Bielsa Mind Games

Psyching out your opponents by being cool

Marcelo Bielsa’s comments about Crespo this week (which I still do not understand) got me thinking about the psychology of motivation.

Bielsa’s comment of not celebrating goals, or wins, out of respect for the other team’s coach twanged a string or two about what I’d previously learnt about motivation and control.

This essay uses a Time Magazine article as a backbone for some thoughts about why he might act as he does and why he may have a different side to come.

1/ Be Cool – do Less

Being Cool means don’t try too hard. Trying hard is very effective in life and especially in relationships so why NOT try hard?

By not trying, Cool people signal, “I’m so smooth, I don’t have to try to get what I want”.

Can you imagine James Bond fidgeting? He doesn’t tug at his clothing, bob his head, or twitch his shoulders. He doesn’t hem or haw before he speaks. Bond is the quintessential cool, calm, and collected character.
This kind of high-status, high-confidence body language is characterized by how few movements are made. Composed people exhibit a level of stillness, which is sometimes described as poise. They avoid extraneous, superfluous gestures such as fidgeting with their clothes, their hair, or their faces, incessantly nodding their heads, or saying “um” before sentences.

However, and this is a very big however, this only works if you are actually getting what you want. I’ve been taught that you should try extremely hard, much harder than your opposition, in preparation but as soon as the whistle blows and you have no real input you can then act Cool and appear to not try hard.

2/ Confidence

Combine “doing less” with supreme confidence and you have the essence of Cool.

Researchers led by Ilan Dar-Nimrod gave people a course in charisma and one of the factors that produced results was acting confidently.

This research shows that exhibiting self-esteem and confidence is sexy but appearing stressed is not. For men, modesty can actually be a negative linked to weakness.

3/ Break the rules

People who are Cool are NOT oblivious to proper behaviour, in fact, they are socially savvy, but they deliberately break the rules when it benefits them.

Rebelliousness was found to be a key component of Cool – breaking the rules makes you appear powerful.

4/ Body Language needed to appear Cool

Don’t let your hands fidget. Don’t I bite your lip. Don’t nod too much. Keep your speech slow enough. You get the idea!

By feeling Cool on the inside, your body language will reflect Cool.

5/ Warning: Being Cool isn’t always the best

Being cool may be a positive but don’t assume it’s the best attitude for all situations. There is no single perfect way to be.

Being distant creates intrigue but the power of showing interest in others has been scientifically validated over and over again.

Sometimes being an outright prat pays big dividends. Stories of Alex Ferguson and his histrionics in the dressing room are plentiful.

Ironically, so does vulnerability. Bielsa’s apology to Crespo comes to mind.


While seeming to be detached and calm has its benefits for powerful men, so does being very enthusiastic or a domineering prat or even a vulnerable friend.

The situation determines which should be used.

I suspect, and hope, that Bielsa has a side to him that we don’t need to see on the touchline and hope none of our players do either!

Mike Thornton 25/8/2018