Tuesday 02 July 2019, 17:07

Psychology underpinning another Swedish success story

Sweden v Thailand: Group F - 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France
  • Team psychologists hailed as key to Sweden’s World Cup successes

  • Players and coaches laud the influence of Rasmus Wallin-Tornberg in France

  • He spoke to FIFA to explain how he works with the team

By Alexandra Jonson with Sweden [[flag-swe-s]]

For the second year in a row, Sweden are making headlines for their World Cup performances. In 2018, it was the men’s team who surprised everyone by making it to the quarter-finals. This year, the women have gone one better and are now fighting for a spot in the Final.

In both tournaments, several of the players and coaching staff have lauded the team’s psychological adviser, citing him as key to their success. In France, the man being showered with praise is Rasmus Wallin-Tornberg.

“We have very strong team unity and I definitely think that is thanks to him” Magdalena Eriksson told FIFA. “He has made us talk a lot about helping each other and not going into our own little bubbles. It’s all about sticking together as a team, no matter what happens.”

Coach Peter Gerhardsson has also been impressed. “He’s talked a lot about accepting feeling -that being nervous, irritated or frustrated is ok if you can still perform while having those feelings. The longer you get in the tournament, the more important that is.”

We also heard from Wallin-Tornberg himself, who outlined some of the work he has been doing with Sweden’s semi-final stars.

Rasmus, can you tell us what you took from the work of your counterpart, Daniel Ekvall, with the men’s team last year?

“The main thing was a group session they had before the tournament, when they talked about being prepared for different scenarios. So, although there were several things that then happened in Russia that they didn’t expect, the players knew how to deal with those situations. Because that worked well, we did a similar session ahead of our tournament.”

Can you notice the pressure on the players changing the further the team goes in the tournament?

“Yeah I think so, but I still feel that the biggest game for this team was the opening match. That’s when there were more players who talked about being nervous. We have talked about it though: that in the knockout rounds it’s win or disappear, that one mistake can become decisive and that there are more fans in the stands and so on. But also that it doesn’t mean we should do anything differently. There is no new mental trick; you should do things as you always do. That, we believe, is the best way.

How does a normal day at the World Cup look for you?

“At breakfast the players fill out questions on an iPad. It’s about recovery, injuries and so on, and then a few questions on motivation and stress. On the way to training we in the medical team go through the answers. It can be all kind of things. One player didn’t sleep well; another felt it very warm in their room; another is catching a cold. Those things are for the doctors and physiotherapists to handle. But it can be a player reports feeling stressed or worried, and that falls to me to check out.

“That’s where it starts, and then I often have individual talks with players. Some days it can be several and on others none at all. Most of the time the players come to me, but it can also be me going to them to check how everything is or to follow up on something we talked about before.”

How important do you believe the mental side of things is at a tournament like this?

“It’s important, but as part of a bigger picture. You can’t just take out one element and say for excample that this player did well because of mental strength, or that player because of good technique. All the pieces need to come together. Psychology is important, but so are the other parts of the puzzle. I am also more important to certain players than others. For a player who gets very nervous and worried, psychology plays a big part. But for someone who maybe been around longer and isn’t as affected by those feelings, it’s not as big a deal.”


Additional tickets are on sale for the semi-final between The Netherlands and Sweden in Lyon, on 3 July. Make sure to check the ticketing platform regularly for any updates.