Brazil's Capitulation

added by Craig Steel
Large crowd waving German flags

Brazil’s impressive capitulation against Germany in the football World Cup semi-final has once again fuelled the coffers on this extraordinary subject. What caused players of such distinction, many have asked, to suddenly produce a performance that bore no resemblance to their renowned capability? Why did one of the World’s proudest football nations completely fall apart when everyone knows they have the skills to beat anyone when they get it right?

What Brazil’s experience proves yet again is that capitulation or choking remains the single greatest mystery in international sport, hence our continued astonishment and/or intrigue when we see it occur. Despite the fact coaches accept it is a psychological phenomenon, it is extremely rare to observe one who understands it in sufficient depth to be able to mitigate their athlete’s propensity to do it; as the hosts performance demonstrated.

Incidentally when I refer to the word ‘capitulate’, I am referring to the point where an athlete snaps, cracks or gives up.

Throughout the eighties and early nineties I examined the subject in depth as it became ever more apparent that sport psychologists (as the broader subject matter experts) were no closer to providing an answer than they were decades ago. Eventually however, after many years of scrutiny, I confirmed what I had long suspected and that was that athletes capitulate when they reach a point where they perceive the challenge they are facing exceeds their psychological capacity. That is, when they come to believe the outcome they are after is beyond them.


The fact capitulation occurs is not the point of interest; it’s what occurs within the mind of a subject that causes them to capitulate that is. That said, because this process is largely unconscious and thus beyond our awareness, most of us are incapable of preventing it; including the vast majority of the world’s athletes. That doesn’t mean a person who is about to capitulate wont ‘feel’ it’s presence, but as most don’t know what’s occurring or why, they can’t do anything about it.


Every person who is about to capitulate will feel increasingly stressed or uncomfortable however if they are unable to self-correct, they will reach a tipping point where their situation suddenly ‘feels’ hopeless and thus ‘beyond’ them.

Given the significance of this process to each of us, and because we are likely to see a great deal more of it in Glasgow, it may be timely to shed a bit more light on the subject to encourage you to think about it.

If we examine the underlying factor, we will notice it not only defines who and what we are, it dictates all that we can and will achieve; given what we achieve is not a reflection of our potential but a consequence of our (psychological) capacity.

When I refer to the term psychological ‘capacity’, I mean the unconscious vision a person has of themselves. Put another way, it is the underlying (self) image we have each acquired that determines who and what we are and thus what we are capable of producing.

Because we cannot ‘out-perform’ our capacity or mind-set, it plays an enormous role in our lives. In fact the more we examine the subject the more we will come to realise that our Self-Image is the principal determinant of our experience as a human being and thus our life achievements.

During my early research I noticed that athletes only ever performed to a level that was consistent with their Self-Image meaning their potential to advance rested upon their ability to expand it (refer the Steel Psychological Capacity/Performance Ability™ Model).

One of the most interesting observations I believe I made however was the fact that I noticed the process of capitulation was entirely consistent irrespective of the nature of the athlete I examined or indeed the nature of the sport they played. In other words the ‘cause’ and ‘consequence’ were identical even though the circumstances surrounding each capitulation were completely unique.

The fact this was the case suddenly made the notion of capitulation not only predictable but preventable. By applying what I had observed, athletes were not only able to prevent their propensity to capitulate, they were able to perform at a higher level than ever before. In other words, by reverse engineering what I had observed, they were able to advance from a position of ‘hopeful, wishful (positive) thinking’ into a state of ‘knowing’ and ‘believing’.

The point is, what goes on within the mind of an athlete at a fundamental level dictates their performance; meaning their performance or result is a consequence of ‘them’ i.e. their capacity or self-image, not their ‘skills or potential’ (refer the Steel Foundation of Performance™ Model 01).

Given the rules apply to us equally, we need to understand that it’s not what we want or hope for that matters. It’s what we believe we are worthy of that ultimately counts i.e. we need to accept that our aspirations or wishes are immaterial in this respect; it’s what we fundamentally believe we are worthy of experiencing, achieving, producing or receiving that wins out.

In purely practical terms, it’s what you believe you are capable of, as determined by your Self-Image that will dictate what you achieve. It’s not what you hope you can achieve or imagine you might achieve that matters, but what you believe you are worthy of; hence I believe ‘winning’ is more than just an attitude, it is in fact a choice.

In summary, the Football World Cup once again proved that a team of highly engaged professionals who are committed to doing the right thing by their sport and nation will more often than not beat a group of self-promoters seeking fame and fortune; meaning a key to success is to accept it is more important to focus on the value of our contribution than the glory we could gain from ‘saving the day’.


©1995-Present day. All rights reserved - Steel Performance Solutions 


Got a question?

We're always happy to help.