Thursday, 28 May 2009

National identity and sports performance: Should England have their own national anthem?

The question as to whether the English should have a national anthem of their own has been debated over the years. Whereas the Welsh and the Scots have laid claim to their own anthems, the English retain the British national anthem for sporting events. This gives the bizarre circumstances where, if England plays against either Wales or Scotland, they are effectively playing their opponent’s national anthem twice. When this issue has been addressed in the past, the emphasis tends to have been on the political ramifications of giving England their own national anthem. The psychological implications of playing ‘God Save the Queen’ however are usually neglected in the debate.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the psychology of a sports performer during competition; belief, confidence, a sense of worth, being prepared, the ability to relax and perform under pressure are just some of these.

One factor that has a huge impact on a performer is a sense of identity. A sense of identity will impact on our values, which in turn will affect our motivation levels. It will also impact on our sense of purpose or our will to go the extra mile for the greater good.

Many supporters may despair at the antics of some of our leading football coaches, who seem to spend an extraordinary amount of effort picking fights. They will pick fights with other coaches, the press, officials, members of the FA, even club owners and members of their own board. In the case of Jose Mourinho, he has been known to pick a fight with all of the above and many more. You may wonder what there is to gain from this seemingly childish and pointless behaviour. There is however method in their madness. What these coaches are aiming to achieve is to create an ‘identity’ among their players. This is achieved by establishing a common enemy to give the players the motivation and sense of unity to work together as a team, to achieve their aims.

So what has this got to do with the national anthem? Well, the national anthem is supposed to promote a sense of identity within a sports team. For that to happen, the national anthem should be appropriate to the team that is playing. ‘God Save the Queen’ is appropriate for the ‘British’ team during the Olympics in the same way that the European anthem is appropriate during the Ryder Cup. It isn’t appropriate for England (or Northern Ireland for that matter). The Scots and the Welsh don’t get fired up by ‘God Save the Queen’ so why should the English? Who can forget the Scotland v England rugby match of 1990 when ‘Flower of Scotland’ set in motion the impetus for an unlikely Scottish victory?

Surely, it isn’t coincidence that some of England’s greatest performances in competitions have been accompanied by alternative anthems; New Order’s ‘World in Motion’ at Italia ’90, ‘Three Lions’ in Euro ’96, as well as ‘Swing Low’ at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

There are two songs that tend to be favoured if there was to be an English anthem, ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Either one of these would be more appropriate for England and could give the vital edge that makes the difference between success and disappointment. So why deprive the English of what is their right – a sense of national identity?

Andy Barton

Wider Vision Ltd - Specialists in Mental Performance Training for Sport

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