the pitch, and they may feel they won’t perform as they should.

4. Team play

Soccer is a team sport. Upamecano’s mistakes in the Champions League match affected the whole Bayern team and, possibly, the malaise of the whole team affected the French defender like a vicious circle.

This reciprocity happens very intensely in soccer. Sports psychologists know this, which is why the world’s elite clubs organize group sessions to address the interrelationships between players.

We’re talking about the same human bonds that influence performance: friendships and enmities between players. On the pitch, a player may pass to a player they like more, rather than to another one who may have been in a better position to score, for example.

5. Concentration

Was Upamecano unfocused and that was why he made so many mistakes? Elite sport requires almost constant full attention to achieve an optimum performance.

Concentration in soccer is understood as a player’s ability to ignore external distractions and focus on the game. If they achieve this, they’ll perform at their best.

The ability to concentrate is linked to the other psychological factors we have already mentioned. According to experts in the field, anxiety increases distractions. Unmanaged stress interferes with intrusive thoughts that can divert the player’s focus.

Similarly, anger reduces concentration, according to McCarthy et al. Athletes who fail to control their anger make more mistakes during matches, especially if they’re young.

6. Cognition

Cognition in soccer is difficult to define. In theory, it’s the relationship between internal thoughts and the performance achieved. Therefore, it can also be considered a psychological factor in interaction with the rest.

High anxiety reduces performance, as do a lack of concentration and lack of confidence. Less cognition causes greater errors.

According to scientific studies, there’s a relationship between cognitive interference and mental fatigue. This means that a player who is stressed, anxious, has low self-esteem, and doesn’t fit in well with his team will have more intrusive thoughts, feel more “mentally tired”, and have lower concentration.

Upamecano’s mistakes have no single explanation

To attribute Upamecano’s mistakes in the Champions League to a single factor would be very simplistic. Mental preparation in elite sport encompasses different issues and they’re all interrelated.

It’s also essential to have the inner strength not to dwell on mistakes and keep going. One bad match isn’t the end of the world. The next match(es) will be the challenge that the young Frenchman will have to face in order to bounce back.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.