Soccology Sunday: Unconscious Competence, Mikel Arteta, Pep Guardiola and Raheem Sterling

I had the pleasure of watching Manchester City’s Amazon Documentary (all episodes) ‘All or Nothing’, last night and this morning. There were many gems on the psycho-emotional elements of football that I will blog about for the ‘Soccology Sunday’ today and next week.

One of the moments that caught my attention was when Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta were talking about Raheem Sterling after Man City drew 1-1 against Burnley. Sterling had a chance to make the game 0-2 Man City and missed, in discussing the missed the opportunity by Sterling, Arteta made a reference to Sterling being unconsciously competent on his right foot but consciously competent on his left. Meaning he has to consciously think when he uses his left foot.

Manchester City Mikel arteta Raheem sterling soccology kevin George unconscious competence

What’s the big deal? Managing all the external information at hand on a football pitch is demanding, so when you throw in your own mechanics, it becomes a lot. Especially when it’s something you don’t usually do because you usually use your stronger foot, the foot that frees up more head space. When Raheem uses his right foot he doesn’t need to (consciously) think about it because like all players, their stronger foot has had so many touches in various situations and under pressure that they can manage the different scenarios unconsciously. Like driving, at first you have to think about every movement however, after driving a few years and travelling on a regular route you find yourself arriving safely at your destination on autopilot. It’s the same on the pitch. When Raheem uses his right foot he only thinks about the external (movement of others). This means he has less to consciously focus on, so he can apply his focus (conscious) on other things, increasing both attention and an increased chance of success.

Players do not speak about conscious/unconscious competence, hardly anyone does yet we all carryout different levels of the hierarchy of competence everyday. Although not discussed, we all feel the difference. Players will want to be unconsciously competent when they perform most of the time because thinking without thinking prevents self doubt and allows the hours of practice stored, to act out in the times that matter. In my book Soccology I have a chapter on unconscious competence and I delve further into the role it plays in football, the times when autopilot can be counterproductive and the top footballers in the world share their unconscious competence stories.