Meet the England psychologist who helped Three Lions overcome penalty shootout hoodoo against Colombia

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England scored four of their five penalties against Colombia to win their first ever World Cup shootout

England finally broke their penalty shootout curse on Tuesday night with a 4-3 spot kick victory over Colombia.

As every Three Lions fan knows, this was England’s first World Cup win on penalties and their first in any competition since beating Spain at Euro 96.

Eric Dier and Jordan Pickford were among the heroes on the pitch, but off it psychologist Dr Pippa Grange has been helping the England team to strengthen their mental resolve – and it seems that her work has paid off.

England Players Celebrating
England Players Celebrating

Grange, 47, was hired by the FA last November to work with the national team and prevent them cracking under pressure as has happened in the past.

As the squad’s Head of Team Development, Grange has spoken individually with players about their ‘hopes and fears’ and ‘lifestyles’, and helped to establish the calmer, more positive atmosphere in the England camp.

Manager Garage Southgate, whose 1996 penalty miss remains probably the most notorious in English footballing history, dismissed previous managers’ notions that practising penalties was pointless because nothing could reproduce the atmosphere of a shootout, and commissioned scientific research into the subject.

This found that England players tended to rush penalties compared to other teams, and indeed we saw on Tuesday a far more composed approach from those chosen to step up to the plate.

Grange is said to have discussed an individual ‘penalty framework’ with each of the players, encouraging them to visualise scoring

Other innovations in the England camp include ‘wellness questionnaires’ taken every day and ‘psychometric tests’ used to choose penalty takers in advance, avoiding the dispiriting spectacle of the manager begging players to take them after 120 minutes.

Loughborough University graduate Dr Grange, hired a year after England’s players mentally collapsed against Iceland in France, believes that the solution to preventing this is to get players to admit their vulnerabilities in team meetings.

This seems particularly accurate amid comments from members of England’s so-called ‘Golden Generation’ such as Rio Ferdinand about how a lack of team spirit and intense club rivalry prevented that promising group from getting anywhere close to their potential.

This time round, things seem to be very different, with an apparently united team and a no-drama manager.

No doubt some will doubt whether Dr Grange and her psychological techniques had any effect whatsoever on the penalty shootout victory.

But if her methods have in any way contributed to the calm and united nature of the camp which has carried over to the pitch, then her appointment was surely the right decision.

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