Review: Self-Control in Professional Soccer Players

Toering, T., & Jordet, G. (2015). Self-control in professional soccer players. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 27(3), 335-350.

Other reference cited: Tangney, J. P., Baumeister, R. F., & Boone, A. L. (2004). High self‐control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of personality, 72(2), 271-324.


By Sean Swallen

Fans tend to associate winners with being successful under pressure. When an athlete steps up to the free throw line or to the penalty kick with the game on the line, and scores, spectators “ohh” and “ahh” at their calmness under pressure—but rarely do fans contemplate how the athlete may have arrived there. Toering and Jordet’s (2015) study aimed to investigate the concept of self-control in association with engagement in daily activities (including practice) of professional soccer players and its relationship with soccer performance.

The authors adopted Bauer and Baumeister’s (2011) definition of self-control as the “capacity to alter one’s responses to achieve a desired state or outcome that otherwise would not arise naturally” (p 66). Their assumption was that if one can better resist situational temptations and short-term gains, one is more likely to attain preferable long-term goals. They tested their hypothesis using the Norwegian Premier and Secondary soccer leagues (619 total sample size). Self-control was assessed using the Brief Self-Control Scale. They also measured engagement time: time in sport game or practice, sleep, school, physical training, et cetera. Performance level was measured by using Premier versus Secondary league players, whether they had ever been on the national team, and by using post-season league rankings. The authors further broke down self-control as having both restraint and impulse control—meaning having the ability to balance time as well as maintain focus during sport tasks. This data was found using the Brief Self-Control Scale (BSCS; Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004).

Their results showed that the average scores on restraint and impulse control were higher among the Premier league players than the Secondary league players. Additionally, there was a positive correlation between preseason restraint scores and the team’s final league ranking, which implies that higher team restraint (as measured by the BSCS questionnaire) is an accurate predictor of team success. Also, the authors found that impulse control had a positive correlation to individual athlete performance rankings, which means that the higher the impulse control the greater the probability of being on a national team. Their final conclusion was that “self-control seems to contribute to athletes’ ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable, which is essential to performance” (Toering & Jordet, 2015, p. 345).

My Reflection

The study poked at an age-old question—how do we predict future top performers? Moving up to the elite level in professional sport undoubtedly takes numerous qualities, both physical and mental, as well as some luck. The study suggests that lifestyle choices such as routines, habits, and discipline help forge self-control, which is correlative to more highly achieved athletes. I believe that self-control plays a pivotal role on an athlete’s performance. Many claim that mental traits like self-control—or the intangibles—are better predictors of long-term success. It serves the sport community well to devote more efforts toward promoting the intangibles such as leadership training and steps toward increasing resiliency and self-control in young athletes. There is also a need for leadership development in athletes. If such models could be incorporated into institutions catering to youth, there could be a systemic influx of higher caliber, mentally tough athletes, which not only impacts the future of performance sport, but can also enhance the future generation of leaders in our world.


DR. B Performance Psychology

DR. B Performance Psychology