Psychologist shares secrets to Swedish success
Daniel Ekvall is Sweden's sports psychology advisor
He has been praised for his role in the team's success at Russia 2018
Ekvall explains his role ahead of the Swedes' last-16 tie against Switzerland
By Alexandra Jonson with Sweden
Making it to the World Cup was seen as a minor miracle for Sweden, given that they edged out the likes of Italy and the Netherlands on the road to Russia. However, their performances at the tournament itself have eclipsed even their qualifying exploits, with the Swedes topping Group F ahead of Mexico, defending champions Germany and Korea Republic.
Throughout their remarkable journey, two main strengths have stood out: defensive solidity and team unity. Daniel Ekvall, Sweden’s sports psychology advisor, has received praise for his work in building the latter and, ahead of the last-16 tie against Switzerland, he gave FIFA.com an insight into what his job entails.
FIFA.com: Can you explain what your role as a sports psychology advisor involves? Daniel Ekvall: I am available for individual talks and then there are group sessions. From what the players say in those, I create a mental plan for the upcoming match, which we go through on match day. It’s often an image that illustrates what the players themselves have said. I also work with Janne [Andersson, Sweden's coach] on creating an effective leadership team because there are a lot of people in the coaching staff. With the players we mainly focus on the next action. So, if they miss a pass or a team-mate misses one, how can they make their next action as good as possible?
More than the group sessions and individual talks, I’ve heard you also do talks with shoes... [Laughs] Yes, this was before the match against France at home. At the start of the week Ola Toivonen had new boots and he didn’t think his touch worked as he wanted it to. So he screamed across the pitch that he needed to book a session so I could speak to his boots, and everyone thought it was funny. Then, in the match itself, he scored from the halfway line in those shoes! Janne thought it was a fun anecdote and told the story to the press.
Is it more important for a team like Sweden, who don’t have the same individual quality as opponents like Germany, Italy or France, to work on psychology and create a good group dynamic? It can be a competitive advantage. There are a lot of things that affect a match and if we can do as many of them as well as possible, it strengthens our chances. That includes good teamwork, unity and communication. I always say that if you bring all the best individual surgeons to perform an operation together, it’s not certain they will be able to cooperate well and the operation will be a success. So if we cover these other elements well, it makes it possible we can beat teams that on the paper have better individuals.
Janne Andersson, Andreas Granqvist and a few others have highlighted your work as a key component in the team's success. How does that make you feel? I know full well that we are doing this together, working together in the coaching staff, the players. But of course it makes me happy if they think I am a small piece of the puzzle.
There have already been a couple of penalty shootouts in the knockout phase. How do you prepare the players for that scenario? It’s about ensuring that the players feel there is a clear plan, so that nothing happens in the moment. Then as a player it’s about going through the same routine as they always do, even if the situation is special.